The events of March 2020 pressed pause on live music and in the classical world, orchestras across the globe downed their instruments. However, in hardship creativity can flourish, and it was during this time that violinist Ellie Consta was inspired to form UK’s first all-female and non-binary string orchestra: Her Ensemble.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we caught up with Ellie to find out more about how Help Musicians’ Coronavirus Hardship Fund helped her cope during the pandemic, and how it led to the creative freedom she needed to launch Her Ensemble.
The last year has been 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’.”
How did Her Ensemble come to fruition?
"I was forced to try new things and new ways of working [during the pandemic]. Working with my friends who are singer-songwriters made me see things from a totally different perspective, which was incredibly eye-opening. It made me question why we do things so differently in the pop and classical worlds and that’s how Her Ensemble came about.
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. For context, Her Ensemble wear all suits, and rotate positions - something that isn’t ‘done’ in other orchestras. Also questioning why I haven’t ever questioned the fact that most concerts I’ve performed have been written entirely by male composers, and even concert dress is usually for ‘men’ and ‘women’ - but what about if you're gender fluid? There are literally pages and pages of female composers listed on Oxford Music Online dating all the way back to 450 BC that I’d never heard about.
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.”
How did Help Musicians’ Coronavirus Hardship funding help you?
"I feel incredibly lucky to have had the support from Help Musicians. It lifted 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.”
Applications can be made to Help Musicians’ Coronavirus Hardship Fund – find out more and apply here.