Zoë was a judge on BBC TV’s Maestro and Young Musician; is a regular guest commentator/presenter for the BBC Proms and Radio 3; hosts London Sinfonietta’s new podcast series The Music That Made Me; and was on the UK panel for the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Schott publishes her music.
She is much in demand for educational activities, including artistic director of the Saigon Chamber Music Festival in Vietnam, cello tutor for the National Youth Orchestra and a regular jury member for international composition and instrumental competitions. She studied at the Royal College of Music, Clare College, Cambridge, the Royal Academy of Music and the Chopin Academy in Warsaw.
We spoke to Zoë about how the coronavirus crisis is affecting her work, and her hopes for the future of music.
What has been the immediate impact of the Covid-19 crisis on your working life?
Overnight, pretty much everything in my diary was wiped, every performance and recording cancelled and all composition commissions put on hold. However, my highly unconventional approach to life and music has equipped me perfectly for this situation. As a lifelong freelancer in a mostly experimental field of music, I’m unfazed by suddenly being thrown into this Covid sci-fi movie.
For the first time in decades I no longer have to constantly be on the road, keep up prep of an ever-replenishing pile of notes, presentations, performances, teaching, creations, and it has felt the most enormous relief to be able to take the foot off the gas at last. It’s been a vital and healing moment for me to simply stop, listen to Mother Earth breathing, and refill the well – something that is so essential for all creative artists. We all need to allow times of withdrawal, reflection and recalibration in order to hone our art, our skill and our connection to ourselves. This replenished state of inner stillness can strengthen the power of our communication with others - whether through music, words or simply going about our daily lives.
Do you see this time as a hiatus in your activities or do you think that there will be lasting change in the music world? If so, what changes do you foresee?
Right now, I can’t see the music business infrastructure returning to anything like it was anytime soon, if ever. The vast amount of live-streamed music that is now entering people’s living rooms through the internet indicates that musicians have realised how precious this art form is to our world right now – as a source of connection to something bigger than ourselves.
In the immediate future, while musicians can’t travel, there will surely be an explosion of more sophisticated online technology that will enable high-quality performances – whether from concert halls or basement studios – to be broadcast to many more people. Let’s hope this will knock on the head the populist opinion that classical music is elitist, and usher in a more egalitarian approach.
I hope that once groups can congregate again, orchestras will be able to survive with an online performance format, as well as limited in-person audience, expanding audience bases globally, allowing more access to our greatest music.
Zoom technology is facilitating classroom teaching on a global scale, and this might allow children who didn’t previously have access to music lessons to get the chance to learn some musical skills. Although instruments may still only be available to the lucky minority, there is still much that can be done with voice and percussion.
We can’t afford the luxury of just playing for ourselves anymore. The world needs its music and musicians more than ever. It is our responsibility to be creative and find new ways to make that happen, while maintaining integrity to our art and the highest possible standards in our practice.
Are you managing to remain productive, when many of your usual work outlets have disappeared overnight? If so, how?
Since landing in this new reality, I’ve been turning my full attention to setting up an online professional practice of my secret ‘other life’ as a professional healer and teacher of healers! I’ve created a new income infrastructure that will give me the freedom to compose and explore other ways of performing as a creative musician.
Along with everyone else, I’m trying to zap technophobia and am setting up basic home recording and video equipment. I have some reservations about the current poor-quality audio/video livestream situation, and my only concession to live-streaming so far has been to air the odd short blast of my own highly silly cabaret-type numbers, which work fine with iPhone-level recording, through Living Room Live – a really wonderful platform co-set up by Academy alumna Freya Waley Cohen.
I’m also still podcast host for London Sinfonietta’s The Music That Made Me series, and have been presenting live online solo premieres in their London Sinfonietta ‘Shorts’.
Do you have any advice to current students and recent alumni for getting through this indefinite period of isolation?
Firstly, tech up! As I’ve been saying, the future of music is going to about our ability to communicate online. It’s worth investing in recording equipment now, and you can use free software like Reaper and Audacity to create a pretty good home studio.
Now is the time to share our skills, so get a regular teaching practice set up. Even if you don’t already teach, start now in whatever you do that feels most comfortable – that could be instrumental, theory, improvisation.
If, like me, you have a sideline skill, why not be savvy and pursue that as well? If it’s something you love doing, now is the time to develop it. It could be gardening advice, cooking, yoga or makeup lessons – you name it, it’s all there for you to explore!
Commercial recording session fixers are now looking for players who have home studio set-ups. Now might be your chance to break into this hitherto mysteriously impenetrable world. Diary services have all the contacts you need on this front.
Finally, keep your practice going! Take advantage of the extra time to nail your technique and learn new pieces. Maintaining the highest possible standards at this time is essential and will serve you in coming years.