Female Inspiration – International Women’s Day 2016

It’s International Women’s Day 2017. It is vital that globally we take a day to acknowledge and be aware of the wonderful women who are positively contributing to the improvement of our world (past, present and future). As a young, black female, I’m constantly reminded boy the media and society that I’m in the minority in most aspects of life. The following women have been sources of inspiration for me. It’s fantastic to see strong  black females especially in the arts and the music industry – long may it continue.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson

This cellist-singer-songwritter-composer has been an inspiration of mine every since I started learning the violin. I went on a mission to seek out black string players and I came across Ayanna. At the beginning 2017, I wanted to go to one of her gigs at Kings Place in London and I couldn’t make it and the tickets had sold out. I was so disappointed and that was that… Fast-forward two weeks and I actually got to meet her when on a mentoring day with AYM. She performed one of her songs, did a short Q&A and shared her music journey. I asked her what advice she’d give to young musicians like myself. She said “Be the best version of You”

Laura Mvula

Ever since I first discovered Laura Mvula (I think it was when she’d released her album Sing to the Moon) I’ve been in love with her song, her style and her vibe. Then, to my absolute delight, I found out that Birmingham Conservatoire was her alma mater and then I became obsessed. To know that someone so multi-talented (she plays/played the violin too) had come from my place of study gives such a boost. I’m an avid Instagram follower and I love her transparency. When I went to see Snarky Puppy on their tour in November 2015, Laura did an impromptu performance of her song Sing to the Moon with Snarky Puppy and it was mind-blowing. Not only is she a singer-songwriter but she’s now composing for the Royal Shakespeare company.

Pretty Yende

It was only recently that I’d become aware of  Pretty Yende. She’s a South African  soprano and she seems to be taking the world by storm after her breakthrough at the New York Metropolitan Opera . Like a typical young person, I scroll through Instagram  many times a day and I’d constantly see Pretty Yende pop up and I just had to find out more about her. A graduate of the young artist’s programme at La Scala Milan, she actually was first inspired to take up classical voice after hearing music on a British Airways advert!

Ingrid Silva

The short film above is what first made me aware of who Ingrid Silva was. I found the video so inspiring. In some ways her story is not unusual in the sense of many people start from humble beginnings and work hard to achieve their dreams. I genuinely connected with and was affected by the short film. It made me think about my own personal journey with my craft. However, again scrolling through Ingrid’s Instagram, seeing the amount of works she does just to give back to her community it’s really inspirational and confirms the importance of arts in society.

Millicent Stephenson

Saxophonist Millicent Stephenson has been another musician who has been on my radar since I was very young. I remember seeing her either on the tv or on a leaflet or poster, thinking “it’s the lady the with the gold sax”. A few years ago now, she won an award and that really symbolised progress and success for me. I believe she also runs workshops and conferences in Birmingham particularly for young women – I missed that last one but I’m definitely keeping my eyes and ears peeled for the next workshop. Also, Millicent Stephenson really synthesized many genres  that aren’t necessarily directly linked to the saxophone into her playing. She inspired me to do the same with the violin and integrate gospel songs, reggae etc. into my repertoire.

Tai Murray

Tai Murray was another internet based find for me. I think I was searchig some YouTube videos on the Ysayë solo violin sonatas and Tai Murray came up. Before her, I had never seen  or heard a black virtuoso. I had heard many great black violinists in other genres but never a black violinist with such dexterity in the classical industry. She is a huge inspiration because as a black violinist, she has helped to paved the way for people like me to follow.

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New Experiences: Italy 2016/2017

Over Christmas and the New Year, I had an amazing  8-day trip to South Tyrol in Northern Italy. I had never travelled to Italy before. This area is particularly popular for skiing and I’d never skied before so the trip was a completely new experience for me. I’m the type of person that will try anything once  – food, experiences, everything… BUT – if it doesn’t go well or I simply don’t like it, I will not do it again.

So on my first day, I tried to learn the basics of skiing -stopping and starting in the DSC_4283snowplough position. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the hang of it so well. I began with a really positive attitude and tried to take in all the information from my boyfriend and his dad.  Bearing in mind this is the nursery slope for children learning how to ski, I was determined to do well. I plucked up the courage to try and push off and it worked! All for a split second then I found myself uncontrollably moving backwards. Then I started to panic saying “Why am I moving backwards, why am I moving backwards? I want to go forwards”. I kept going backwards for what seemed like forever until I hit the travelator that takes children up and down the slope and landed on my bottom. Despite hugely embarrassing myself, by stopping the travelator and everyone on it looking unimpressed, I wanted to try again. So I got up, dusted the snow off myself and had another go. However, little by little, my confidence started to wane as I became more flustered by all the information I had to take in. The next thing I know, I’m slowly and involuntarily moving off and the slope is increasingly becoming more steep. At first I was calm and thought to myself that I’d probably stop in a few seconds…somehow. Then  the panic had set in…I realised that I wasn’t stopping and that I was accelerating too. I shout “Jack!” (my boyfriend). He tried to ski after me but I went at such a speed he couldn’t catch me. It was too late. Time seemed to stand still and it was like an out-of-body experience watching myself in slow motion hurtling down the hill knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. To make matters worse, at the bottom of the slope stood a huge crowd of parents and children watching the others ski down. I knew I would go flying into the crowd and I thought that they’d see me coming and move but they didn’t… and I kept hurtling down the slope only for my head to hit the a flagpole (for the ski school) and a small child to break my fall.

