Young Ambassador Interview: Nicola Benedetti

RSNO Highland Young Ambassador, Susannah Mack, interviews Nicola Benedetti

I recently had the incredible opportunity to interview the one and only Nicola Benedetti before her concert with the RSNO. She was amazingly welcoming and kind and I’m truly grateful for her brilliant answers.
Scotland is verging on a very exciting time for classical music. Due to hard work, fantastic projects and great role models such as Nicola, I think there is a new lease of life into the classical world on the way. For example, look at the new RSNO youth projects and the expanding national youth orchestras with the new junior and senior orchestras already making headlines, and the regional orchestras across the country are getting more exciting all the time. After having said that, there are huge regional differences. In the Highlands we are lagging behind the rest because of remoteness and very limited musical experiences on offer.
I asked Nicola if she thought she might not have still had her opportunities if she had grown up somewhere more remote.

I definitely do. I think I was very lucky to have a Suzuki programme near to where I was, and to have parents that we able to take me to that and in me consistently getting the opportunities I needed in order to become a violinist. There’s only so much your talent can do for you. The rest is about good teaching, the right kind of exposure and enough people around you encouraging you to work hard at it. If you don’t have those things you can be as talented as you like but it’s very unlikely that you’re going to be able to develop that and make the most of it. Especially within classical music because of the level of expertise you have to learn.

The RSNO Young Ambassadors have been selected to encourage more young people into concert halls. What are your opinions on how to do this?

I don’t think it takes much, actually, whenever I’ve invited young people to concerts they’ve really enjoyed it. There are barriers which we can break down, and it’s a combined effort to make new people and young people feel welcome. There are some people who can really be quite hostile - staring and glaring if anyone makes a slight noise or does anything out of the ordinary in terms of the protocol - so all of the work can sometimes be undone, and we don’t want to have people being worried about doing something wrong, we want them to be relaxed and enjoying themselves. Maybe if it’s someone’s first time then give a brief explanation of what usually happens such as waiting to clap at the end of a piece - although personally I don’t mind when they clap they can clap in the middle of a movement and I won’t care! Just give them a little bit of a run-down of how it is in a classical concert hall. I think it helps a lot.

What if we adapted this idea to involve school children in music from a much earlier stage? What do you think we should be proud of in terms of musical education and what she thinks we should change?

I think at the moment there is a lot to be proud of especially in international comparisons. I think Scotland has done particularly well in protecting our culture budget and protecting their cultural education focus. I so wish that every single child in Scotland could have the chance to hear music, and have a music teacher in every school to take time to listen to all sorts of music, making it their job to expose their favourites to children of all ages, with different levels of complexity, and share with the kids their enthusiasm for listening to it, share with them why they enjoy it and why they were so moved by it. And then, obviously, I’d love for every child to have the chance to learn to play an instrument and to play in groups together. First of all it’s so unbelievably difficult; you need so much patience, concentration and perseverance which are skills which will take with you through life and into your future. And playing in a group teaches you so much about listening to one another, about being a more open and better person, and about working together. And so I wish there was an orchestral programme in every school.

Nicola is very active in the Sistema Scotland project, which transforms lives and communities through music. I wondered if we could potentially adapt this project to spread across the whole country, and I was delighted to hear that the project is being taken on elsewhere - already in Govanhill and another underway in Aberdeen. 

I think once the momentum gets going it’s just going to blossom. It takes such a devoted number of people to make something like that work, it takes a lot of funds and it takes a huge amount of support. I think they really proved themselves in Raploch and I think that made a big difference, gaining a very warm reception in Govanhill as they probably will in Aberdeen. It’s definitely their intention to run the programme out elsewhere and now they have government funding which shows to me that it’s something the government would like to see scattered across the country in as many cities and towns as they can.

It’s not every day that you meet one of your heroes, and to be offered their thoughts and ambitions in response to your questions. I think the biggest outcome from my interview with Nicola Benedetti is that by sharing our love of music, offering positive role models and by creating exciting new activities, we will be able to transform the future of classical music.
Susannah Mack
Susannah is part of the RSNO's Young Ambassador scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. For more information, visit the RSNO website.
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