Yeoman of the Month October 2015 – Laura Snowden

I suppose that ultimately the Spice Girls are to blame for my dedication to music. Their break-up in the year 2000 left me heartbroken and terribly disillusioned with the world of pop, and it seemed at the time that the only logical solution was to drown my sorrows in classical music. My earliest musical memories are of hearing my dad play Irish folk and of listening to Ralph McTell, whose song Streets of London I believe drew me to the guitar. The teacher at school was fully booked so I taught myself for the first year; it took a full twelve months to persuade my classmate, Simon, to take up country dancing instead of the guitar, and thus a place became available.

I continued lessons at my state primary and secondary schools until the age of sixteen, when one day I happened to be reading the latest copy of Classical Guitar magazine, as one does. There sat an advert stating that the Yehudi Menuhin School had recently received a donation from the Rolling Stones to start guitar tuition at the school – guitarists were invited to apply and bursaries were available! And so I found myself simultaneously receiving the kind of musical education I never knew existed and fulfilling a life-long dream of attending boarding school, Harry Potter-style.

I had a ‘say yes to everything’ week in April 2009, during my first year at the Royal College of Music as an undergraduate student. It just so happened that, during this very week, I saw a note on the RCM Students’ Bulletin from a certain Ruairi Glasheen, a then first year percussionist, asking if anybody wanted to play Irish folk music and ‘maybe do some busking… see where it takes us’. Ruairi turned out to be one of the most energising, passionate and inspiring musicians I have ever met; next thing I knew we had narrowly avoided being arrested for busking in the central part of Covent Garden. How were we to know we needed a licence…

We went on to form a folk group, Tir Eolas, with singer/flautist Philippa Mercer, violist Georgie Harris and bass guitarist Hedi Pinkerfeld. These fantastic musicians have become some of my best friends and have brought me so much happiness (they really have). We’ve played together at venues as wide-ranging as Bestival, the Royal Albert Hall and Kings Place; have performed in hospitals, special needs schools and centres for refugees through organisations such as Live Music Now; and with support from the City Music Foundation we released our debut album Stories Sung, Truths Told in February. This June, we were honoured to be invited by guitarist John Williams to perform at the gorgeous Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe. (Incidentally, I was involved in a concert with John a couple of years ago, and happened to meet my hero Ralph McTell there, who was in attendance. Aside from the bout of fanatical gushing, it was a very special moment.)

One of the greatest pleasures the band gives me is the opportunity to write songs. In fact, my earliest musical yearning (pre-Spice-Girls-break-up) was for songwriting. I would record myself singing the melodies on my tape player, producing such hits as Dustpan and Brush; much later, in 2007, my interest was rekindled by the charity Voices For Hospices, who selected my song Live Free for performances at three hundred simultaneous concerts in sixty countries.

At my side sits the score for a new guitar work: Catalan Peasant With Guitar by Julian Anderson, very recently commissioned by guitarist Julian Bream. I adore it. I will be giving the world premiere of the piece at an evening solo recital at Wigmore Hall on 21st November, organised by the Julian Bream Trust, who very kindly supported my postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music. One of the most life-changing and inspiring developments over the past two years has been the opportunity to visit Bream at his house in Wiltshire and work on repertoire. I’ll never forget his words on my first visit: ‘music is a way of life.’ There is something incredibly beautiful in the way he views the world – an appreciation for and fascination with even the smallest of details – and this shines through his very being and his exquisite musicianship.

Creativity is vital to me. One of my most exciting creative outlets is the Snowden-Sir duo, a composer-performer partnership with violinist and composer Joo Yeon Sir, also a Yeoman. Joo Yeon is a source of constant inspiration. I’ve heard it said that the two hardest tasks on stage are ‘to make people laugh and to make people cry’; and I truly believe that she knows how to do both. Recently I was commissioned by the International Guitar Foundation to write a new piece, which we premiered at London Guitar Festival. Since then, we have delivered a series of workshops at the RCM’s Junior Department, culminating in twenty eight new pieces being written for the duo; and we are now working with the Worshipful Company of Musicians’ outreach programme on a composition/performance project at a school in Camden.

Next year’s engagements include a Thames Valley recital with my guitar duo partner Tom Ellis and a solo recital at Petworth Festival, both organised by WCOM. Earlier this year the company invited me to perform at Guildford International Music Festival, which was an absolute joy. Both the Snowden-Sir duo and Tir Eolas will feature in a concert on October 18th at St John’s Smith Square [www.sjss.org.uk]; this is the last in a series of Young Artist Platform concerts drawing on folk and classical traditions.

I am constantly grateful for the support I receive from so many individuals and organisations. Thank you to the Worshipful Company of Musicians, the Simon Fletcher Charitable Trust, the Julian Bream Trust, the Countess of Munster Trust, City Music Foundation, the Tillett Trust, the Royal College of Music, the RCM Creative Careers Centre, St John’s Smith Square, Live Music Now, the Concordia Foundation, the International Guitar Foundation, John Lewis, Robert McFadzean Whyte, Jacqueline Ward, the Caterham Oxted and Godstone Lions Club, and my teachers including Richard Wright, Gary Ryan, Carlos Bonell and Chris Stell.

You can find out more about Laura at laurasnowden.co.uk.