Luckily the only thing bruised was my dignity and I didn’t hurt myself, just the small child I skied (I use the term loosely) into.  I WAS MORTIFIED. I couldn’t believe what had just happened! Half of me was laughing at myself and half of me just wanted to crawl under a rock and never be seen again – I couldn’t believe how much I embarrassed myself in front of so many people. Fortunately, a ski instructor and a random lady help me up, asked  if I was ok and my boyfriend and his dad took me away.

I’m actually really proud of myself because had that happened to me even six months ago, I wouldn’t have had the courage to set foot on a ski slope ever again. I’m so stubborn and if something doesn’t go well the first time, for me it seems counterintuitive to do it again.  I’m so glad that I didn’t let a fall stop me from continuing to learning how to ski. Well, at first I made the overstatement that learning how to ski was harder than learning the violin but I take it back now! After the fall, we sat in the café at the top of the ski resort and laughed about it. I made the decision to try again and not be defeated before actually trying. I’m so glad I did because I went on to have 4 skiing lessons with one of the ski schools and it was an amazing experience and they really restored my self-confidence on the slopes.

By the end I could actually do things like the snowplough, controlling my speed, a few parallel turns.  I felt confident. This was a huge step for me because it’s not often that I take a positive attitude from a negative experience. It also highlighted the fact that I let fear stop me from doing things, achieving things and enjoying things. I didn’t want to continue with this attitude.

If I could fall down a nursery ski slope in front of a huge crowd, I can do anything.

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My Ancestry DNA


For the longest time, I’ve wanted to have my DNA tested in order to learn more about my ancestry. I only knew a limited amount of information on my family tree – I confidently know back to my great-grandparents on both sides but that’s it. Also, coming from a large family with lots of extended cousins and relations with lots of family stories, I just wanted a solid, concrete idea of my background rather than relying on family guesswork.

HOW THE PROCESS WORKS?

So, for me the process from start to finish was very quick, a lot quicker than expected. I had endlessly watched YouTube videos of people sharing their result and most people said their results came in in around 6 -8 weeks. My own process took 4 weeks all in all from buying the kit through to receiving the results.

I ordered my testing kit on October 14th, received it on the 17th, activated it online on the 24th. The lab had received my sample by November 3rd, the lab testing began on the 5th and I received my results on November 15th.

On receiving the DNA kit, you have to spit it a tube and send it away in a prepaid package to be tested in the labs.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW?

As a black British person with Caribbean heritage, I always knew that it was safe to say that I had descended from African slaves. My ancestors didn’t originate from the Caribbean. The indigenous people of the Islands belonged/belong to tribes such as the Arawaks, Caribs and Taínos. Due to the transatlantic slave trade, around 12-15 million Africans from many different tribes and nations were forcefully removed from their native lands. They were taken to be slaves in America, the Caribbean and various countries on the South American continent.

Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834

Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834

The slave trade took place between the 15 and 19th centuries and so it was too long ago for me to know where exactly my family originate from. Slaves were considered as property rather than people and they didn’t feature on censuses until the 19th century I believe. They were sold to different owners and thus their names would be frequently changed. Due to these factors, it is quite difficult for black people living now to trace and research their family history without any definite knowledge. Black people from Africa were stripped of their original identity and culture – for this reason it was important to me to find out any valuable information on what makes me who I am.

As far as I knew, I am half Jamaican and half Vincentian and that was it.
Enter Ancestry DNA.
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My results showed my genetic makeup was estimated to be from Nigeria, Benin & Togo, the Ivory Coast & Ghana, Cameroon & Congo, Mali, Africa Southeastern Bantu and the Iberian Peninsula (which is Spain and Portugal). I was so happy to discover that my European ancestry was from Spain. Anyone that knows me well, knows that I’m obsessed with all things Spanish. I had Spanish speaking lessons from a young age and I have a real passion for languages, particularly Spanish so I was absolutely thrilled to know that I have Spanish blood.

I think everyone should get their ancestry DNA results as it opens up a wealth of information. Now I know that my ancestors came from Nigeria, Ghana and other places in Africa. Obviously, I still identify as black British with Caribbean heritage but it’s good to know where my ancestors originated and I now know where my love for all things Spanish comes from. I think it’s important for me to acknowledge and appreciate my past and my ancestors who have paved the way for me to be where I am right now.  If you want to know more about your family history definitely get tested, it’s well worth the money!

