Monday, December 27, 2010

Errollyn Wallen, 1: 'Before I could really say I knew much about music, I was making up pieces for the class to play.'

[The Girl In My Alphabet; Errollyn Wallen: composer, piano and voice; Avie 49 (2004) (70:00)] Errollyn Wallen adds: "This is actually a chamber music CD (A portrait disc) which contains The Girl In My Alphabet which is for two pianos. So it's eponymous."

AfriClassical has written of Errollyn Wallen in the past, and has posted a vocal holiday message from the composer, pianist and singer, called peace on earth. We arranged to interview Errollyn Wallen on Dec. 24, 2010 while she was in New York preparing for the Jan. 22, 2011 performance of her song The Girl In My Alphabet as part of Marc Peloquin's KeyedUp MusicProject. Errollyn Wallen adds: "Am not in New York for the concert." This is the first in a series of posts based on the interview, which we found very thought-provoking:

Good morning, Errollyn! This is Bill Zick calling. How are you?
Very well, thank you! Where are you in the States?
Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Oh right, great!
I know that you have been to the U.S. previously, performing...
Including on the West Coast?
Yes, I have.
At what point in your life did you begin taking part in music?
Well I think, like so many small children, it just grew naturally out of singing, playing, dancing. When I was about five, we were sent to dance school which included ballet, tap and stage dancing. I just know I was always singing and dancing, but also when I was nine I started piano lessons formally.
I see.
We had a very good school teacher who actually taught our class how to read and write music, and encouraged us to compose music. Before I could really say I knew much about music, I was making up pieces for the class to play. But also, I would make up songs my sister and I sang going to school. We sang the same song every day, timed so that we would get to school by the end of it!
I see.
It was a natural part of my life, and that's the attitude I still have today. The only way I can really make music is to just let it come out really. It's pretty much a constant stream!
You mentioned a sister, and I believe you also have a brother Byron Wallen who is a performer?
Yes, he's a wonderful trumpeter, and he works internationally. My father is a wonderful singer, so there's been music in my family pretty much.
Are you from Belize City in Belize?
That's right.
Did you have very many role models other than this teacher?
No, I've always been pretty much independent. To be honest, I was composing, I didn't even know I was much good at music. It was only when I started to do things like go on courses or go away from home that people started to say that I was any good. It was just something that I absolutely enjoyed, and so I would just do it. But composing was pretty much also right there at the beginning. I had no idea that it was a profession you could take part in. To me, composing meant dead white men stuck in a frame on a wall somewhere!
I see, tradition!
Yes! When I think back on it, people were often putting me off from it. From being a young child I loved the sound of classical music and I remember other people would put me off, saying “It's not for a little girl like you.” I couldn't understand it! It was just something I loved and I went toward...
Did you have a chance to attend concerts?
Yes, I did actually. I remember going to a concert with my uncle. He took me to a concert while I was quite young, 11, 12 or something. And then that seemed strange to me to be sitting in a hall very quietly listening to it very carefully, but I loved the sound of the piano. My mother had lived in the States and they would send recordings, the stories of classical musicians. I listened to those avidly! What I would do is, I would listen to what the piano teacher played at ballet class, and I loved that music. So then I would come home and try and find it on the radio. That's how I discovered our classical music radio station in the U.K. which is called BBC Radio 3. I would listen to that all the time, pretty much...
Were you able to receive that when you were in Belize?
Oh no, no! I moved to London when I was 2!
Oh, okay, I'm sorry!
I'm really pretty much an English national now. I've lived most of my life in the U.K., I went to school there. There were periods of time in the States, but all my education has been in the United Kingdom.

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