Isolation expert – A conversation with our violinist Caroline Pether.
Posted on May 18, 2020
Several hundred years ago at the beginning of 2020 (the time before Covid-19) our Co-Leader Violinist Caroline Pether whisked herself away to Ayreshire on the Scottish coast with the soul purpose to practice undisturbed.
Call it a retreat if you want, or maybe a intensive violin boot-camp either way Caroline spent an extended period of time ‘self isolating’ from the world for her craft. Drawing parallels between that time and the situation we find our self currently Caroline decided to start a fantastic blog re-capping her time in Ayreshire and all that she learnt along the way.
We decided to have a catch up with Caroline to discuss the blog further and how she’s been keeping during these – unprecedented times (ooooh bet you’ve never heard that phrase before).
Hi Caroline! Thanks so much for writing this blog for us! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you first came to the camerata?
Sure, I’m one of Camerata’s Co-Leaders and I live here in Manchester in Whalley Range. I’m also the Leader of another chamber orchestra, Sinfonia Cymru, and I teach at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. I first started playing with Manchester Camerata in 2012 when I was a student at the Royal Northern College of Music through their Professional Experience Scheme. This is when students get to sit alongside and learn from professionals in rehearsals and concerts. I became a member of the orchestra in 2013 and then one of the orchestra’s Co-Leaders in 2015 so it’s been a real journey, full of different experiences with this wonderful organisation.
Reading your first blog post it struck me how much musicians are a lot like athletes in their rigorous training schedules. Are you watching ‘The Last Dance’ on Netflix? It’s all about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during their reign in the 90s- I would fully recommend! Anyway, the head coach of The Bulls (Phil Jackson) introduces a lot of spirituality and mindfulness to the team to great success. As a musician is there any ‘cross-training’ or influence like this which you regularly partake in to improve your playing?
It sounds great, I’ll try and give it a watch! I do think it’s very important to be aware of one’s mental state as a musician because it has such a huge effect on both focus in practice and freedom in performance. We’ve all experienced bad practice sessions when our mind is not in a good place – it’s likely doing more harm than good! Recently I’ve enjoyed listening to daily prayer sessions with the app ‘Pray as you go’. It’s designed to help people make 15 minutes of their daily commute a spiritual time, but it works just as well while we’re all at home. The sessions combine music, scripture and some questions for reflection. They really help me to feel calm mentally and connect with something bigger than myself. They also make beautiful music choices which definitely helps!
I really enjoyed the George Enescu quote you found in your old Strad magazine ‘Patience and Courage’. Has there been any quotes, or inspirational words which you have held dear during your time as a Musician?
I love this quote too. Since reading it, it’s really been at the forefront of my mind. It perfectly sums up what we must strive for as artists; patience in the practice room, courage on the concert platform. I have so many other quotes I could share with you, I have a list of them all in my music room including many from our Music Director, Gábor Takács-Nagy. Today I’ll share this one from violinist Itzhak Perlman: ‘The most important thing to do, whether conducting, teaching or performing, is to really listen.’ You’d think this was obvious, but it’s amazing how many things we have to have in our brains when we perform. I do find when I recommit to super-focused listening that the result is always better. I take the attention off myself and I am able to hear the subtler changes in my colleagues’ sounds that inspire me to react and have a musical conversation with them.
Obviously this whole blog post is about another time where you were self isolating by your own will but how have you been passing the time during Covid 19?
Somehow I’ve managed to keep myself busy; I’m the kind of person who goes a bit crazy if I don’t have a schedule and tasks to complete! I’ve set up a Practice Club for RBC’s string students every weekday morning 10-12 where we all log into a Skype video call and mute ourselves. That way there isn’t a cacophony of everyone’s practice! My hope is that the students who’ve been joining have felt a sense of community. I’ve also had my teaching (now online), various videos to record and this blog to write so the weekdays are really quite full. I’ve tried to keep the weekends work-free. It’s a silver lining to be able to experience 2 days off every week, something that was impossible to achieve with my normal working schedule. Unfortunately we are currently without a sofa (we’ve just moved house and ordered one before lockdown but it’s not arriving till July…!) so I’ve not been able to do much chilling out in front of the TV, but I have really enjoyed listening to music and podcasts. Faves so far have been the album Hush by Nora Fischer, Baroque arias for voice and electric guitar (surprisingly amazing), and the podcast Julie’s Library where Julie Andrews reads children’s books – could this be any more perfect?!
Finally – a tricky one which I’ve got in the habit of asking – what is your LEAST favourite instrument?
I’m afraid I’m going to be annoying and not answer this one, haha! It’s probably a cliched answer, but for me it is never about the instrument and all about the musician and the composer. When we start making blanket statement about instruments we cut ourselves off from potential joy when hearing them played incredibly. For example I’ve heard people say that they are not a massive fan of the accordion. Solidifying this viewpoint means they might never hear Martynas Levickis, James Crabb or Ksenija Sidorova who are all amazing. So my philosophy is let’s connect over things we love, not things we hate, and keep our minds open to change! Annoying I know… 😉
Be sure to check out Caroline’s blog ‘The Violin Diaries’ at https://www.carolinepether.com/blog