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Evelyn Glennie: Paving the way as the first full-time solo percussionist

Evelyn Glennie, a renowned percussionist from Scotland, explains the value she places on music and how it has greatly influenced her life. She is the first person ever to make a career as a solo percussionist, making her a trailblazer of her career path.

She developed her passion for percussion and music at a young age. Glennie describes how she was just in awe of the different percussion instruments that she would see in performances.

“I basically was a pupil, comprehensive school from the age of 12,” Glennie said. “And that was when I saw the school orchestra, and I saw the percussion section in the orchestra. I was just simply intrigued and asked to have lessons.”

As a percussionist, Glennie does not particularly have a style that she prefers. Instead, she sees all music as one entity.

“Music is music,” Glennie said. “I don't categorize music as this or that. It's been really important for me going through my musical journey just to be seen as a musician… So I want to feel as though my mind is elastic enough to feel as though I can enter any one of those doors.”

As stated, Glennie is the first solo percussionist with a fully sustained career in this art form. While this changed the face of percussion for many, it brought about many challenges for Glennie.

“I was the first full time solo percussionist in the world, so that did not exist before,” Glennie said. “I think the main challenge was getting the repertoire known and getting enough repertoire to sustain a career. So it was hugely important to collaborate with composers immediately, and get a body of repertoire in there so that promoters had something to look at and to discuss.”

However, a lack of repertoire for solo percussion was not the only issue Evelyn has faced. She started to lose her hearing at the age of 8 and by age 12 she was profoundly deaf. This does not inhibit her ability to perform, and rather than isolating her, it has given her a unique connection to her music, and she is using other senses to communicate with the audience.

“For me, vision is everything,” Glennie said. “So when I position myself on stage for the concertos, the conductor must be seen. So he or she can't be too far into the orchestra. It's really important that I see about three-quarters of the orchestra. So I positioned myself to a more or less 90-degree angle to the audience, give or take. So there's all sorts of things that can happen. But really, it's the preparation beforehand. But it's a real visual contact. That's absolutely key.”

Glennie has traveled much for her career and has performed in a plethora of places. When Covid-19 came about, many people had to put their work on hold and were unable to travel. For Glennie, this extra time was something she valued.

“Well, it was a very interesting experience, because it was, for me, a great relief not to perform,” Glennie said. “So it was really wonderful having the time at home, having no deadlines, not having to practice repertoire for a certain date at a certain time. It was a huge relief, actually. And a huge relief not to travel. So I think that I was then able to open up my creativity because I had the time to delve into all different kinds of instruments and all different musical situations myself.”

With all of the travel Glennie does, the myriad cultures have influenced her work, but not in ways that have been obvious.

“I think there definitely have been influences,” Glennie said. “I think that's the nature of percussion. With instruments, you know, when you look at the traditional Chinese, playing percussion is quite different to Western style percussion.”

She is an inspiration to many, being the famous percussionist that she is today. To the young people who may look up to her, Glennie recommends going for what you love.

“It's one of those things that if you're passionate about and if you're keen to create your own opportunities, because that is an art in itself, then just simply go for it. There are plenty of situations where you might doubt yourself and things like that. But ultimately, if you keep coming back to thinking, ‘you know what, I quite like to do this,’ then just do it. Just do it.”

Photos by Philip Rathmer, Brigitte Octobans and Roto Toms


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Article by Ava Wojnowski

Ava Wojnowski is an intern with LunART. She is majoring in journalism and Spanish and is excited to bring her passion for writing to LunART. Outside of school, Wojnowski loves to spend time outside and also loves to listen to music. She played the viola from 4th to 12th grade, so music has always been a part of her life.

Ava Wojnowski

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