Will Crawford, guitarist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been numerous musical influences throughout my life. I have always enjoyed exploring new genres of music and I was fortunate that my parents would always have music on in the house when I was growing up. One story which sticks out was at the age of 16 I was playing guitar in a gypsy swing band called ‘Hot Club’, based on Django Rhinehart’s ‘Hot Club of France’. The music was fantastic and had such a great energy about it. One year we were invited to perform as the opening act to the classical guitarist John Williams at Lincoln Cathedral. It was an awe-inspiring performance and an unbelievable opportunity. After the concert I got a brief chance to talk to him where I was able to hand him a letter, basically telling him how much of an influence he has been to me. A few weeks later I received a letter back from him which still sits on my bedroom wall today. Since studying at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire my biggest influence has been working alongside my peers. Even now I can’t believe how lucky I am to play amongst such talented musicians.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

When I started at the Conservatoire in 2017, my biggest challenge was getting to grips with the high level of expectancy from both the performance and academia. Having never studied GCSE or A-Level music I was really ‘thrown in at the deep end’. There got to a point during my first year where I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to make it to the end of the four years! However, I had great support from the people around me and through perseverance, many hours of practise and revision I was able to lose that feeling and push on knowing I could finish my degree.

In my final year I set up my business quietnote which was launched February 2021. quietnote sets out to develop people’s understanding and deepen their experience of meditation and mindfulness all through the power of music. This project required a great deal of commitment from both a musical perspective and an entrepreneurial one, both presented different challenges. I composed over 50 tracks of music for the launch of quietnote. I have always enjoyed composition, however the scale of this amount of composition required a great amount of dedication and was a huge challenge. Fortunately, the majority of this composition time was spent during the UK’s second and third national lockdowns, giving me plenty of time to focus on my work.

I couldn’t pin down my ‘greatest’ challenge. Every day presents new opportunities and with each opportunity comes new challenges. I am grateful for the work I do mainly because I truly enjoy it. Even though we always come up against challenging moments they are always highly rewarding and worth it in the end.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

One performance which always comes to mind was when I performed with Gabrielle Liandu, a very talented classical and jazz singer. I performed in one of her concerts which was a culmination of Bossa Nova jazz and Spanish classical music. It was a wonderful evening full of brilliant music, I was able to play alongside a jazz band, perform three of Manual De Falla’s Spanish songs in a duo with Gabbie, as well as performing a solo piece by Turina – a truly great evening. Getting to learn and understand all the crazy chords that accompany Bossa Nova was certainly a rewarding challenge. That was one of my final live performances before the pandemic hit, we had a fantastic audience who got fully involved with the concert, the evening ended up with everyone dancing right next to the band. I’m very much looking forward to when those performances start up again.

In terms of recordings my harp and guitar duet, The Cherry Stone Duo, recorded an E.P. two years ago titled ‘A Dance of Mermaids’. It is made up of four tracks including one of my compositions, an arrangement of a Chinese folk tune I did, followed by two pieces by the wondaful composer Eric Marchelie. We had the chance to send our recordings over to Marchelie before publication, I remember being quite worried when we sent it across, we kept thinking ‘what if he doesn’t like it!’ He soon replied saying he enjoyed the performance and interpretation and was looking forward to the release date. As you can imagine we were quite relieved. We are certainly proud of that album and have enjoyed the small amounts of success it has had these past few years. Feel free to check it out on Spotify and other streaming sites.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I spend a great deal of time practising meditation and various breathing practices including Qi Gong and The Wim Hof Method. These practices create a fantastic space to reflect and energise myself for performance and practise. They also help with nerves and performance anxiety. I also enjoy hiking and exploring natural spaces, however being based in Birmingham city centre that does sometimes become quite difficult. It has taught me to really enjoy and take time to appreciate the time when I do get chance to explore open natural spaces and woodlands. Nature, for all time, has provided artists of every discipline countless sources of inspiration, be it Shakespeare and his rose or Elgar and the Malvern Hills.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have been fortunate to play in many wonderful venues, especially since moving to Birmingham. I always enjoy performances at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the round room, surrounded by giant portraits and paintings. The acoustic works wonderfully for the classical guitar, plus I always enjoy going to their tea rooms straight after the concert. Another enjoyable venue is the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Organ Studio; although it was built for the organ it could quite easily be called the guitar studio, however I don’t think the organists would be too keen on that idea… The room is a guitarists dream, it is a highly reverberant space which enables you to get a full dynamic range as well as being able to explore a pallet of tones, colours and sounds.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

From a personal point of view, through my work with quietnote, I try to teach the value of just listening to a piece of music. That means giving the music your complete attention, not whilst driving, cooking, or on your phone – simply sat listening. I work with various groups and communities (the majority of whom are non-musicians) and usually I am always met with amazement at how much people enjoy just listening to music. I think people simply need an excuse to sit down and listen, when they do this any stereotypes or negative connotations about classical music are removed and they have time to judge what they are really listening to for themselves. How do we grow classical music? Create more accessible spaces for people to listen. At the same time we can often forget the health and wellbeing values of listening and discovering new music. I choose an array of styles from Liszt to Richter but try to keep it focused on areas of ‘classical’ music that people may not have heard before. This helps introduce them to new and exciting pieces of music. The hidden benefit here is making classical music more accessible to new listeners by providing a comfortable space where they see and hear the benefits for themselves.

