Hattie Butterworth’s Blog
Cello Student. It’s just a big violin…
‘There is so much life and beauty still to uncover through listening and playing. I will never find it all in this lifetime, but to have experienced a small amount of it to such a degree, I believe, is such a wonderful component of faith.’
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20 year old cellist Hattie Butterworth is a recipient of many awards, such as the Hereford Police Choir young musician award, an AYM award and an Agar Trust Award. Hattie is currently studying with Melissa Phelps and Maria Zachariadou at the Royal College of Music with a foundation scholarship, supported by the Harry and Fenella Hope Memorial Scholarship. Hattie began the cello shortly before turning 12 and achieved her grade 8 distinction within 3 years.
In September 2014, Hattie was accepted into the sixth form at Chetham’s School of Music to study with Anna Menzies. Whilst at Chets, Hattie received the schools’ Ida Caroll bursary award, reached the final of the school’s quartet competition and was principal cello of the symphony orchestra during her final year.
In the video, The Odora Trio play Schubert’s Piano Trio No.1 in B flat at Southwark Cathedral on 1st May 2018.
We are delighted to welcome Hattie Butterworth as a contributor to Larsen Strings.
Thoughts on Managing Loneliness as a Musician
It occurs to me on a daily basis that my life as a musician is often an inherently lonely one. Simply in order to achieve a sound technical facility on any piece of music, so many hours of individual practice time are required. We come out of an audition we’re not happy with, we’re alone. Many hours are also spent travelling alone to dep for concert and attend courses with people we don’t know. It is easy to go for days without seeing people properly. Alongside this it is easy to feel suffocated and alone in rejection and failure. We see these as a given, a sacrifice we have to make, but the sacrifice should feel worth it and it often doesn’t.
Loneliness and aloneness are often documented as two different concepts. Being alone turns into loneliness as we feel alone in our struggling. When the inevitable ups and downs aren’t shared, mourned and celebrated, then we are alone. We come to realise we aren’t alone in our struggles when we see how many supportive and like minded people there are around us and share our experiences with them.
I often struggle the most with giving myself permission to take time off to talk and socialise. It’s not a natural priority for me a lot of the time. I’m convinced I will feel the greatest sense of achievement through individual, focused work. I am starting to see how often this hard work doesn’t pay off because of stress, personal expectation and criticism. To be alone all day creates a breeding ground for negative thoughts and beliefs, we get to a performance and joy isn’t present in the experience because we have lost ourselves and our confidence. I struggled a great deal in my first year of music college due to loneliness and anxiety. Much of this was down to adjusting to managing my own timetable. At school, social time is scheduled for you, but at college and especially in London, it can be difficult to make it a priority.
‘…we have to perform with others to achieve a sense of fulfilment.’
As I mentioned in my previous blog, much of my music making has been with my piano trio. Without them I don’t think I could survive. Rehearsing together is a wonderful and enriching experience that inspires me every day. It shows me we have to perform with others to achieve a sense of fulfilment. Nothing kills loneliness more than performing with other wonderful musicians, realising how worth it the practice is. Audiences so often respect how much time it takes to prepare a piece, and so often we don’t! We owe it to ourselves to perform and receive from the music community.
‘Strength is shown by sharing weakness…’
Being alone is something I think I will always struggle with, but I am only recently understanding how it doesn’t have to be lonely. Strength is shown by sharing weakness, I find myself constantly overwhelmed by how similar we all are in our struggles. Studying music is always going to have its ups and downs but we must trust that we are supported. We are often alone in a practice room, but never alone in suffering.
What Chamber Music Has Taught Us
It’s been almost two years since my piano trio and I fell together. Our violinist Sophie and I were close friends at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and when the cellist in her trio at the Royal Academy of Music dropped out, I was asked to join. From the start we didn’t take things lightly, our first musical challenge being Tchaikovsky’s huge Piano Trio in A minor. Since then we’ve been on a huge journey the past few years and, though we’ve had our ups and downs during this time, trio has remained such a wonderful constant in my musical life. As many other things fluctuate and orchestral projects come and go, trio remains a weekly venture that I look forward to invariably.
