Tell us about your time at the Academy.
What I enjoyed most about the Academy was the diverse range of musical options – I loved the commercial music course and did lots of recordings for composers while I was there. I loved the chamber ensembles and orchestral elements, too, but I was quite unusual in that that I loved music from all over the world and I didn’t come from a specialist music background so I didn’t have a set idea about what I wanted to do.
I was very lucky to have Michael Cox as my teacher. He didn’t pigeonhole me and helped me explore all my musical options – I didn’t ever want to be a specific thing, I just wanted to play wonderful music.
And how did your career develop when you graduated?
When I left the Academy, I didn’t necessarily have the confidence to do lots of auditions, but I did have the confidence to perform, so I did a lot of chamber work. I didn’t have a set idea of what I wanted to do, but I’ve always loved different cultures and I grew up loving folk music and African bands. When I was 24, I went to Africa for a few months to do some volunteering and while I was there I put a huge project together for about 150 children. I also had the opportunity to play with various bands out there and do some recording. When I got back, I realised how much I had enjoyed it, and that I was starting to feel comfortable in recording studios. A lot of people run a mile when they are asked to do commercial recording but I loved it. I started to feel at ease thinking outside the box.
I started depping on various West End shows and doing bits of chamber and orchestral work. I got a few calls for session work and that developed and progressed, with the work snowballing. I then started doing tours and joined Peter Gabriel’s New Blood Orchestra tour. I was working with a lot of session musicians who were 10 or so years older than me, and I felt really privileged to be playing alongside them. It was at that point that I decided to throw everything into performing. We were playing to enormous audiences on massive stages all over the world – I loved doing that and was completely in my comfort zone.
How has playing a wide range of flutes helped your career path?
I actually started the flute because I loved the pipes and I’ve played a range of ethnic and folk instruments my whole life. I founded the alt folk band Rangari in 2013 and people started seeing me play an array of instruments. Various film composers who I’d worked with over the years then got in touch wanting certain instruments on their film soundtracks. I also started working with the composer Joby Talbot, who I’d done sessions for in the past, as he was writing a ballet for the Royal Opera House and he wanted it to feature world flutes. The second act of the ballet opens with a huge flute solo and, as it’s an onstage part, I wore these hilarious costumes and had to memorise most of it. It was one of the most brilliant things I’ve done – I was playing in my own style, in a phenomenal venue, accompanied by some of the best classical musicians in the world.
I also hold the flute chair for The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, where I play about 16 different instruments – a range of panpipes and whistles, all within the flute family.
Playing a variety of flutes was quite unusual when I was studying – I did it because I loved it, not because I thought it would be commercially useful. But the younger generation coming through are quite savvy and many recognise the broader repertoire and opportunities that come with the instruments they play.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I’m a huge lover of the outdoors and, if I’m not thinking about music and trying to fulfil my role as a musician, I can usually be found up a mountain with my collie dog. I travel as well, and get my inspiration from so many beautiful places – I absolutely love Scotland and north Wales. Anywhere that’s wild and takes your mind away from the everyday – being in nature brings me a lot of peace.
Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
I’ve just finished crowdfunding for a new project called Freedom to Roam, which is an album and documentary to inspire hope and compassion for all living things through music and film. It’s about how our lives are all interconnected with the natural world and the effect we have on one another. The seed of the idea was sown about two and half years ago, when I got in touch with the Born Free Foundation about using music to represent something that means a lot to me.
I put together a group of musicians who I know really well – in fact, a few are also Academy alumnae: Jackie Shave, Catrin Finch and Lydia Lowndes-Northcott – and despite lockdown, we’ve written an album this year and we recorded it this spring. Alongside the album there’s a short documentary. At the launch event we’ll show the film, followed by a performance of the whole album.
We are constantly bombarded with negative news, particularly this year, and I’ve been thinking about what would happen if we flipped society and were bombarded with positivity instead. A really important part of the documentary, which I commissioned myself, is to show that there are things that can be done and how that can influence us all. As musicians we have the opportunity to say some of those things – it’s a great platform to bring your message to the people.
You’ve built a fantastic career, following your own path and carving out a niche within the profession – is there any advice you would give to students looking to do something similar?
I feel quite strongly that if you want to be a performer there are opportunities out there, even if you don’t follow the path of a soloist or orchestral musician. We all have impostor syndrome and most people get nervous, but if you can accept that and find your comfort zone, you can find your own way. Open your mind and forage for the opportunities. If the phone isn’t ringing, make it ring. There are lots of music clubs and societies where you can play and there are beautiful churches up and down the country – talk to them about putting on a concert. Organise things so that you are playing and people hear you, and if you are a good enough player they’ll want to book you. You’ve got to show people who you are and get out there. With talent, enthusiasm and perseverance you’ll get onto your own path – it’s hard work, but it’s a great industry so it’s worth it.
Find out more: www.elizamarshall.co.u...
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