Decca-signed pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason received a Help Musicians UK Postgraduate Award in 2018. Here, she tells us about her journey with the piano and how the Award has helped her career.
What’s your history with the piano?
“My parents, who both love music but are not professional musicians, played classical music around the house for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with my younger sister. We were both obsessed with it and would always be near the CD player, listening to it all the time. That memory is still so vivid for me, even though I was only six or seven at the time; it is still such a strong musical memory. The piano is both work and fun now, but at the time, it was always something that was just so fun for me. Back then I didn’t really learn pieces to play, I would just sit at the piano for hours and improvise. It was something I always enjoyed doing. When I was about 9 I started taking it more seriously because I realised it was something I could do as a career. I realised this was something I needed to work at as well as have fun with. I started taking lessons at the Junior Royal Academy of Music and taking piano more seriously, practising really hard and learning pieces. It’s been with me all of my life since then. I’ve always wanted to be a pianist, I’ve never looked back and now I’m studying at the Senior Royal Academy of Music.”
How did you first hear about Help Musicians UK?
“My piano teacher recommended Help Musicians UK because I really wanted to do a postgraduate degree, but needed funding because it’s just so expensive. My piano teacher, Carole Presland, suggested I try and apply for the Help Musicians UK Postgraduate Awards. I was really lucky to be successful on the scheme. I’m balancing studying with shaping a career, so I’m studying but also performing concerts. It is easier to start building your career while you’re studying because I have guidance from my teacher, have time to practise and play with other musicians while shaping a career, for me it’s the best of both worlds.”
"Without the funding from Help Musicians I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do a postgraduate course, which has allowed me to shape my career. The support from Help Musicians UK has helped me continue to develop as a musician. Help Musicians UK has been extremely important to me and I’m very grateful."
Why is a postgraduate course so important to musicians?
“A postgraduate course is important for professional musicians because you meet people who are already in the music business and a big part of being in the music industry is about who you know. Also, you have lots of time with your solo teacher and having that guidance, at any age, is so important. Postgraduate courses help you shape your career by providing access to advice and classes and free recordings - which are really important for applying to competitions and festivals. I think all of the resources available to musicians during a postgraduate degree actually helps artists build a better career – which is what it’s all about.”
What does your instrument mean to you?
“The role of the piano has definitely changed throughout my life, I would say right now it’s my life. My piano is an emotional escape because music is full of so much passion, it’s a way to release the stresses of life. However, it’s also my career and my work and it’s a part of me. I can’t imagine life without my piano now.”
What’s your relationship and experience with Help Musicians UK been like?
“My relationship and experience with Help Musicians UK has been really positive, it’s been amazing to have the support they give. It’s very difficult to do a postgraduate degree because the courses are so expensive, but Help Musicians UK have been really friendly and really supportive; it’s a great network to be part of.”
What would you advise to anyone thinking about applying for funding through Help Musicians UK?
“To anyone who is looking to apply for funding from Help Musicians UK, I would say there is nothing to be scared of and prepare the pieces that you really love. Go through you work. The auditions are not scary at all. Just go and play your heart out!
Music is essentially a very emotional experience and I think we often have to go through life not expressing our emotions and being very outward. Music is a place where you can release that side of you.”
My relationship and experience with Help Musicians UK has been really positive, it’s been amazing to have the support they give. It’s very difficult to do a postgraduate degree because the courses are so expensive, but Help Musicians UK have been really friendly and really supportive; it’s a great network to be part of.
What impact has Help Musicians UK had on you on a more personal level?
“As a musician it’s always great to be part of a network or community and being a part of Help Musicians UK has been great for that. Without the funding from Help Musicians UK I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do a postgraduate course, which has allowed me to shape my career. The support from Help Musicians UK has helped me continue to develop as a musician. Help Musicians UK has been extremely important to me and I’m very grateful.”
What’s your career highlight so far?
“I’ve played concerts in several different places across Europe and America. One of my favourites was probably in Vancouver with my brother Sheku, also one in Zurich, which are two of my favourite places. I think for me, the best thing about being a pianist is getting to visit these places.”
What are your future aspirations?
“I would like to have more concerts around the world and work with more musicians. I want to be a performer.”Back