My mother was an amateur cellist, and I was always fascinated by the instrument! When I was tiny, I would climb on her knee and try to play (one hand at a time, because her full size cello was much too big for two-year-old me), and when I was six my mum’s friend was kind enough to loan me my own small cello so I could start learning.
Growing up in the countryside of the English Lake District, my elder sister and I were home educated by our parents, and every summer we would go off to music camps: from age 10 this was the National Children’s Orchestra and then the National Youth Orchestra for me, as well as chamber music courses like Pro Corda, for whom my string quartet performed at Cadogan Hall.
I was exceptionally lucky growing up that Emma Ferrand, cello professor at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), lived only a few miles down the road from me in rural Cumbria. Emma became my first ‘proper’ cello teacher, and she and her husband Richard Deakin have to this day been invaluable mentors and inspirations on my musical journey.
From the age of 12 I attended the Junior Department of the RNCM in Manchester (waking up at 5.30am every Saturday or earlier on concert days was my least favourite part…) where I had the chance to make my concerto debut, before going on to study my bachelor’s degree also at the RNCM, where I toured to Italy and got the chance to perform on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Live in Concert’.
Although I loved my time in Manchester, I was keen to broaden my horizons, and in the end I settled on the Royal Academy of Music for my master’s degree, which I was awarded last year. I love the experience of living in London: although I’d been told it’s a very cosmopolitan city, I only realised when I moved here what an exciting place it is, culturally and musically, to be based.
In the year since I finished my master’s, I’ve been involved in a lot of different freelance work, including concerto and recital performances, recording projects with composers, and a variety of chamber music projects with my partners in the UK and Europe. I’ve also been involved in playing for schools and people living with dementia: it’s always a humbling and reaffirming experience to see music touch people, whether a single person or a thousand!
Royal Academy of Music
Royal Northern College of Music and Drama
Where’s your favourite place to listen to music and why?
Next to my family home in the Cumbria, there’s a beautiful wood filled with wildlife and a lot of birds. It’s quite wild and people hardly ever go there! The sounds of nature there make one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve never seen a bigger concert hall… A few times I’ve even taken my cello there and sneakily joined in – I think the birds like it as I can definitely hear them ‘answering back’ to me. It reminds me of Beatrice Harrison and the nightingale! I think it’s important to remember we can create and listen to music in all kinds of spaces, not just enclosed venues. Sometimes bringing ourselves back to the tranquillity of the natural world (as well as the joie de vivre of birds and animals) can remind us of our reasons for creating music in the first place.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I’m an avid Manchester City fan and love watching the games! I even have a signed photo of Vincent Kompany (ex-Man City captain) on my wall!
Sarah is a member of the 2020-2021 fellowship.