String ensemble facing a wall

How Help Musicians hardship funding gave Ellie the creative freedom she needed to launch Her Ensemble

2020 was so challenging for musicians, what’s changed for you? 

Music is so intertwined in our livelihoods as musicians, it’s part of who we are, so during the pandemic I think I felt quite lost. However, it forced me to think outside of my comfort zone and try new things that I didn’t believe I could do, like string writing.

I found I had a lot of creative energy that I couldn’t use in the same way I had previously due to a varied freelance life, so I had to really think about what I wanted to do with what I did have. It’s also why I was more open to trying new things; because I didn’t think there was anything to lose, so I wasn’t as worried about getting it wrong’ because I had already hit quite a low point. I actually remember the year before being asked if I wanted to put some strings on a track and thinking, there is absolutely no way I’m recording without music” because I was scared of making a fool of myself or getting it wrong’.

String ensemble playing live

How did Her Ensemble come to fruition? 

I’d always felt torn between loving classical music, whilst not really loving all aspects of the scene. I began writing string parts for my friends who are singer-songwriters and this made me view music making from a totally different perspective. It also made me question why we do things so differently in the pop and classical worlds. Around the same time I stumbled across the statistic that in 2019, just 3.6% of the classical music pieces performed worldwide were written by women. I’d been involved in the classical music world for over 15 years, yet I realised I could only name a handful of female composers.

I began questioning everything I’d once taken for granted, for example why dress codes are so often binary gendered in orchestra and how this excludes people who don’t fit into the gender binary. I guess Her Ensemble grew naturally from this. It was inspired by the countless female composers that have been overlooked throughout history and a curiosity to research and share all this overlooked music in a fresh context which allowed people to express themselves without fear of judgement.

I’ve learnt that you don’t have to have everything worked out perfectly in order to pursue an interest, there’s not just one way of doing something, and sometimes doing something differently can be the most refreshing thing. I don’t think I would have had the self-belief or courage to question the status quo the year before. There’s no reason why we can’t make up our own rules and being scared of failure isn’t a justifiable excuse not to pursue an interest.

How are you feeling about the future? 

I think this new found creative freedom has made me feel hopeful in a way. 2020 certainly didn’t go as expected but there’s something hopeful about turning some of that frustrated energy into a progressive project that you feel passionate about within all the chaos. It’s the rockiest I’ve ever felt mentally and financially but it’s also been extremely fulfilling musically. I think progression isn’t always a smooth upward line. I definitely won’t be taking gigs for granted in the future and I hope I can be more open-minded in whatever I do, and less concerned about other people’s opinions of me.

String ensemble playing live

How did Help Musicians’ Coronavirus Hardship funding help you? 

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the support from Help Musicians. It lifted so much of my financial anxiety and allowed me the brain space to explore different parts of my creative self that I hadn’t before. My confidence has grown both on a personal level and in my music making.

Find Her Ensemble on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Spotify.