Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sergio A. Mims: Chineke! Orchestra bassoonist Linton Stephens is "Player of the Month"

Linton Stephens

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May 1, 2017

Welcome back to the latest installment of our 'Player of the Month' feature!

Each month we feature one of our fantastic Chineke! or Chineke! Junior artists, and discuss with them their experiences, what Chineke! means to them, and any advice they might give to aspiring musicians.

This month we are showing some love to our wind section by featuring Chineke! Orchestra bassoonist Linton Stephens! 

Linton originally hails from the Wirral and began playing the Bassoon at the age of 16. He was swiftly awarded a place to study at the Royal Northern College of Music junior school and then continued his studies at the senior college under Graham Salvage and David Chatwin, after gaining a scholarship. He also went on to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in performance for which he was a prestigious Ogglesby Scholar and achieved a distinction.

After a short hiatus from study he won a place at the renowned Hochschule fur Music Franz Liszt in Weimar, under Prof. Frank Forst. Whilst in Germany he played as guest principal with the Wenigerode Kammer Orchester and Eisenach Theater Orchester.

Linton now enjoys a varied freelance career. Recent appearances include BBC Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Clonter Opera, Opera North, European Opera Centre, Northern Chamber Orchestra, English National Ballet, South Pacific tour.

As well as playing, he is also an artist in residence for ARK schools in London working with and coaching the woodwind students, and recently served as Chineke! delegate for the 2017 Association of British Orchestras conference.

Outside of music Linton enjoys keeping active going to the gym, rock climbing and training in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. He also works as an illustrator and independent artist. 

Q&A with Linton

How did you become a musician/become involved in music?

In primary school at about the age of 8, the local music service came in and the whole year did a pitch differentiation test. From there we were selected to play woodwind instruments and I chose the oboe at the time. I enjoyed it but I knew it wasn't my calling. I saw a picture of a bassoon in a book at a library and decided that that was what I wanted to play. But I was too small at the time. A few years later at around 16 years old, a good friend of mine at the local grammar school had told me that a lady had come into their class and asked if anyone wanted to play bassoon and the answer was a resounding no. I asked if she would take a note in to the teacher on my behalf, requesting to begin lessons. And that was that really. 

What do you wish someone had told you when you were first considering becoming a musician?

How to do taxes! In all seriousness. I think I struggled with justifying that how I expressed myself through my instrument was as legitimate as everyone else who did the same. I would constantly compare myself and I must confess I sometimes still do. As a musician now, I think you just have find your voice and keep believing that it is as important and individual as anyone/everyone else's. And that that's ok. You don't need anyone else to validate your musical opinions. 

How did you first hear about the Chineke! Foundation? What did you initially think of the idea and has that changed since you have been involved?

Chi-Chi sent me a message asking if I'd like to get involved. I asked to know more about it and when she explained her vision I really thought this is a cause I'm passionate about and not an opportunity I want to miss. My view of Chineke! now has not so much changed but matured in that I still believe that it's an important visual for young BME players, but also through working with so many people of such diverse backgrounds, I'm understanding that our own past experiences shape how we see things and in that sense everything we understand about the world is a reflection of how well we understand ourselves. Furthermore sometimes to truly appreciate what others have experienced we have to open our eyes, ears and our minds, especially when our own experience of the same thing can be vastly different. 

Have you found that there are any specific challenges associated with being a BME musician? If so, what are they?

I think it's the lack of role models there on the stage, in the frames on the walls, in the teaching rooms at the colleges, on the corner of our music and in the business as a whole. I remember very clearly being an impressionable 8 year old and watching the proms in our tiny front room over three or four nights consecutively. On the fourth night I turned to my mum and said 
'I don't think I should do this. I haven't seen any black people on the telly at all.' 
To which she replied :
'Well you make sure you're the first'
Of course, I'm not the first, but if a willful 8 year can recognise that, imagine what effect it could have on someone less stubborn. Moving forward, I think that whilst the history of classical music cannot be changed and certain traditions must be respected, we must be careful not to perpetuate traditions for traditions sake. 

What is the musical accomplishment you are most proud of? 

I can't mark it down to one thing. In terms of my career I've always tried to have goals along the way to stay focused. I suppose that at each stage, that particular goal was my proudest achievement; from gaining grade 8, to getting into youth orchestra, to winning a place a music college, to getting my first gig with at professional orchestra. If it comes down to a memorable moment though, playing for the queen was pretty awesome. 

How has playing with Chineke! helped you/your personal development as a musician?

As a free lance player you're constantly doing a variety of projects from the weird (dressing as a slug and playing in the Williamson tunnels in Liverpool as part of a collaboration with LIPA) to the wonderful (Chineke!'s debut). And each of these performances shape and mould you in some way. More importantly though I think it's the everyday things that affect you as a person which reflect in your playing. In joining Chineke! I became part of something that was much more than playing incredible music. It was the comradery, the shared vision and the lasting friendships that I have forged that I will take forward as a bassoonist. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring young BME musician?

Practise hard and stay humble!

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