Mahaliah Edwards, violinist & educator

You started the violin at 11 and had lessons at school. Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I grew up surrounded by lots of music of many provenances so music was an ever-present aspect of my life. I played in my local youth orchestra and having been on a few European tours and discovering new music, I knew that I could definitely enjoy playing music for a living . However, turning it into a career was never a real prospect until I found out about specialist music schools and initiatives like AYM [Awards for Young Musicians] that help children and young people to progress to a higher level . Going to the Purcell School and receiving grants from AYM definitely gave me the confidence and the opportunities to pursue a career in music.

You were first supported by AYM when you were 16 via AYM’s Awards programme. Can you tell us more about the financial challenges you faced?

The financial challenges were rooted in coming from a low-income family and I have siblings, so spending money we needed just for a basic living was already a challenge without adding the pressure of a new violin which I needed to progress.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical life so far?

The greatest challenges in my musical life have been having confidence in my own abilities and working through imposter syndrome in order to take advantage of opportunities presented to me. Not being used to having certain opportunities and the means to do things not only held me back but stunted my musical growth… accepting that life had gotten better when you’re used to being at a disadvantage financially, socially, musically and academically was hard and coming out of that mindset took a lot of consistent hard work which continues to this day.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success as a musician comes in many forms, but for me it lies in accomplishments. Every time I do a performance or have a breakthrough with a student – that’s an accomplishment. Musicians works so hard and we often put so much pressure on ourselves so success in any form should be celebrated.

You have performed in diverse venues from the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre to Winchester Cathedral, Cecil Sharpe House, Wembley Arena and at festivals around the country. Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I don’t have a particular venue but performing in an old church with wonderfully high ceilings and ornate architecture is always really special. There is always an inviting atmosphere and intently listening audience who I often have post-concert chats with.

What is your most memorable concert experience to date?

Either performing the Rite of Spring at the symphony hall with the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra or by stark contrast performing Shostakovitch 8th Symphony  and Schubert ‘Rosamunde’ with my string quartet to a small audience of 2 to 4 year olds at a nursery!
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
Classical music needs to diversify from the inside out in all areas of the industry and its education. How can we expect our audiences to grow and have variation if the musicians,composers, professors, publishers, agents are not doing the same? I don’t think there’s one definitive answer or a magic solution but I do know that everyone who is involved with the output needs to be accountable in doing their own part. It is more than just playing music from different composers, it’s about understanding inequalities we face in society and making the changes that we want to see in the creative output and education.
Some starting points are:
  1. Hiring/having a diverse range of people on teaching staff in conservatoires,schools, panels for different perspectives and representation of many walks of life, socio-economically, musically and culturally.
  2. Changing the paradigm whether that’s mixing up concert programmes every few weeks to feature less of the canon and some new works or teaching pupils music that they may have ties with in their own lives.
  3. Doing the work – start at home, within your own work, repertoire, teaching practices. Research in different areas, expanding on your musical/social circles through networking, making virtual connections online (until the pandemic restrictions ease).
As an educator, what do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think the most important ideas I try to impart on my students is to work hard but also enjoy the process and not always the destination. Parents and pupils alike can be obsessed with grade exams and the outcome but I always stress the importance in reflecting on what one has learned and achieved. Another thing is to think outside the box and work on what makes a person different. The world is a big place and every market is becoming saturated but music keeps on giving and each performer or composer has something to give that is uniquely them – if we use those special qualities the music world will only benefit from having such varied and individual contributions.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Working with children and young people, maybe in different parts of the world as a musical nomad by day, maybe with a published book on music education/community outreach, perhaps with a child in tow and playing quartets by night.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sunshine…Cup of herbal tea… playing or listening to some good music with good friends.

Mahaliah Edwards is an Alumni Trustee at Awards for Young Musicians. Find out more

Mahaliah Edwards is a violinist and educator who was first supported by AYM at the age of 16 when she was awarded funding towards a new violin. This enabled her to successfully audition for the Purcell School, gaining a full scholarship. She went on to study at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Whilst there she took part in AYM’s young musician led Talent to Talent mentoring programme. Mahaliah’s portfolio career now includes performing, teaching and workshop leading.

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