I’ve spoken to my trio about their thoughts about our group and the wonderful form of chamber music. Our pianist, Songeun, makes the point of collaborative music making, “As a pianist, most of my hours spent playing the piano are by myself in a practice room, and, unless it’s a concerto, I am alone on stage without an accompanist. The fact I have others with me is a great reassurance.” She also spoke about how bouncing off two other musicians helps the analytical side of rehearsing, “It is easier to take the piece apart and listen to the harmony, as I am not having to do everything!”
This is such an interesting part of rehearsing together. There are three differing opinions and three perspectives on harmony, structure and emotional colour. We focus on aligning our thoughts about the music in rehearsal, but a lot of the life in the music comes during performance and, luckily, performing is becoming a more and more regular occurrence for us.
Musicians often talk about the disagreements that can surface in chamber music rehearsals as big characters with musical opinions battle it out for one overriding decision. Although we frequently disagree about many things in rehearsal, we try to play more than we talk and solve disagreements through trial and error. I think we have found chamber music to have brought us so much closer together, rather than divided us.Sophie told me how “chamber music allows you as a performer to bond and create relationships with other like minded people, expanding your musical breadth”.
Music college is so tough and it is so easy to feel in some type of competition with everyone, but a chamber music group is a collaborative effort towards a common goal and the competition diminishes. We try to be a support to each other in all aspect of life and seeing each other multiple times a week means they are probably the two musicians I work with most regularly.
Chamber music has inspired me to push myself in my solo playing. I have learned so many techniques and developed a totally different style of hearing. I feel I know what I want from my own playing much more because the others have taught me how to listen and react. Most of all, I think playing chamber music teaches us that chamber music is everywhere. From solo to concerto, there are always voices to react to and levels to uncover.
Trio has also provided us with the opportunity to travel and meet people. We love talking to our audiences after a concert and sometimes the feedback is so far from anything we’d expect. Music college can feel a very critical space, but reaching out and performing around the city and country, we meet people that our music has spoken to, people who are interested and excited about us.
Hearing about people’s experiences listening to our music makes it all so worthwhile and I am grateful everyday for the wonderful musicians I am lucky enough to call my friends.
Will We Ever Enjoy Practising?
Practice is often an unpopular word among music students like me. Sometimes, I must admit, we’d rather be doing anything else and will find any excuse to avoid it. The likes of Ray Chen and Anne-Sophie Mutter have also openly revealed their dislike of practice, and they’re not the only professionals that do. Practice can hold negative connotations from childhood, but why when we’ve already made the decision to devote our lives to music does the idea of practising still frustrate us so much?
Of course it’s largely about the physical effort and concentration required. It is no relaxing task to practice an instrument for hours a day, the idea of getting an instrument out of its case often being the worst part. Practice can seem overwhelming and unfulfilling if goals are big and time is short, which causes huge stress, causing us to flee from or procrastinate the situation.
Despite this, I must admit that I am not someone that has had to struggle a great deal in the past with motivation to practice. I started the cello shortly before turning 12, so a lot motivation came from myself as well as my parents. I was very ambitious from the start and became hyper aware of how behind I was with my playing. This drive and motivation built in a side to practice that is probably the most unhealthy and least spoken about- the obsessive practising.
If I was given a practice goal each day of, say, 4 hours from teachers, I would have to exceed it. I’d practice until the guilty feeling of not practising went away. It didn’t matter to me so much how I sounded or whether I was even enjoying it, so long as I felt I had worked hard. I know I wasn’t alone in this at music school. Hours of practice were like stamps of honour and I loved improving and impressing my teacher at each lesson. Although it helped me improve, it left me with a strange relationship with practice and a lack of enjoyment that forced me to think about the way I was practising.
Some practice techniques I enjoy :
If we were to see practice less like a regime with set hours and instead more in the moment, I think it could help us with motivation and enjoyment. Of course our practice goals (and a practice diary!) are important, but they often overwhelm us and make us frustrated. If we also learn to react to our sounds and search for ways to let our music speak much more spontaneously, we are more prepared for performance situations and our practice starts teaching us in small steps.
