“My first experience with percussion was seeing and being inspired by my school orchestra at the age of 12. I knew I needed something else to go alongside my piano playing, which was my main instrument at the time. It was an inexplicable feeling but as soon as I saw the percussion section I knew this was the family I belonged to”.
Evelyn Glennie is the first person in history to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist. “I still remember the smell of the tiny annexe room where my first ‘trial’ percussion lesson took place. I also remember the ecstatic feeling of holding a pair of drum sticks and striking a snare drum for the first time. I immediately fell in love with it and, to this day, that first drum has a special place in my heart”.
Evelyn Glennie performs worldwide with the greatest conductors, orchestras, and artists. She fondly recalls having played the first percussion concerto in the history of The Proms at the Albert Hall in 1992, which paved the way for orchestras around the world to feature percussion concerti. She had the honour of a leading role in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. “Playing at an event like that was proof that music really affects all of us, connecting us in ways that the spoken word cannot”.
Throughout her career, Evelyn has had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse range of artists. “Working with Björk allowed me to break away from the written page and fall into a completely different arena, audience-wise. Giving totally improvised performances with Fred Frith is always an exhilarating experience. We are asking the audience to listen in a completely different way”.
Evelyn’s solo recordings, which now exceed 30 CDs, are as diverse as her career on-stage. ‘Shadow Behind the Iron Sun’ and ‘Sound Spirits’ continue to be bestselling albums that amply demonstrate her brilliant improvisational skills. Of ‘Shadow’ Evelyn remembers: “the freedom I had in choosing whichever instruments I wanted – playing what I wanted and how I wanted – was the most liberating experience I have ever had in a studio”.
A leading commissioner of new works for solo percussion, Evelyn has more than 200 pieces to her name from many of the world’s most eminent composers. She believes this has been crucial to her success as a solo percussionist. “It’s important that I continue to commission and collaborate with a diverse range of composers whilst recognising the young talent coming through”. A double GRAMMY award winner and BAFTA nominee Evelyn is in demand as a composer in her own right and records high quality music for film, television and music library companies. The film ‘Touch the Sound’ and her enlightening TED speech remain key testimonies to her approach to sound-creation.
As a keen collector of percussion instruments Evelyn has gathered a private collection estimated at over 2,000 items. “I realized as soon as my parents bought me my second pair of sticks that I was going to be a collector of something!”
With over 90 international awards to date, including the Polar Music Prize, Evelyn continues to inspire and motivate people from all walks of life. Her masterclasses and consultations are designed to guide the next generation. “Listening is the backbone to every aspect of our lives. The challenges we face in business and at home can usually be overcome with better listening skills”.
Evelyn’s childhood fascination with trinkets led to her love of jewellery. “I have been a keen collector ever since, as a little girl, I visited my relatives on the Orkney Isles”. Evelyn’s first range, ‘Percussion’, is inspired by her ancestral home on the Orkney Isles. Her second range, ‘Sound Colour’, inspired by the shades of sound, was added to the collection in 2012.
To this day, Evelyn continues to invest in realising her vision – to Teach the World to Listen. “Life is full of challenges, but we can always find alternative ways of approaching our difficulties, which will often lead to new discoveries. My career and my life have been about listening in the deepest possible sense. Losing my hearing meant learning how to listen differently, to discover features of sound I hadn’t realized existed. Losing my hearing made me a better listener”. Evelyn is looking to open a centre that embodies her mission: “to improve communication and social cohesion by encouraging everyone to discover new ways of listening. We want to inspire, to create, to engage and to empower”.
Awarded an OBE in 1993, a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2007 and the Companion of Honour in 2016, Evelyn lives in the beautiful countryside of Cambridgeshire in the east of England.