Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I wanted to play the harp when I was 5 years old, when I heard it played at a concert, but was encouraged to learn the piano first. During my teenage years in Wales, there were few opportunities that I knew of where someone could earn a living as a professional classical musician, so I wasn’t actively encouraged by anyone to be a musician: in fact, quite the reverse, sadly. The turning point for me was buying an LP by the then young pianist, Pascal Rogé, and thinking “Wow”, not only because of the music, but the thought it could actually be possible to become a professional musician. My dream was born that day.
I kept the LP for years, even when I had given away all the others, to be replaced by CD’s. That LP was my lifeline through some rather difficult times in years to come. It was a reminder of that first moment of realisation.
A few years ago, Pascal Rogé came to do a recital in Manchester and a colleague persuaded me to take the LP along. I nervously stood in line clutching the LP, and wasn’t sure what I would actually say if Pascal saw me. But he saw the LP first, and then was amazed by my story. He graciously signed it, and I felt that I had come full circle.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
People who are not afraid of doing something different are those that influence me. From the Breton born Alan Stivell in the 1960’s, who brought the clarsach (lever harp) into the rock world, to Dorothy Ashby, a harpist who broke new ground in the 1950’s male dominated jazz world.
I never intended to go into teaching but it’s one of the most rewarding things I do and has a huge influence on my life. From teaching at the RNCM to a recent workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, all these students inspire and challenge me, and without teaching, I would not have grown so much as a musician.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
A few years ago, I had to have four eye operations, and complications which affected my whole body. I faced the possibility of not being able to perform again. Thankfully, after 18 months of slow recovery, I am now back to full strength, and busier than ever. That period taught me never for a second to take my music for granted. It also made me reflect on how much I wanted to continue as a musician and I was struck by how strongly I felt about music. Now, every concert is a gift and every single note I play means so much more.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I was asked to perform at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival last April. As I was planning the programme, my former student, great friend and duo partner, the Scottish harpist, Helen MacLeod died in a car accident at the age of 37. This had a profound effect on me and continues to frame my life. The concert became a tribute to Helen: I chose works to reflect her zest for life, her beautiful soul and commissioned, recorded and published a piece in her memory; Time Spinner by Esther Swift. I pushed myself emotionally and physical to the limit, because it was the only way I could cope with the grief.
Playing her favourite pieces with her family, friends, pupils and colleagues in the audience and some on stage, was one of the best things I have ever done. We all shared our love and memories of Helen through music. My CD ‘Forgotten Dreams’ is also a tribute to the life of an incredible woman. I am proud of that concert, but most of all, I think Helen would have been proud of it too. That’s all that matters.
Debussy – La fille aux cheveux de lin
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
For me personally, I enjoy French repertoire which explores the resonance and colours of the instrument. I also thrive on working with composers to develop pieces. I recently worked with Anna Appleby on her piece Knocking, which explores the sound world of both clarsach and pedal harp. It was such a great collaboration and I learned so much from her input, since she was ready to listen to my ideas, and vice-versa. I have plans to commission more new works in the year ahead, and I am so looking forward to that dialogue between composer and performer.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I often have a pile of pieces that I have been waiting to find the right moment to play and suddenly a project comes along, and it’s perfect for that programme. Equally, I choose music which the audience will connect to, so it can depend on the type of concert: from a harp festival recital to a local music club or a hospital series. I play for the lunchtime series at Manchester Eye Hospital, and it can be as diverse as Debussy’s first Arabesque followed by Wonderwall by Oasis! This year I have been playing a lot of pieces that young players are learning, so that they can hear that these early/intermediate pieces are as equally valid as advanced works.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
As an orchestral musician you can’t beat the atmosphere of walking on to the Royal Albert Hall stage during the Proms season. You can feel the anticipation and energy of the audience, and this always gives me a bolt of energy. As a solo player, I like venues where maybe music isn’t usually played. I’ve played at the top of the Empire State Building at dawn and at the iconic Victoria Baths swimming pool; both were unique experiences and surprised me with how much you can be influenced by your surroundings.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success is following your dreams, when many said it couldn’t be done – and doing that with passion and integrity.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
- Accept it’s not going to be easy. With every success, there will also have been many disappointments and frustrations, but they will make the successes sweeter.
- Find your own voice. Try not to be a reproduction. Be an original and enjoy that.
- Respect the music, your peers and yourself.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In 10 years’ time, I will be in my mid-sixties and I am determined to show that age doesn’t matter. I intend to be commissioning more works, writing about my teaching and developing more workshops.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A glass of champagne with my husband at the end of a busy, creative day …. preferably on the shores of Lake Garda.
What is your most treasured possession?
The Pascal Rogé LP: “The Piano Music of Maurice Ravel”, which is in my Harp Studio and is a reminder that dreams can come true.
What is your present state of mind?
Excited, determined and full of ideas! The best is yet to come.
Eira Lynn Jones’ latest album Forgotten Dreams, dedicated to Helen MacLeod, is available now. Further information
Welsh harpist Eira Lynn Jones is a versatile musician, who has a passion for creativity and originality. Her eclectic career ranges from orchestral work, recordings and commissions to chamber music collaborations. She is known equally for her committed, dynamic playing and her innovative, dedicated teaching.