Some techniques that I enjoy the most incorporate interests from outside music that I enjoy, such as Instagram! If I feel a passage is suffering or I don’t know quite how to phrase it, I can set the task of recording it to upload to Instagram. This way I have an audience and am listening to my sound, excited to reach a higher level and share music with my followers. Recording in general makes one so much more aware and reactive both to sound and technique and allows you to become your own teacher.
I also love to practice in a room with a piano or keyboard so I can alternate between playing cello and piano. As well as playing jazz piano and movie soundtracks to pass the time, learning parts from the piano is probably the most interesting and motivating exercises I have found. I love to hear the harmonies on the piano and uncovering how the cello part fits in the sound. Practising sonatas and concertos solely from our instruments makes the leap up to fitting it with the score so much bigger. If the piano is part of our practice from the start, we start to see all pieces as chamber music and the music is much more interesting to pick apart.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for me to play to friends and colleagues as performance practice. It is a good intermediate stage between practising on your own and performing a recital.
Fellow musicians often hear what you are playing in a very different way and often the feedback can be so important, especially if they know the piece well. Playing to non-musicians is also really great practice as they are often non-judgemental audience, yet give us a performance experience where it is easier to take risks. We must remember that for the most part, it is for non-musicians that we are practising, it being mostly they that attend our concerts.
Practising is no good on its own. We have to perform regularly to set ourselves goals and see the rewards of our work and dedication. Hearing people’s reactions to our music is such a wonderful culmination of the practice we’ve done and suddenly it all feels worthwhile. Practice will often feel an unattractive task, but by finding some techniques that we really enjoy, we can lose ourselves in our work and (maybe) forget we’re even practising.
Thoughts On What Makes Our Favourite Music
It has only recently occurred to me quite how many pieces of music have had a profound effect on my life. Some are pieces that I have grown to love through practice and performance and others that, on the first hearing, I have found myself in a prodigious state of awe and wonder, almost beyond the ability to describe. These experiences with music provide a large part of what I see as my ‘spiritual life’, and through this comes the music which forms my identity.
The music closest to my heart creates a peace, some a deep serenity, some a joy, sadness etc. The way in which they move me is always different and often in ways, and with pieces, I would not expect. I am struck, however, by the comparatively small amount of the musical repertoire I have experienced to date. To think how many of these I keep so close to me feels both overwhelming and exciting.
There is so much life and beauty still to uncover through listening and playing. I will never find it all in this lifetime, but to have experienced a small amount of it to such a degree, I believe, is such a wonderful component of faith.
A list of pieces I have found most profound, also a suggested listening. I’m sure I have missed a lot from this list!
Elgar- ‘There Is Sweet Music’ part song
Schubert- Piano Sonata no.21 in B flat (opening 1st movement)
Brahms- violin concerto 1st movement 2nd subject
John Ireland- ‘the Hills’
Puccini- La Boheme, ‘Che gelida manina’
Schubert- Two cello Quintet 1st movement cello duet
Elgar- The Dream of Gerontius
Haydn- Piano trio no.44 1&3 movements
Bach- St Matthew Passion
Elgar- cello concerto 3rd movement
Walton- Belshazzar’s Feast
Vaughn Williams- ‘O taste and see’
Purcell- Dido’s Lament
Thomas Morley- English madrigals
Sumsion- Magnificat in G
Poulenc- Cello sonata
Debussy- violin sonata
Howells- Magnificat Gloucester service
Janacek- On an Overgrown Path
Shostakovich- Fugue no.7 in A
Having started the cello much later to most other musicians, I found myself battling the fear of performing at the same time as facing an insecure self-image that often comes with being a 12 year old. I believe this made the issue far greater than it would’ve been, had I been performing at an earlier age. It has, nonetheless, forced me to address the way I deal with my anxiety on and off stage and encouraged me to read much more into the subject.
What is performance anxiety for you?
