Get to know Alison Melville, recorder soloist

Virtuoso performer Alison Melville joins a select chamber group of Tafelmusik musicians to present the baroque recorder in A Recorder Romp (Feb 8–11, 2018) at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. We sat down with Alison to learn more about her. Enjoy!

How did you come to choose your instrument?

Like many people I first encountered the recorder at school, as an after-school offering. I was eight years old and lived with my mum in southwest London (UK). That autumn, my classroom teacher Mr. Green offered to teach after-school group recorder lessons, charging only for the cost of the recorder and instruction book—a generous gesture for which I’ve always been grateful, because a higher cost would probably have made it unaffordable. I didn’t know what a recorder but when I heard that it was the flute thing my Uncle Bill played, I’m told I got very excited and wanted to be signed up right away. Uncle Bill was a cool guy.

What was your first music gig?

I first played for a paying audience as part a renaissance ensemble at the Forest Hill Library. The program was a mixed bag of music played by about ten musicians, including former members of the Toronto Consort David Klausner, Frank Nakashima, and the late Garry Chrighton, a couple of us teenagers, and other early-music enthusiasts. My first road trip was to PEI as a fourteen-year-old, playing the Hindemith and other rep as a “demo” ensemble for a music educator’s conference.

My first “union” gig was a CBC studio recording made using the Kunstkopf technique, which used microphones in the ears of a plastic head placed in the middle of the performing ensemble. It was a cutting-edge technology at the time and offered a “surround-sound” to classical music listeners. It was the first time I was hired to play with my professor Hugh Orr and Susan Prior (now Carduelis), who would become a frequent colleague, and I was both honoured and thrilled.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I guess I’d have to say it’s the late great Frans Brüggen, the Dutch player who more than anyone else really put the recorder on the map in the latter part of the last century. His beautiful and very personal playing was a revelation to the teenage me, and his attitude equally so— he seemed completely at peace with playing the recorder, an instrument seen as substandard by many, and not to be taken seriously. Whether they were wrong or right wasn’t really the point, and didn’t matter.

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?

Is there really such a thing as “guilty pleasure” music? I like listening to many different kinds, but if I had to narrow it down I’d choose Motown, Merseyside, experimental, some off-the-wall soundtracks … can’t decide!

What are the last three recordings you’ve listened to?

Lennon-McCartney, Here, There and Everywhere

Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes), The Lads of Alnick

Mavis Staples, We Shall Not Be Moved

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

Almost three years ago I began to learn printmaking, first at Nuit Blanche 2014, and then in classes with Loree Ovens at Open Studio. So far I work mostly on monotype and collagraph prints, and love these processes because they are so instructive and surprising. You learn a lot about yourself by exploring a new and different artistic practice, and it’s great to bring that info back to music making. So if I have a day free I might be found down at Open Studio, getting my hands blissfully paint-covered. (visit openstudio.ca to learn more.)

Are you involved in any extra-musical groups?

My partner Colin Savage and I ran a chamber music series (Baroque Music Beside the Grange) for many years, and after a decade’s hiatus plans are afoot to revive it, so some time is taken up with getting that rolling again under its new name of North Wind Concerts (stay tuned!).

I’m a member of Open Studio and of the Toronto Heliconian Club, and I’m a supporter of Amnesty International, Street Health, and the David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis Foundations.

Where do you see yourself 10 years in the future?

I have no earthly idea. I just hope I’m healthy and wiser.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians, especially kids at school learning to play the recorder?

Remember it’s about the music. Remember what music is about, which is not the same as athletics.

Being able to make music is really a big gift—pay attention, listen, work hard, and spin it through your heart as best you can.

And if you’re a recorder player, don’t be too surprised or bummed at the questions you will get throughout your life about why you chose this instrument, whether you play something else too, and if not, why not? We all have our own musical voices and if the recorder is yours, then just sing with it.

Join us for A Recorder Romp from Feb 8–11, 2018 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

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