Skills Lab: Creative Communities | Meet our music leaders

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We’re delighted to introduce our Skills Lab leaders – Abimaro, Sam and James – as we ask them all about what it means to be a music leader…

Photography by Brian Sweeny

Abimaro Gunnell

1. What has been your musical journey to date?  

Very mixed and improvised really. Responding to life and trying to use what’s in my hands whilst always trying to learn more and adjust.  I feel very blessed to work with the people that I work with. 

2.  What have you learned about yourself through your work as a music leader? 

How vulnerability can be so freeing and useful when leading.  If you are vulnerable and open I think it enables other people to be also, and that is a great starting point for creating. 

3. What do you enjoy the most in your role as a music leader? 

I love seeing people genuinely proud of themselves for what they thought they couldn’t achieve.  It’s a privilege to be a part of that process.  To me, music leadership is helping to safely guide people to a place of creativity and expression.  I think it’s about putting yourself out there, and being vulnerable, so that you are illustrating how you want people to engage also.  Music leading is a passionate, vulnerable, joyful privilege.

Sam Glazer 

1. What has been your musical journey to date?  

I played cello as a kid and had lots of fun in youth orchestras and playing quartets with friends – although I never considered a music career until I was in my mid-twenties, working in theatre marketing. I got the chance to volunteer and do some training on a community music project in Colchester, where I was living at the time, and enjoyed it so much that I thought it was worth seeing if I could make the switch. I got a place on the Spitalfields Music trainee music leader scheme and the rest is history! 

2. What have you learned about yourself through your work as a music leader? 

At the beginning, it was a huge deal to learn that I could stand up in front of a group and hold the space – most of the time, anyway. Over the years I’ve found myself doing various other things – composing, arranging, MDing – for which I’ve felt dauntingly unqualified – and it’s mostly worked out OK. 

3. What do you enjoy the most in your role as a music leader? 

The buzz from connecting with people through music remains as strong as ever, and I think this is fundamentally where the true value and meaning of all of our work lies. It’s a real challenge knowing how to try and replicate that magical feeling at the moment. It often seems impossible when working via online video platforms. 2020, with its lockdowns and social distancing, has strengthened my belief that at heart, music is an embodied practice; one that relies on physical presence and sensory immersion for its full potential to be released. 

James Redwood

1. What has been your musical journey to date?  

I was really absorbed in classical and especially orchestral music all the way through my brilliant state school education in Brighton (well, Hove, actually).  Along the way I was hugely privileged to be able to take part in creative composition workshops with Spitalfields Music, the RPO, London Brass, London Sinfonietta and Glyndebourne because of their relationship with the Brighton Festival.  When I got to university, though, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the music department mostly seemed to want to build up walls of knowledge that felt like they were designed to keep people out of a hallowed space. So, I started to look for ways to, if not break down the walls, then at least find ways to share what was beyond them.  That journey started out at Glyndebourne Opera House where Katie Tearle led a ground-breaking education department.  I got my first job after university through Katie and she was extremely generous in recommending me for several music leader positions.  After doing quite a lot of writing music with groups of non-professionals, I started getting asked to write music for those groups as well and I now make my living mixing up creative composition workshops and taking commissions to write songs and instrumental music for mixed groups of professional and non-professional musicians. 

2. What have you learned about yourself through your work as a music leader? 

I’m not proud to confess that one of the big things I’ve learned about myself is what a terrible participant I am.  I think that at this point I’ve spent so much time at the sharp end, taking responsibility for groups of musicians, that I find it strange and unsettling to be a group member.   

3. What do you enjoy the most in your role as a music leader? 

The thing that I’m missing most at the moment, is being the same room as young people who are discovering how awesomely creative and musical they are, sometimes for the first time.  It’s quite intoxicating to be around that energy and I find it hugely restoring and energising, not to mention inspiring.  It’s the same feeling when the group reaches the tipping point in a project when they really know on a deep level that the thing we’re making together is going to be totally awesome.  It’s really hard to describe but unmissable when you experience it in action. 

The other thing I love about my work is having the opportunity to have ideas from my musical imagination brought to life by the musicians I’m working with.  I never practiced my instruments hard enough when I was younger and so there’s quite a large gap between what I can imagine musically and what I can realise on my own.  Collaborating with other musicians and notating and arranging the music we make together allows me to be a part of the creation of music that I simply couldn’t make on my own. 

To find out more about Skills Lab: Creative Communities and book tickets click here.

To find out more about our Skills Lab guest leaders, click here.

We are hugely grateful for the support of Help Musicians UK, the Scops Arts Trust, The Garrick Charitable Trust, The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and The Cultural Recovery Fund to help cover the costs of these courses, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for musicians in these challenging times.