Performance anxiety for me is waking up on the day of a performance and being so terrified that you are unable to move. It is going over and over in your head all the possible worst-case scenarios and the consequences of performing badly. It’s being desperate to impress people and to receive reassurance that you’re doing OK. It’s trying to calm your breathing but you end up making it more rapid. Then it’s playing as though you have no connection between your mind and your arms and even less connection between your mind and your instrument.
Performing feels like a mad free-for-all. Every man is for himself as I push through this Bach suite movement, making a hundred mistakes a minute working to the end. And then there’s after; the beating yourself up for being so anxious and losing security and control, feeling as though it was never all worth it and will never be again. But what is important to remember, though difficult to believe, is that these are all just thoughts.
We are not doomed. We deserve to play the way we dream about and share music with people on the the highest level that we a capable. We can hold ourselves and forget ourselves at the same time and we can find the benefits to this alongside.
The philosopher Kierkegaard had an existentialist theory which I think can help us understand the way we perceive music in performance. His idea was that people need a deep satisfaction and relationship with themselves, the energy of the universe (God etc.) and the core of their being. It is only after that that they can enjoy the materials (aesthetic) and relationships on earth without depending on them. We are all guilty about having a huge desire to impress people, but the issue is that we make this the centre of our thoughts around a performance and become greedy for praise and recognition.
If we think about Kierkegaard’s theory, connect with ourselves through being mindful and agree that whether or not our performance goes well, we will still feel at one with ourselves (and music!), we suddenly see a performance completely differently. It’s purpose isn’t to satisfy our needs as individuals for recognition, it is for us to connect with the power music has and our ability to give this power to our audience as a gift. It is much less diabolical to hold this at the centre of our thinking. Then, be it praise, opportunity or reward, we can enjoy these parts to a performance without relying on them.
This theory is not so difficult to explain or understand, but how can it be applied? Many books have helped me shape a rusty but improving bank of coping strategies alongside experience and talking to different people about their opinions and experiences. The most important way to start is to talk about it. Just like any mental health issue (people dislike the terminology but it is what it is!) performance anxiety can be improved by talking to people. One of many reasons for this is it can make you feel much less alone- almost all musicians experience performance anxiety to some degree and certainly have a lot to say about it. Another reason for this is it can increase awareness of the issue of performance anxiety in the arts industry and encourage more people to talk about it. Certainly raising the issue with your teacher can hold enormous benefits, but anyone you trust can be a worthy listener.
But even once you’ve altered your mindset towards performing and you are happy that everything will be OK, how do you manage the sometimes inevitable symptoms that we experience before a performance? The most important thing to remember here is that we can still perform well when we are nervous. There is nothing stopping us even when feeling sick and shaky- we can concentrate and there is no reason the physical emotions should overpower us. It is easy to develop a ‘fear of the fear’ because we associate the physical sensations with a bad performance, but there’s no reason for us to. We are still in control. People often talk about being prepared as being a very important part of combating anxiety but I contrary this and say that practising performing when you’re under-prepared is incredibly beneficial. Of course, the anxiety involved in this is great but it is likely that you will emerge feeling much better about the situation. The reason is that your confidence increases as your mind believes ‘well if I did that when I was so unprepared, I can do anything!’
The final part to thinking and discovering more about performance anxiety is forgiving yourself for failure. You are on an incredible road, learning at every part of it and finding ways to manage anxiety is just a part of the bigger picture. It cannot be solved overnight, but you will find that you become more and more aware of yourself and your purpose as a musician. These ideas I have shared are not an exhaustive list and I will collect many resources below for you to explore. What works for me may not work for you and I am a long way from an answer. I still can get cripplingly nervous but I try to distance myself from my thoughts and turn the focus for the music. I think to take any of this on board you must first ask yourself why. Why music and why love and why faith? The answer is purpose and if music gives you an enormous sense of purpose, you are not destined to sabotage your communication and expression and you will, in time, find a solution.
“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming”
This is an amazing, short book complied by many famous classical musicians- great short term relief!
For changing your perception:Life Is Not A Journey
A classic, but it really helped me to start thinking:
How do we feel inspired in the world at the moment?
