Local Opera Activist Tania Holland Williams talks to us about opera, inspiration and recommends local musicians ahead of events series The Locker Conversations coming up at No.34…
Ideas Test: You describe yourself as an Opera Activist. Could you explain what you mean by that term?
Tania Holland Williams: The musical backdrop to my life as a child was largely based on the Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones and as someone who hails from what would today be classed as a disadvantaged family background, opera was always something that felt like it belonged to other people. So I count myself amazingly lucky that my secondary school had a great music teacher with strong links to Glyndebourne touring opera and each year we would have a visit from their education department.
Having the opportunity to hear classical singers up close and discover story-telling through opera opened a world of sound beauty that I could never have imagined.
Being an opera activist simply means that, as far as possible, I want to do everything I can to introduce other people to that beauty and wonder.
IT: Ideas Test worked with you on your project Davy Jones’ Locker – can you chat a little about that project?
THW: Davy Jones’ Locker is an umbrella term for an itinerant music platform that has been running for over 3 years now. The project began with something called the Locker Living Room series, with concerts taking place in domestic settings. Both the Medway pilot and the Swale Living Room experiments were supported by Ideas Test and benefitted hugely from the associated mentoring.
Through the Living Room series we have been looking at ways in which to introduce as diverse an audience as possible to live contemporary music in the classical idiom. Essentially the promotors of the Living Room gigs are adventurous householders who invite a mix of friends, family and neighbours (at least 10 people per event), into their homes for an evening of music and discourse about how we consume music.
The Locker ensemble pitch up with a composer in tow, and together with the audience we work out what we are going to perform based on where the conversation takes us.
Sometimes we only play a few pieces, no piece is longer than 8 minutes, the audience often has to make decisions about how to interpret the piece or whether to hear something for a second time through. Despite the extreme contemporary nature of the programming and perhaps because of the democratising effect of the discussion, audiences are often moved to tears, laughter and wholehearted engagement in ways that are very rare when it comes to more conventional contemporary classical encounters.
IT: How did The Locker Conversations idea come about?
THW: We were thinking about ways in which to move forward from the Living Room encounters and to continue to stretch ourselves as artists and performers. It made sense that working with musicians from other backgrounds might present an opportunity to open up the Locker to new audiences and give scope to develop a programme that is about collaboration across genres which might then lend itself to some serious musical challenges and rewards. From there it was a skip and a jump to developing a series that starts and ends with conversation and dialogue at all levels – between performer and composer; composer and audience; folk and classical; improviser and sound artist.
IT: What can our audience expect from The Locker Conversations events?
THW: All Locker events over the last three years have been pretty informal in terms of classical music encounters and the Locker Conversations will be no exception. There is likely to be a lot of interaction, some irreverence a heap of talking – all pivoting around a central axis of some fantastic new sounds.
IT: Who are you excited about in music at the moment? Are there any local artists you would recommend?
THW: Well of course I’m going to recommend the groups who are performing with us in the Locker Conversations – Arcelia and Hand of Stabs, and Sound Artist Liz Hayward also works in a more conventional band Chantilly Lace.
But other bods I’ve been having a listen to recently are Medway folk band The Flowing – atmospheric alternative folk, Swale-born opera composer Matt Rogers – particularly moved by his opera about Antarctica, On the Axis of This World – and Whitstable-based sound artist Matthew Herbert – fascinated by his reworking of the Adagio section of Mahler’s Symphony No.10.
If it’s sound art you are after then Sam Bailey of Piano in the Woods fame is appearing with 6 decaying pianos at the awesome Smuggler’s festival in Deal. And although it’s just happened I would recommend everyone in Medway signing up for Homespun music festival if they haven’t done so already – a really well curated programme (and no I’m not on royalties).