How did I get where I am now?

Find Your Voice
Irish Singer Elizabeth Hilliard, photo: MIhai Cucu

Why i love contemporary music

I have lived with music all of my life. My parents are both huge music fans. My mother loved singing, she sang in many different choirs, my father has a massive record collection – and has recently moved onto streaming. They both enjoy going to concerts, and met when my father was recommended to take trombone lessons from my mother. It was only natural that I would be having piano lessons from an early age and be encouraged to enjoy music and to find out more about it.

It was at age 7, in my Grade 1 class in the College of Music on Adelaide Road, that I was first introduced to Varese. I loved him – possibly because the main thing in theory class was to be able to recognise the set works. I couldn’t always distinguish between Bach and Vivaldi but there was no mistaking the Varese. Perhaps at 10, I remember listening to my Dad’s record of the Kings Singers singing of Ligeti’s Nonsense Madrigals and being really interested in the sounds they were making.

Many years later I was studying for my Grade 8 theory with Anne Leahy in what was then renamed the Conservatory of Music and Drama on Chatham Row, and she introduced us to so much 20th Century music. My absolute favourite was Cathy Berberian’s performance of Berio’s Sequenza III. I’d never heard anything like it, and was just struck by the combination of normal, every day sounds of laughter and crying and breathing with the drama of the piece and the creation of something completely different which seemed to me to be the most expressive thing I’d every heard. I even brought my cassette tape of it into school – our English teacher encouraged us to do a ‘Show and Tell’ – to bring in a poem / novel that meant something and to share it with the class.

I knew then that I would have to perform new music. Music written by composers that shared the world I live in. That there would be a shared knowledge of human history. I used to think about how we shared even electricity, how now candlelight / paraffin light is seen as a romantic gesture, where in past centuries it was a everyday or even luxury item. Now I think of how we share the knowledge of climate change, the awareness of the anthropocene era and how so many species are becoming extinct. We share the knowledge of the wealth of billionaires being dramatically increased over the course of 2020, even as more and more people are living in desperate circumstances, relying on inadequate resources, unable to or perhaps not allowed to work, perhaps working for less than a living wage.

2 thoughts on “How did I get where I am now?

    1. Elizabeth, this is fascinating, I always wondered where your love of contemporary music came from. Best wishes for 2021, Gillian Sheils

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