Fantastic book for liberally exploring faith:
Strings are to a musician like ballet shoes are to a dancer. Just as each dancer is very different and requires different size and softness of shoes, every cello is vastly different and requires different strings to compliment the resonance of the instrument. My cello has an especially bright and powerful quality, especially on the A string, but it also has the tendency to sound brash. It also often has projection difficulties on the low strings, particularly in high positions. I knew more could be done to improve the sound and I started to think about trying new strings in order to address this issue.
With this in mind, I got in contact with Larsen some weeks ago, eager to try new strings on my cello. Having been a devotee to their standard cello strings for quite a while, I was hearing great things about their Magnacore strings and was desperate to give them a try. I’d been reassured how balanced the string sounds were across the cello and, knowing my cello was in desperate need of this balance, was excited to try them.
Suffice it so say, I was not disappointed! I changed the A and D strings first and noticed an immediate increase in the sound quality. The strings needed virtually no playing in time and adapted to my cello immediately. A strings on my cello often have the tendency to sound increasingly ‘brash’ on my cello, but the Magnacore A string had a sweetness that I was convinced my cello wasn’t capable of producing. The D string matched the A both in resonance and quality of sound and was so buoyant to play. Finally I have found strings that create equal tones on both A and D, I have struggled for so long with a brash A string and a muted D string, thanks to these strings I feel my strings compliment each other and my playing.
I later replaced my existing G and C strings with the Magnacore C and G and, once again, the effect was immediate. The strings were so much more responsive on my cello and the resonance was electric. I did find the strings to feel quite a bit stiffer and not entirely flexible under the fingers, though they tuned up easily and maintained tuning with no issues. In saying this, it was as I expected that the bottom two strings took a few days to play in and feel totally settled. This created an short period of discomfort, but it quickly subsided and, once settled, my cello produced resonant and expressive sonorities that were unprecedented but certainly welcome!
Proof of the strings’ transformation of my cello came about when I played the Bach Suite no.3 in my cello lesson last week. My Teacher immediately mentioned how much she thought my sound had improved. I mentioned that I’d recently changed my strings to Magnacore and she was fascinated at how much of a difference they had made to my sound in such a short space of time.
It’s such a joy and a blessing to find strings finally that work with my cello and not against it. I’ll certainly be using Magnacore again and will be intrigued to witness their longevity. They cannot come more highly recommended!
More about Hattie…
Hattie has given solo recitals at the London Charterhouse, Lichfield Festival, Lansdowne Club in Mayfair, Shire Hall in Hereford and Manchester Cathedral. She has also performed in masterclasses with eminent professors, such as Johannes Goritzki, Hannah Roberts, Alexander Baillie and William Bruce and was invited by Guy Johnston to take part in a masterclass with him at the Barbican as part of the events marking the BBC Young Musician final in 2016. Last summer Hattie was selected to attend the Quattro Corde festival in Italy and performed many solo and chamber concerts during the festival.
Hattie is a member of the award winning piano trio, The Odora Trio, and has performed with them at The Charterhouse, Concerts for Craswall in Herefordshire, St Peter’s Eaton Square and Southwark Cathedral to name but a few. The trio has recently been accepted on the Wye Valley Music Summer Residency with Daniel Tong this summer.
Hattie has developed an interest into the life and works of Sir Edward Elgar, is a member of the Elgar Society and writes an online blog about both Elgar and life as a musician.
We are participating in Project ZERO. The entire Sonderborg area is involved in the vision of creating a CO2 neutral growth area before 2029. Larsen Strings has been awarded Silver Certification.
Our aim is to work toward sustainable solutions at Larsen Strings. As a company we have chosen to support the environment by upgrading to the CO2 neutral energy plan ‘Medvind’ as supplied by SE’s Danish Land Wind Turbines.
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Larsen Strings A/S has chosen to support the environment by upgrading to the CO2 neutral energy plan ‘Medvind’ as supplied by SE’s Danish Land Wind Turbines. Awarded Silver Certification as a corporate participant in Project ZERO (Sønderborg).
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