Forget Carnegie Hall – I just want to master the ukulele
At just 16, Evie Brenkley is principal oboist for Tees Valley Youth Orchestra (TVYO) and Young Sinfonia. Playing New York’s Carnegie Hall and singing in St Paul’s Cathedral are among other her stand-out moments. Currently studying A levels in music, Spanish and Latin at Barnard Castle School, Evie is embracing lockdown as an opportunity to polish her skills as well as learn new ones – most notably the ukulele.
How did you become interested in music and what instruments do you play?
I was handed a recorder in primary school and despite the shrill screeching (from instrument and the exasperated teacher!), I persevered. I maintain that the recorder is a fantastic instrument, and I still play it in a school ensemble. When I joined senior school, I fancied a new challenge, and the oboe’s gorgeous sound and capricious nature made it the obvious choice. I picked up the cor anglais (the oboe’s big brother) when I joined Tees Valley Youth Orchestra (TVYO). The arrival last year of the school’s new director of music, Richard Dawson reinvigorated the department, and with his encouragement I have restarted the piano, with which I have a love-hate relationship. Oh, and during lockdown, mum and I are teaching ourselves the ukulele.
Do you have a favourite musical genre – and what attracted you to it?
I’d be betraying my orchestral background if I did not say classical – but I do sometimes feel that the term is a bit of a misnomer, with connotations of stuffy concert halls and plonky pianos. It’s a much broader world than you may think. Also, you can never go wrong chilling out with a bit of jazz, or singing your heart out with musical theatre.
What is the best thing about performing? Do you prefer performing solo or as part of a group/ensemble/orchestra?
The best thing has to be sharing my love of music with the audience. As rewarding as solo performance is, nothing beats ensemble playing and singing. It’s often my best friends sharing the stage with me, with a real sense of camaraderie and a common cause.
When and where was your favourite performance?
I’ve been involved in lots of wonderful performances, including several with Young Sinfonia, at the Sage, Gateshead, and a memorable Evensong with the school Chapel Choir at St Paul’s Cathedral in London in 2015. However, my favourite was indubitably TVYO’s concert in Carnegie Hall last July, under the baton of our conductor, Nick Nowicki. We had a superb tour to New York, my parents flew out to watch, and it epitomised why I play music. It was the performance of a lifetime and it’ll take a lot to beat.
Do you have a favourite piece of music? What's so special about it?
That’s a terribly tricky question, and honestly, it changes every day! Dvorak’s Symphony 9 From the New World has a sublime cor anglais solo in the second movement which always makes me cry. Charles Wood’s O Thou the Central Orb will always transport me to singing in St Paul’s Cathedral – now I’m older I can understand and appreciate how special it was. And Night on Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky is equally significant: that was the piece that began TVYO’s onstage rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. After about 10 seconds, we had to stop in order to take in the immense sound, and the enormity of the occasion.
What are your future ambitions as far as music is concerned?
I achieved my Oboe ARSM qualification last July (which excitingly puts letters after my name) and I’d love to get my full diploma before I leave school – that currently depends on exams getting up and running again. Oh and also, master the ukulele.
Apart from music, what are your other interests?
There’s been many a time where other interests have had to take a back seat, but I love languages (I take Spanish and Latin alongside music for A Level). I also adore being on stage as a thespian, and one of the biggest disappointments of the lockdown for me was losing three nights of our school musical, Made in Dagenham.
How have you been keeping busy during the lockdown?
School is still running, albeit virtually, so there’s plenty of work to be done. Aside from that, lockdown allows for more practice than usual, some doorstep renditions, and the chance for virtual ensemble playing. For VE Weekend, the school Chapel Choir released a performance of Howard Goodall’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd, filmed individually from our homes and put together by our director of music.
The icing on the cake was the video getting retweeted by the composer himself; I feel famous.
I’m also enjoying geeking out by closely following the World Cup of Evensong Anthems, currently being held on Twitter – but I think it’s too early to predict a winner.
Has the lockdown changed your outlook on life? What good things have you learned about other people in the last few weeks?
I’d expect you’d be hard pushed to find anyone whose outlook hasn’t changed. Mine flits between a state of needing to be busy and conking out on the sofa.
I’ve been reminded how lucky I am to live in Barney and be a student at BCS. I’ve also learned how important it is to stay positive and not waste energy worrying about things outside of your control.
What's next on the agenda?
I’m currently in year 12, so I’ve got one year left at school. Then I plan to go to university to study music, though I’m hoping to continue singing and playing whilst hitting the books. Beyond that, let’s see how the music plays out.