Magazine article Gramophone

Kim Wilkie: The Landscape Architect on Learning the Flute and Restoring the Grounds around the Grange Opera Festival

Magazine article Gramophone

Kim Wilkie: The Landscape Architect on Learning the Flute and Restoring the Grounds around the Grange Opera Festival

Article excerpt

It was not until I was at Oxford, really, that I became aware of music. I was born and bought up in Malaysia, then Hong Kong and then Baghdad. There was no television, no radio, and I think we had about six records. But mostly it was about silence or about the sounds of the animals round about. In Malaysia we were right on the edge of the jungle, which has an extraordinary music of its own. In the desert it's a much cleaner, crisper sound--you hear a fox way off in the distance. So I didn't really come across music properly, or anything to do with current affairs, shockingly, until I was at Oxford.

I then had a very good friend who introduced me to all kinds of music, and particularly to Choral Evensong. In a way it was great that music then deluged in at that stage. I had rooms opposite the Holywell Music Room, where they did a wonderful series of playing a piece of Haydn, and then Mozart, and then Beethoven. For almost a full year I would go and just listen--mostly to string quartets--so that is a period of music I very much enjoy. As I get older, again silence is very precious too. Fortunately what I've managed to escape is music as background noise. It's something you turn on very deliberately.

After Oxford I spent a year in the Andes working up on the Imbabura Volcano with the Otavalo Indians. I spent a lot of time wandering in the mountains on my own, in between teaching Spanish and weaving, and managed to get one of the local flutes, which I taught myself to play, extremely badly. It was that kind of adolescent thing of being an Arcadian shepherd I guess! Because of that I particularly love flute music. I carried on teaching myself and playing quite a lot, and when I came back decided to get proper lessons. I went along to my first lesson and the teacher said 'you clearly love music, you love playing music ... the only trouble is that the wonderful sound you're hearing in your head bears no resemblance to the awful sound that's coming out of your flute!' That rather crushed me and took some of the enthusiasm out of it. It did make me listen properly, but I didn't carry on and do it as assiduously as I should have done.

I've been doing some work in Russia, and Russian choral music seems to be a couple of octaves lower, and the reverberation within those churches, when everybody's standing up generally around the icons, and you come in from minus 20 outside and everyone's wrapped in furs, and there's the incense and the candles and the extraordinary voices--that's possibly about the most powerful musical experience I've had. …

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