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In conversation with… Liz Lane and Belinda Evans

Wed 5 August 2020

Composer, arranger and educator Dr Liz Lane tutors for Trinity Laban’s Certificate: The Practice of Music Making course. Liz was commissioned by TL to create Finale! in collaboration with choreographer Lizzie Kew Ross and local residents, celebrating Lewisham’s Age Against the Machine festival.

Most recently, she has been working with soprano Belinda Evans on their Bluebird series. 

We caught up with Liz and Belinda to learn more about collaboration and creativity during lockdown. 

How has Covid-19 affected your working lives? 

Belinda Evans: “I work across genres so I like to consider myself as quite versatile. In a way that’s been really fortunate in a time like this. I was working on a stadium tour with André Rieu’s Johann Strauss Orchestra when lockdown happened. We left America after performing only one concert and missed all the rest of our concert programme. We’ve been waiting to get back on tour ever since. It’s difficult to know if people are going to come back when it’s safe to. Are people going to want to make the effort to go to a concert?

“But I’ve been really lucky that I have a regular church job on a Sunday where I’ve been for 15 years. Our brilliant Director of Music has been fantastic at keeping us creative. We’ve been making podcasts and streaming those every Sunday so the congregation still get their fix of sacred music.”

Liz Lane: “I’ve been really lucky I think. I haven’t really lost any significant work. I work academically at the University of the West of England, which has gone online, and my work at Trinity Laban is online anyway. As is my work for the Open University. I had a couple of commissions I was working on that are still going ahead, but at different time scales. And I’m doing a virtual string quartet with two players who live in England, and two who live in Hong Kong. That wouldn’t have happened had it not been for lockdown. I’ve enjoyed having to do things in new ways.

“At the same time it’s been so very different. Not having interactions with colleagues, friends, fellow musicians – having that live element taken away – there’s just something so big in your life that is missing. I’m trying to find a positive way through.”

Can you tell us more about the Bluebird project? How did it start?

LL: “The Bluebird project is a series of miniature songs and it’s about collaboration. It came out of lockdown. Carol Bent, who is a creative catalyst, invited me to contribute to one of her STEM to STEAM online suppers, which promotes putting the arts into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I thought ‘well ok why don’t I write something new?’.

“She had a series of diaries which she put on Facebook at the beginning of lockdown in which she said that instead of ‘lockdown’ she was going to ‘look up’. I took her words to a friend of mine, Jennifer Henderson, who’s a poet – she started writing poetry in her seventies and is now 91 – and she created this beautiful poem called Look Up.

“I felt that Belinda was perfect for these words and concept. I got in touch and asked if we could do a little a capella song. Belinda said why don’t we do more. So we did. That was the beginning of Bluebird.”

BE: “We were really determined from the beginning it mustn’t involve stress. It’s a project to bring joy. It’s really easy to curl up into a ball as a creative person and think everything’s disappeared. We wanted it to be a little ray of sunshine in the darkness to bring some hope.

“The name ‘Bluebird’ was inspired by the lyrics of ‘Over the Rainbow’, so many versions of which had been popping up during lockdown.  We then found out that a bluebird is the bird of happiness and here started Bluebird Collaborative.”

How has the project developed?

BE: “The process has been really organic. Liz has worked very hard because she knows lots of people. She’s very good at getting itn out there in the musical universe. A lot of people have been interested, hence these great collaborations. We’ve got Jennifer who’s the perfect poet, Liz who’s the perfect composer, a wonderful brass player in Tom [Hutchinson], and Gary [Andrews] who’s done all these wonderful animations so everyone’s doing what they’re good at.”

One of the projects you’ve worked on as part of the Bluebird series is Aga Serugo Lugo’s #SetOperaFree project. Tell us more about your involvement and the aria ‘Darkest Night’.

LL: “I teach on Trinity Laban’s Certificate: The Practice of Music Making (CPMM) course, a one-year programme developed in partnership with the Open University. I love working on it, it’s a brilliant course, and I met Aga when he tutored on the residential part of the programme. During lockdown he has established Set Opera Free, a digital operatic project encouraging creatives from around the world to connect and tell stories through music. There are about 30 composers who’ve been invited to write a short first aria as the start of a mini-opera. It’s like operatic consequences. Ours, called The Party’s Over, was conceived by librettist Andy Rashleigh. The first aria is ‘Darkest Night’.”

BE: “The point is that other people will continue the story and we’ll see where it goes. It could be a big collaborative crossing-borders piece.”

LL: “For the aria, I wanted to do something different from solo voice. There’s such amazing music making going on brass bands that people don’t know about it. I approached the Principal Cornet of the Cory Band Tom Hutchinson. Normally he would be too busy playing and teaching but he immediately said he’d like to get involved. I wanted to see what would happen with Belinda’s amazing operatic voice and this amazing virtuoso cornet. They’ve never met or spoken to each other and yet there’s this aria.”

As you couldn’t meet in person, how did you record the performance?

BE: “I’m really conscious of not disturbing my neighbours. So I recorded that at Guards’ Chapel where I have my regular Sunday job. For the first time in ten, eleven weeks I could really sing and remembered this is a thing I do.”

LL: “Tom recorded ‘Darkest Night’ in three parts because it’s so virtuosic. During lockdown I had been learning some basic audio and video editing skills for another project, so lined his audio up with Belinda’s track before handing it over to animator and video creator Gary Andrews.

Do you always work in a collaborative way?

LL: “It depends on the sort of commission. I have been doing more community collaborative ventures. I love that because I love working with people – it sparks me.”

Can you share any advice for students or recent alumni?

LL: “Get involved, help out and make connections. Where you see an opportunity, try and make that connection between other people, for yourself and others.

BE: “It’s as much about being a good colleague as it is about being a good musician. They just have to go hand in hand. And in times like this you have to keep calm and carry on and just be a good human.”

Do you think there will be lasting change in the music world? If so, what kind of change do you foresee?

LL: “It’s a sort of unknown at the moment. You have to take each day as you can and do what you can with it. I think the things that have happened in lockdown will help positively inform where the arts go because there have been different opportunities.”

BE: “The mental health implications of this lockdown will be resonating for ages. Everything familiar is on hold, and the worry is that it won’t come back. But I do believe that after this there will be such a thirst for the arts. All this creativity is springing from a place of need. I really feel that there’s no way anyone can suppress the urge to create. If we all keep putting it out there people are going to lap it up. I have a lot of hope for the future.”

Any future plans you’d like to share with us? 

BE: “We’ve got a few more Bluebirds in the pipeline – ideas and text for things have sparked. It will find it’s own way. And then I hope that there will be a way to honour it, the joy that it’s brought us. It’s really given us something to focus on. We’ll have to have a live performance of it one day to commemorate the end of lockdown.”