There are so many people and organisations growing the classical music audience and this dedication and love of music that is the reason I am not worried about the future of classical music. I simply asked myself ‘how can I use my skills and resources to make a difference’ and took my ideas forward from there into quietnote.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is a hugely personal idea. I often see people who have been tricked into chasing what they believe is success only to find themselves in an endless chase of the next materialistic value which is supposed to define how good a musician someone is. For me, as long as I am still enjoying what I do each day and I take time to reflect on my achievements then I can’t see myself saying I’m not successful. I will always be wanting to grow with new challenges and exciting opportunities. So as long as I am finding new adventure and enjoying myself and music then I can’t really ask for much more.

Recently I have begun to build my business quietnote which is taking me in a completely different direction, away from performance and more towards composition and outreach work. This to me feels like growth and the right path for me. I have goals which I know will be fulfilling and meaningful to me, such as helping people, making music more accessible, making meditation practices more approachable – by fulfilling these goals I find myself feeling contented at the end of the day. Of course, I will strive to grow and build quietnote as much as I can, but I am not forgetting to enjoy the work I am doing right now.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

What I remember when I was learning guitar and what I notice in my students now is the change in mindset when practise no longer becomes a chore but something you want to spend your time doing. Anyone who wants to pick up their instrument instead of being forced to practise will immediately get more enjoinment out of music. In a similar sense, I always try and advise my students to explore their instrument and music outside of practise – don’t just practise what is set for you, go out there and find something which you really enjoy. Especially now with the wealth of free internet tutorials and music apps, it has never been easier to become interested and indulge in the diversity of music our planet has to offer. I remember when I was younger, I would sit and listen to Jack Johnson’s album ‘in-between dreams’ and just play and sing along for hours, that time helped me form a really close relationship to music and taught me a great deal about the guitar. Concerts and incredible performances can be a huge incentive for people to learn an instrument, however, the reality is that the majority of a musician’s time is simply playing for yourself. I believe that learning to love practise and your instrument is something you have to have in order to successfully pursue an instrument.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

When people talk about the idea of perfect happiness it often seems to be about the future and rarely about the now. How can I achieve perfect happiness? If I did this, I would achieve perfect happiness… If I had this job and moved here that would be my idea of perfect happiness…

If we see perfect happiness as something we need to achieve, we may be missing the point altogether. In Taoism (a Chinese philosophy/religion) there is a concept called ‘Wu Wei’ which means being in harmony with the flow of nature and energy. I imagine the feeling of ‘Wu Wei’ could easily be translated as perfect happiness – accepting all that is around you, being content with everything you have, finding happiness with your life where it is rather than where you want it to be. I believe perfect happiness is achievable to anyone, but we must ask ourselves what the root or source of our own perfect happiness is. We can be tricked into thinking more money, a fancy car, a big house is the key to happiness but the problem with materialistic goals is that there will always be something bigger and better, it becomes an endless and torturous cycle. Whereas truer emotions which resonate with the soul – joy, love, compassion – these emotions are available to everyone for free. Not all of us will end up in a big house but we can certainly all feel joy and love. My idea of perfect happiness is finding happiness in everything I do. Ensuring that my work and personal life are built on the foundations of my core values – caring for the natural world, caring for those around me, helping and sharing what I have and do with those less fortunate than I am, and pursuing that which I enjoy and makes me happy. I also find a great deal of happiness in planting trees and could quite easily see myself retiring at 25 and planting trees for the rest of my life…!

My thanks go towards ‘meet the artist’ and all those involved. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of your community.

If you are interested in quietnote and would like to start your mindful music journey head over to www.quiet-note.com

On the 3rd and 4th July 2021, I will be hosting two ‘mindfulness and music’ sessions at this year’s Cheltenham festivals. Come along to experience all quietnote has to offer! During the two sessions, we shall explore the connection of our body, mind and breath through guided breathing exercises to help aid relaxation, manage stress, and calm our busy minds. Each session will help you develop a stronger understanding of your wellbeing, health, and happiness. Our first session will have a stronger focus on the connection to our breath and body through the use of specially composed and recorded music and guided movement. This second session will have a stronger focus on active listening and musical meditation, using specially composed and recorded music. More information 

Will Crawford is a Classical Guitarist studying at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Will’s career has involved him playing first guitar in a Gypsy Swing band, performing in a singer songwriter duo, and establishing a Classical Guitar and Harp Duo – The Cherry Stone Duo. He gained his ATCL Diploma in 2017 and in 2018 won first place in the Leicester Classical Guitar competition. Will feels strongly about positive environmental action, in 2019 he co-ran a concert series called Music For the Trees, raising money for WWF’s Amazonia appeal. Will is the Creative Director of the business ‘quietnote.’ Through music, quietnote helps people gain a deeper understanding of meditation and mindfulness.

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