Ancestry DNA also connects you with other people on their database who are related to you and I actually have 24 4th cousins or closer. With the information that the DNA testing gives you can do so much more than just having the sheer knowledge. Not only is your DNA simply analysed and matched up with others, but Ancestry DNA gives a plethora of historical and cultural information on all the ethnic backgrounds. This is great so that one can learn about the history of the cultures they may have as part of their genetic background.

Going forward, I plan to further research my African ancestry and find out what specific tribes I may come from and I perhaps have any ancestral links with music making!


Encourage Yourself

 

 

 

 

 

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

– Oscar Wilde

Particularly for student musicians, a common issue is comparing ourselves to our colleagues and peers. Of course, this is not exclusive to musicians and it occurs in all aspects of life. Maintaining focus when lots of other things are happening is difficult. I personally think that it is important to be aware of our surroundings and the people we have in our circle. However, for me, drive and determination should always come from within and not from the actions of others. Inspiration from others is always a good thing but relying on someone else’s actions as a catalyst to create one’s on action is not always effective. It is very easy to become distracted, sidetracked and driven off course especially when someone else in constantly in the subconscious. For me, concentrating on my own progress in life, music, relationships etc is far more important, relevant and useful than tracking someone else’s.

I’m a firm believer that everyone has something unique and different to offer and we should all treasure our individuality. Insecurity is always there but we have must not let it stop us from making progress. I know that I may not be as technically accomplished as other musicians but I don’t wallow in self pity. Whilst I’m working behind closed doors  to improve my weak areas, I champion my strengths. The trouble with being a musician is that we spend hours upon hours practising without recognition because no one sees the hard work we put it in. It’s the iceberg analogy. People only see the top, the success and not all the stress, anxiety and hard work underneath. Sometimes, I think how great it would be if someone were to give an applause at the end of every good practise session.  But alas, the reality is that sometimes we have to give ourselves a pat on the back.
Gone are the days of putting myself down. Inject some positivity into your life. Don’t be a doubting Thomas. Believe in yourself. Encourage yourself.

 

 

I’ve learnt to blow my own trumpet. If I don’t, no-one else will.

 

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BMus 1

The transition from sixth former to fully-fledged,  self-sufficient adult wasn’t a difficult one for me. Purcell was a great school for giving sixth formers a good amount of independence. I found that boarding school was the best preparation for university/conservatoire life because I was living away from home at 16. So for me, the living independently aspect was absolutely fine – sorted.

Year 1 at music college/ university definitely started out as a lot of fun but I soon began to realise that my care-free days at Purcell are long over.  Having gone through the rigmarole of applying of student finance and the enrolment process, I really did realise that being a full time student was something that I’d have to do for myself. Suddenly I found that I was the one that had to fill out all the forms and sort myself out. Doing the important stuff like registering at a new doctor’s surgery didn’t even cross my mind. Going from school student status  to suddenly being a ‘responsible adult’ at 18 is a tricky transition.

I had already decided in my head that I wanted to approach being a full time student differently to being in compulsory education. It’s different in that there is no one there to push you and ultimately, the incentive and motivation to do things must come from oneself. So, from day 1, I knew that I just wanted to dedicate as much time as I could to improving my skills as a violinist – specifically working on performance anxiety and technical issues that were significantly holding up my development. And in order to do that, it was a matter of prioritising. I prioritised my personal development over the more social aspects of student life. I can honestly say that I made the right decision for me hence being  MIA for the last few months. Committing myself to making a conscious effort to work on myself and the things that are important to me paid off.

May 25th was my final recital which marked the end of my first year at Birmingham Conservatoire. I played a really great, varied programme: Brahms: Scherzo from the F-A-E sonata, Bach: Sonata No.1 for solo violin (Adagio and Presto) and Sarasate: Romanza Andaluza. I enjoyed my repertoire despite there being a few difficulties. All I can say is that  a year ago, I faced considerable challenges both musically and personally and I have achieved most things that I set out to.

Bring on BMus 2 in September 2016 🙂

Goals 2016

So the first month of 2016 has already flown by! I can’t believe it.

I’ve seen many people post that January was a trial period for 2016 and that February is the month to start afresh and I agree. January was very busy for me so I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about my goals for 2016. So here they are  – some random goals for the year!

  • Save money!!!
  • Read more – I’ve always liked reading but I’ve never had the time. Also reading the Bible more.
  • Start driving lessons & pass theory test.
  • Relax more – I find it hard to just switch off and I’m the biggest worrier.
  • Go outside more and explore different cities – I stay indoors too much because I’m comfortable.
  • Discover new music, a new composer, group – I tend to listen to the same things and not step out of my comfort zone.
  • Try to contact my friends at least once a month.
  • Stop procrastinating and making excuses.
  • Build self confidence through putting myself out therefore and seizing more opportunities even if I’m apprehensive.
  • Call my loved ones more often.
  • Practice more efficiently.
  • Be happy and smile more.IMG_0001