emerge connects: claire edwardes + julia chien

2019 Emerge on Main artist Julia Chien asked Claire Edwardes five questions for Edwardes’ april 2, 2019 concert.

JC: As a soloist who is on the road a lot, what are some challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

CE: I am actually not on the road so much anymore to be honest – as Australia is so far away from everywhere else, we tend to do quite a lot of domestic touring, which can often be a few days here and a few days there, and then I might tour internationally 2-3 times a year. Which, for me as a mother of two young girls (8 and 10), can be quite challenging logistically in terms of my touring not being too disruptive to their lives and school. But I’ve had this career since before they were born, so they are pretty used to me being away and, in fact, this trip to Vancouver will be the first time I have ever taken them overseas with me for work. It’s exciting for all of us!

JC: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of self-recording? When, in the process of your practice, do you start recording yourself and what is your approach when you listen back to your recordings?

CE: Self-recording is something that has changed a lot since I was a student, namely because of the internet and technology. When I was studying, I used to have an archaic zoom recorder (there were no smartphones) or a clunky video camera. It was always really time consuming to watch or listen back to what you had recorded – not like these days when it is instant. And to be honest, self-recording is definitely something I did more of in my student days. Now with my group Ensemble Offspring, we get all of our shows professionally documented on video (and often recorded by the national broadcasting network as well) and these recordings always serve as very handy documents for what one might want to change next time one plays that piece. Of course audience and critical feedback also feeds into that, as well as your own instincts of what you need to keep working on. So for me, recording one’s work is just one part of a larger suite of techniques for improving my music making all the time.

JC: What is your approach to learning new repertoire? Does it differ when you have a shorter amount of time to do it?

CE: I always seem to have a short amount of time to learn new repertoire – and I am constantly learning new pieces and new commissions, so I do have a pretty ingrained approach to doing it. I spend quite a lot of time away from my instruments doing score study, really marking up the part and the score (even writing in sticking) and getting to know it as well as I can away from the instruments. And then I often have to spend quite some time doing the set up for the piece which takes a lot of thought. But when I finally get on my instruments, the process is quite minimal (it helps that I am a good sight reader too, so I am quite fortunate in that respect) – it’s a matter of just familiarizing my hands and muscle memory with the dots on the page. By then I have a pretty good mental picture of what is involved with the music (and have heard it in my mind already). That said, depending on whether it’s complex or simple, ensemble or solo, the process does change markedly from piece to piece!

JC: What advice would you give someone who is building their own collection of mallets and instruments?

CE: I would just say start small and grow them gradually. I was lucky in that I won a few vaguely lucrative international competitions as an early 20-something-year-old which helped me to gradually build up my larger instrument collection such as marimba, vibraphone, and bass drum. And when I’ve travelled, I have always picked up little bits and bobs – and now at age 43 I have pretty much everything I could want for in terms of instruments and sticks. It is rare that I walk into a shop and think, “I really need that” or “I don’t have one of those”. It’s gradual and it will happen (even if in the beginning it feels really slow). And on the sticks front, it’s always good to remember that at any one time in your life you tend to only use a small handful of all the sticks you own – sticks are a bit like clothes in a way, you change your favourites now and then, so if you think of the growth of your stick collection as organic rather than forcing it, then over time you will find you have a really good range.

JC: Are there any activities you do outside of music that you have found helpful to your career?

CE: I guess as you get older, being active and doing sport is more important – especially for a more physical instrument like percussion where core strength (moving the gear and playing it) is so important. So I do prioritize swimming, yoga, and running (although I could always do more as I’m too busy) to make sure I’m vaguely in shape – and it just makes me feel better, too. I love cooking but likewise don’t get as much time for that as I’d like anymore. It has been summer here in Australia for the last few months and I am quite obsessed with going to the beach. I find just being outdoors really helps my mental state and I love summer!

Use the links below to purchase tickets for Claire or Julia’s upcoming concerts at Music on Main: