British five-string violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies is one of my very epic friends. She’s performed with Jon Lord of Deep Purple in Switzerland and the wedding of Posh Spice to David Beckham in Ireland. After that, she relocated to Boston, graduated from Berklee College of Music, (Summa Cum Laude) with the “Most Valuable Player” award, and gained a Masters (with Academic Honours) in Contemporary Improvisation from New England Conservatory.
Darol Anger described Helen’s music as “so strong, it approaches the status of a new sentient being.... Even in the most thorny, complex episodes, we are moved to care, laugh and rejoice, washed by waves of melodic love.”
Now, Helen is an Assistant Professor of Harmony at Berklee College of Music, and Visiting Jazz String Teacher (Community Programs) at Longy School of Music in Cambridge. She’s also currently on tour with guitarist David Fiucynski. (I told you she’s epic.)
Let’s learn what inspires this creative musician!
1. What's your latest project?
Musically, writing for my next album - but also revealing my first: "starstuff" to the world - I've been living too frantically to promote this yet!
Personally, it's to get in contact with my inner tortoise more this year, (despite being a dragon!) in order to encourage internal reflection and dialogue...the world moves too fast, and instead of the days hurtling through me, I’d like to be able to pass through each day in a more graceful, and grateful manner...so I can be more open to receive the music that is...
[Video] Jerry Leake on percussion and Helen on violin
2. What inspires your music?
Everything. Really everything. Life is music and music is life.
I’m a Synaesthete so see colours/textures/images with music, and that informs the bedrock of my compositions. I also create a "treasure box" to hold all those moments that inspire and move me. If the muse isn’t talking to me that day, I can draw upon that well, or bank of nourishing nuggets, then it's like fishing, and the ideas usually materialize in three ways:
a) I’m lucky and the piece just comes out in half an hour
b) It takes days/weeks of tweaking, and chipping away - like Michaelangelo's prisoners, I believe the "work of art" is already there, your job is just to reveal it. Creativity is part of the human condition.
c) Nothing ends up being codified, but it was a good fun engagement...
This is where one needs patience and the skill of ones craft - and a certain trust in the process, that it is more important than the product. It's all a working hypothesis...just like life, but for me, part of a larger sacred journey.
At best, music = one of the healing professions.
3. What's your 5 desert island albums?
This is so hard, as it changes as I change...and it's usually individual tracks rather than whole albums...but here goes...in no particular order:
1 "morimur": Bach Solo Violin Partita in d minor (with the cosmic chaconne )- recent research uncovers underpinning by chorales, and gematria....haunting and utterly beautiful
Christopher poppen and the Hilliard Ensemble
2 “Divine Shadows" Dhafer Youssef - colourful feast for the ears - tunisian singer, incredible voice, incredible music and arrangements.
3 Hildegarde of Bingen: “Feather on the breath of god"
Renaissance woman of 12th century - visionary, glimpse into the eternal mystery of writing a good melody!
4 Tord Gustavsen Trio - “Being There"
jazz with classical sensibilities, i just melt...bill evans beauty of touch and sensitivity, you probably need to be in a melancholy mood however...
5 My most recent addiction: this is just a track as i can't find the album - microtonal string quartet music
“En Secreto" by Mexican composer Julian Carrillo
that's been on repeat for at least a week...the subtleties in between the notes blow my mind...
and now i've left out Rosa Passos, Tinariwen, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Fats Waller, Arvo Part....eek....
4. Who's one artist/musician that you love but most people probably don't know of?
Again, a challenge. there are two presently.
Simon Shaheen - incredible Palestinian violinist/composer, charismatic performer and teacher - album “Blue Flame" fuses Jazz and Arabic voices in a compelling way, that retains the integrity of both.
The singer-songwriter group: “Birdsong at Morning". local to Boston, echoes of Nick Drake, with imaginative arrangements, soulful and warm accents and a fresh naturalness that I find is rare these days. They are kind enough to ask me to play in the band's backing string quartet sometimes and I always come out feeling renewed...a sign of "good" music...
5. What's an advice you wish someone told you when you started in the arts?
My incredible piano teacher, Heather Slade-Lipkin - (I was much more of a natural pianist than violinist...) - when I was feeling confused about my future, I once asked her if she considered that I had enough talent to become a concert pianist...she said "yes - but....if you can do anything else in life, do it, earn a living and reserve music for pure joy and fun. but if you have to do it (i.e. it's a vocation) - then you will have to do it..."
My life has been unfolding in ways I could never have imagined over the last 10 years - but I believe one just has to have courage to "follow one's bliss" (to use a Joseph Campbell phrase). If you sense a quest in you, follow it with as much integrity as you can, and you will be helped on the way. Perhaps music chooses us, not the reverse....
I believe that an artist's life is a devotional life in essence - it will then have it's own inherent reward.
6. How do we reach you?
facebook: helen sherrah-davies
buy album: StarStuff on CDBaby.com
If you're in New York, check out Helen's show tonight in Brooklyn!
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