An Interview with Helen Goldsmith? by Winds Editor Bruce Hicks
Where and when did you begin as an instrumental player?
I began playing the violin at Blessed Sacrament RC Primary school at about the age of 10. I always wanted to play the violin from a young age and began taking lessons. The violin I found to be so technical and I didn't have the focus for it. I just wanted to play tunes straight away and became impatient with it. I decided I then wanted to play the oboe but my school did not offer the instrument. I was introduced to the clarinet by my primary school music teacher and fell in love with it instantly. I have never looked back since!
What first attracted you to music?
I always remember as a young child that a small orchestra came into our school assembly during a specific arts/music week with a conductor. The conductor would conduct the musicians with the baton and I thought for years that that baton was a magic wand and would magically make the musicians play beautifully. I always wanted to learn the secret behind it and became obsessed with learning a musical instrument ever since.
Where and what are you now studying?
I am currently studying for my BA Music degree in Classial Performance at Leeds College of Music. I am taught under the direction of clarinettist Colin Honour, Principal Clarinettist of Opera North, Leeds. Other modules that I undertake are Musicianship including Harmonic Analysis, Critical Listening and Musicology. Composing Music for the Moving Image and Community Music.
How would you describe Leeds to someone thinking of going there to study music?
Leeds is a wonderful city and is so vibrant with the arts and culture. The Jazz scene in particular is fantastic with so many performance opportunities. Leeds College of Music, being the specialist Music Conservatoire in the city, provides students with a realistic exposure into what the music industry is like and what is expected of you. We work alongside industry professionals who share their wisdom, experience and tricks of the trade with us to make us better equipped for when we become graduates. It's a brilliant city and environment to be involved in.
Why and what is your favourite work for wind band?
I particularly like Adam Gorbs works. I am from Jewish Descent and have always enjoyed Jewish Music. I also feel it suits the clarinet very well! Throughout my time at Leeds College of Music, I have been privileged to perform Adam Gorb's Yiddish Dances and his Bohemian Revelry. The clarinet parts are particularly fun to perform and the pieces are always a crowd pleaser!
What is the most challenging part of your role as a music student?
Being a music student requires you to spend hours alone in the practise room with nothing but your instrument, a metronome, a tuner and your music. On average, I train between 6-8 hours a day and this can get very lonely and frustrating as well as mentally and physically tiring. Sometimes you ask yourself, why am I doing this? Every musician gets these days and these are the days I personally find most challenging. I also find the rate in which you have to learn music extremely challenging. You need to be on it, focused and professional all of the time. Music College and your role as a music student differs from lots of other courses as your "friends" are actually your industry contacts there and then, even as a student they are your colleagues. We are trained to be professional at all times and this can prove to be exhausting sometimes. I advise all music students to have non-musician friends and have hobbies and interests outside of music. It is a very intense and highly demanding industry. I like to escape from it sometimes by enjoying my own company and socializing with non - musicians. I feel it is essential and healthy to break from the musical environment regularly to keep your own head.
And the most enjoyable?
Definitely the rehearsal process for any project I am doing! Although tedious and intense, I love working with like-minded musicians bouncing off their creativity, exchanging ideas and experimenting. Being part of a team and growing together is very important to me. You make friends for life in music. Also, there is no better feeling for me than getting to the end of a concert and the conductor giving you that smile of "you did a good job" or looking out at an audience smiling at you clapping hard, clearly moved by your performance. Making people feel something has always been my intention as a musician. There is nothing I enjoy more than knowing I've performed well and that I've touched a person through my playing.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years and 10 year time?
In 5-10 years time I would like to be running my own community projects. I am passionate about reaching out to people through music. It is something that everyone in the world can unite through and it is so powerful. I am particularly interested in reaching out to people with mental health difficulties through music and working with disabled children and adults. I would also like to manage my own music school eventually and offer workshops, masterclasses and specialist 1-1 tuition for specific instrumentalists and vocalists. I also love chamber music including orchestral playing and wind band music. I have every intention of keep up my performing upon graduation, particularly with my Duo Reed & Ivory and clarinet quartet Compass Clarinets.
What is your view on music education in schools and how did it influence you?
Music Education is so important in schools. A lot of children find it hard to express themselves in school or are not necessarily academic. Creative subjects like music give children like this a platform for free expression as well as encouraging discipline, organisation, teamwork and professionalism. Music influenced me greatly! Without music and the support of my team in High school from both staff and students, I would not be who I am today personally and professionally. I was not a particularly academic child and would always be the student at the back of the classroom a step behind everyone else. When I picked my clarinet up however, I felt intelligent and creative and at my happiest! I used music and my clarinet as my way of communicating. Without the opportunity in school to realize my talent, I would not be where I am today. I feel every student deserves this chance and support from good music teachers.
What has been the most exciting part of this academic year for you?
In December, just before the start of Semester 2 I was contacted along with my Duo partner, classical pianist Ben Cockburn by the award winning American Composer Greg Bartholomew. He had heard of our work and asked us if we would like to premiere his clarinet and piano Sonata "In the Language of Meditation." Our Duo Reed & Ivory has not been together long and we have worked so hard since it's birth that we were so excited and humbled to be given this opportunity! We're hoping to premiere this work later on this year.
What advice would you give to a young person who wants to get on the course you are studying?
I have a few points of advice that I have either been told myself or learnt through my own experience.
1) Work hard, be focused and commit and strive for perfection all of the time. There is no such thing as perfect but the closer you can get to the ideology of it, the better you will be as a player/vocalist, professional and colleague and people will want to work with you for your work ethic.
2) Do not apply to music college or for a university performance course with the mindset that you are better or weaker than anyone else. Never let complements go to your head and on the flip side, don't allow yourself to be downtrodden or intimidated. Your career will be short and you will make no money either way if you have these attitudes. Focus on yourself, your own craft and be the best you can be. You don't have time to compete unhealthily or feel threatened by other talent if you want to be successful.
3) Be thick-skinned. Don't let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses as a musician. There will be times when you're not chosen for a seat in an orchestra or you fail an audition. It's part of being a musician. You just have to keep going, take things on the chin and try harder next time.
4) My last point and this is something I have learnt through my own experiences. Set at least 1 day a week aside for yourself only. Go for a swim or a run, read a book, take up a dance class etc but be away from musicians and be away from the practise room. Socialize and find joy in other things as well as music. It is necessary to have the mental break from music and everything that comes with it. I find it is the days that you rest from it you improve because you give your brain the time to catch up and re-cooperate. You then look forward to your next practise and it is more focused and productive.
What is the funniest or most surprising thing that has happened to you while being a music student?
I think my most surprising and funny experience was as a first year at music college. I got a call to ask if I'd like to take part in day of filming for a Cruise Ship advertisement. Time was running out for the company and they were in desperate need of a clarinettist. I was so excited as it was my first piece of paid work and it sounded quite impressive. I didn't know too many details other than that I would need my instrument and would need to be there by 10am. When I got to the film set and got into hair and makeup I was unexpectedly dressed and styled as a man and was told I wouldn't have to play at all! Just simply mime and look into the camera. This was a 10 hour day. Lets just say it was not the kind of thing I was expecting! All the same, a good experience which I really enjoyed and a day filled with laughter, generally at how ridiculous and un-glamorous I looked! My flat mates sure had a good laugh at my expense when I came home that evening.