The Personal Bit!
To the Manor Born! It would seem inevitable that I would combine a career as a freelance musician with that of an instrument technician. I was born in Wimbledon into the largest family-owned piano tuning business in the country. As a fifteen-year-old I was taught to tune pianos and began to develop an ear for the finer points and intricacies of musical sound. Despite the non-woodwind aspect of this background, I was awarded an Exhibition Scholarship to the R.C.M. when I was thirteen, with the clarinet as my primary instrument. Alongside my studies as a clarinettist, I also undertook the City and Guilds of London Institute Diploma Course in Musical Instrument Technology at Merton College, where my father was the instructor in piano tuning. I was to gain my A.R.C.M. as a clarinet player in 1974 and in 1975 became the first student to acquire the City and Guilds diploma with an overall distinction.
My career since then has pursued both of these interests, gaining much experience as a woodwind technician, alongside playing at a professional level. I held the post of principal with the English Festival Opera, as well as working as a freelance extra for many orchestras and ensembles: including the B.S.O., National Symphony, London Theatre Orchestra, Vienna Touring Opera, Ellen Kent Opera, Regency Opera, to name but a few!
For all of my professional life, I have sustained a woodwind repair workshop and enjoy the challenges and rewards it brings. From fully restoring older, high-quality instruments, to keeping budget instruments going for local schools. I take particular interest in spending time with each customer, finding out what their requirement is, giving them the best advice possible and, where possible, a range of options when it comes to servicing or restoring an instrument. In recent years I have worked closely with Clarinets Direct, ( https://www.clarinetsdirect.net ) often restoring valuable high-quality instruments back to their original playing condition, so that they can be used again, recycled you might say, by today’s professionals and keen amateurs.
My wider career has also encompassed teaching, as I became the clarinet teacher for Southampton University in 1985 and, as the music department grew in both numbers and stature, I grew with it. Having, also, frequently taken opportunities to conduct, I formed the University Concert Band in 1992 and became Head of Woodwind Performance Studies in 1998, holding this position until the compression of the music course in 2018 removed this role. Whilst in this capacity I developed a wide-range of academic interests in music performance generally and woodwind performance specifically. I found that I have been able to combine my knowledge of resonance, through my piano tuning training, with my knowledge of woodwind instrument construction and mechanics and, as a result, have carried out some original research into the behaviour of woodwind instrument acoustics. The idea was to investigate what was going wrong acoustically with the instrument when not being played correctly, preventing the student from being able to control registers, intonation and tone production in general, as often presented to me by first year students trying to develop beyond the grade eight bench-mark! As a result of these combined interests I have developed seminars in basic woodwind acoustics; without the complex mathematical lexicon associated with the subject, explaining how a player should be able to 'be at one' with their instrument, also, historical performance practice, perceived variations in articulation and tonal styles, and the relationship between the performer and the composer.
Back to the workshop! When helping visiting customers, I have found that this detailed understanding of woodwind playing from the player's perspective, combined with my knowledge as a technician, can help me to separate performing issues, shall we say 'player-error,' which I can't immediately fix; and might require a diplomatic discussion, with those where the instrument might require some specialist mechanical attention, which I can fix!
Finally, for those wishing to know where my other, wider interests have led to, I will add that my additional interest in conducting has led to opportunities to direct chamber orchestras, amateur symphony orchestras, bands and choirs, as the occasions arose. Inevitably this has also embraced larger-scale theatre work and has now led to me being constantly called upon to direct for larger music theatre companies around the South. Since 1991 I have worked regularly with societies , from Bournemouth and Southampton to periods at Swindon, Epsom, Woking and beyond! I have now notched up directing over 80 shows, many of them regional premieres, with several of these receiving National awards, as well as being the recipient of several awards myself. I still love coming back to where it all started, playing the clarinet, and look forwards to every opportunity when I can do this.