So here we are again. We're at the midway point of lockdown 2.0 and getting reacquainted with our closest companion, Zoom! Although some concerts may be cancelled or postponed and the idea of an audience seems like a distant memory, it's important that we keep moving forward and planning for a time in the not too distant future, when our diaries will be full again!
This months graduate, has never failed to bring a ray of positivity whenever we've had the pleasure of working together. A 2018 graduate of the Royal College of Music and member of Southbank Sinfonia, flautist Catherine Hare hasn't let a little thing like a global pandemic, stop her from making music! So join us as we talk multitracked videos, banana bread and Cathy's top tips for that tricky transition into the profession.
How have you found life since graduating from the Royal College of Music in 2018?
It’s been a rollercoaster ride! Before COVID stopped everything in its tracks, I had been keeping myself busy with lots of different projects, from residencies in care homes with Live Music Now, to performances on cruise ships, alongside the more usual recent grad work of teaching and the odd orchestral performance! I was really lucky to get a place in Southbank Sinfonia 2020 and while a lot of our activities have been curtailed due to lockdown, it has been the best experience and I’m looking forward to us starting afresh with a new season in 2021.
The big difference I have found since graduating is that there is no one else there to fill your diary – every opportunity has to be sought out. I have really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to apply for auditions or other opportunities in order to keep striving towards new goals and achievements, even when I am scared to put my name forward!
After six years of living life at a million miles an hour and having everything planned for me, it took some getting used to seeing gaps in my diary. I do miss the intensity of my student days, the sheer amount of opportunities that arose and planning my life down to the minute in order to fit everything in. However, I have found that my lifestyle is healthier and happier now I have more flexibility and free time. I’m able to use that time in the best way to suit me, and as a result have been able to try other avenues like presenting podcasts, as well as practising repertoire purely because I love it, not because I need it for an exam.
What have been the main highlights in your career since graduating?
Getting into Southbank has been a huge stepping-stone in my career since graduating as it has offered so many new opportunities, including working with artists I have always admired. Some of the biggest highlights of my career were actually cancelled due to COVID, including a concerto at the Southbank Centre and my first work with an orchestra that I have admired for many years, so these were pretty heart breaking!
The lockdowns have been disastrous for pretty much everyone in the arts industry and I think our generation of graduates are going to find it particularly tricky to get that ‘foot in the door’ especially if large-scale orchestral concerts take a long time to return to the stage. I am just trying to keep positive and remember that once life does return to ‘normal’ there will be a huge number of people absolutely desperate to hear live music again, so our audiences will return.
As previously mentioned, this year you joined Southbank Sinfonia, how has that experience been for you especially with regards to working and performing during the pandemic?
We managed a month of work before the first lockdown, and then after about 6 months off, we began working again behind closed doors in September. Despite this limited season, we have managed to do so much! As a recent graduate, it is such a unique experience to be able to sit next to the same players every week, rather than the usual scratch performances where you are in a different section for each gig you play. This stability has given us the chance to develop together as a group and allows each individual the freedom to experiment without fear of being judged.
As a chamber orchestra, we explore a huge breadth of repertoire, from Mozart symphonies to historically-informed Renaissance and Baroque music all the way to 21st Century music. One thing I particularly love about Southbank Sinfonia is their programming, both in terms of repertoire and guest artists. This season our guest conductors and soloists were a pretty even split between male and female, which is still sadly rarer than it ought to be!
While we have only managed one small chamber concert in the time between the two lockdowns, we have been able to produce some innovative content since March. We recently recorded music by Sally Beamish, Jessie Montgomery, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Cecilia McDowell in a socially distanced project led by conductor Chloe van Soeterstede – watch out for this being released online in the coming month.
During the first lockdown did you acquire any new talents you didn’t know you had?
I spent the first lockdown back at home on the beach in Wales, after a hairy moment where our rental contract in London ran out in the same week that lockdown started! It was the longest I have spent at home since being a teenager, and global pandemic aside, it was so lovely to live in the countryside again, surrounded by nature. When I wasn’t outside walking, I did bake a banana bread or two, and also wiled away a surprising amount of time practising handstands.
I really missed being able to play with other musicians during lockdown, and so I tried to create the next best thing – a multitracked video. I saw lots of them popping up all over social media and I thought how hard can it be? With absolutely no prior knowledge of video editing, I set about creating a virtual version of my cancelled concerto. This included editing together the sound and visuals of 14 separate videos, provided by my amazing Southbank Sinfonia colleagues, and nearly set my computer (and my brain) on fire. It was much more time consuming and stressful than anticipated, not least because my laptop needed a time-out every 15 minutes to cool down, but I am so glad that I persevered. The resulting video is such a special memory, making the most of a very difficult time – and I’m quite pleased with the quality for my first attempt!
What is your best self-care tip?
Exercise! As musicians we put a surprising amount of strain on our body, but I still get the feeling that a lot of musicians think that sport or exercise isn’t for them. I certainly used to be one of those people, and as a result I was always getting aches and pains. I now do CrossFit classes most days, and I have gone from not being able to lift an 8kg weight to being able to squat my own bodyweight and lift really heavy things above my head. As well as the bragging rights and cool Instagram photos these bring, it also means that playing the flute is no longer painful, as my body is used to doing much harder movements.
Exercise also fills you with endorphins and no matter how rubbish my day has been, an hour of moving around never fails to put a smile on my face.
What is your top tip for musicians in their first year as a music graduate?
Hustle. Now is the time to use those contacts you made as a student and to grab every opportunity that comes your way!
Thank you so much Cathy for joining us today! To keep up to date with her upcoming performances, you can follow Cathy on Twitter or visit her website. For more information about Southbank Sinfonia and their lockdown season, check out their Instagram or visit their website.