In conversation: Amanda Babington
Amanda Babington is a musette player, baroque violinist and recorder player. She has played and recorded with period-instrument ensembles across the UK and Europe as well as chamber ensembles AB24, Four’s Company and Aberdeen Early Music Collective, and is Artist Director of Baroque in the North. Amanda has released an acclaimed debut solo album, Music for French Kings: she was described in the BBC Music Magazine (December 2022) as ‘an accomplished virtuoso who is exploring [the musette’s] extensive repertoire’, and was interviewed about her research on the musette for BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Walking along a deserted windswept beach or hill, preferably with a swim en route.
What is your superpower?
According to my husband, the ability to get 25 hours’ of activity into one day!
What hobbies do you have?
I have always enjoyed making things, preferably with natural materials. Harris Tweed and cork are among my current favourites! Also gardening and reading, although with two small children hobbies are something of a luxury at the moment.
What is it that you most dislike?
Moths. Totally irrational I know but their flapping terrifies me!
What’s so special about early music concerts?
I have always loved history and so find it really exciting that in early music we are able to bring to life aurally a part of life experienced in the past and long-forgotten. Many period instruments have unique timbres too, which I find really stimulate my listening.
What is your earliest musical memory?
Playing Baa Baa Black Sheep (solo, age 5) on the recorder to the rest of my primary 1 class.
Who is your favourite composer, and why?
Jean-Baptiste Lully. By all accounts a bit of a bully but his music is bonkers and it seems that he had no shame in really pushing the boundaries of genre, form and timbre. He also contributed hugely to what was quite possibly the most flamboyant courts in history (Versailles, under Louis XIV).
How has classical music influenced your life outside of performing?
From a young age, classical music really gave me confidence. Meeting other like-minded people helped me understand (and be!) myself. I benefitted hugely from the generosity of various teachers and the opportunities afforded to me over the years through live music. Now classical music gives me a means by which I can give back a bit, hopefully contributing to improving others’ lives in similar ways.
Do you have a lucky charm or ritual that you follow before important concerts?
My pre-concert activities usually involve battling with reeds or strings affected by any change in humidity or temperature!
Describe a particularly challenging or rewarding moment in your musical journey.
The moment at which I finished my final Masters recital in Belgium and was given my mark was particularly rewarding. Learning the musette was meant to be a hobby. I ended up doing a Masters in Belgium while also working in the UK. At times I really doubted my sanity in pursuing the mastery of this strange instrument (particularly in the last two years of my Masters when I was pregnant and then had a baby!). But standing with the jury and being told that I was ready to play musette to the world at large brought the world to a magical standstill, where for a moment there was no noise or movement.
If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?
Colin Charpentier. He was a virtuoso musette player who made his début at Versailles with the virtuoso Vielle player Danguy. But beyond that nothing is known of him! He composed some lovely pieces for musette and bass instruments, which I love playing in concerts with my sister on cello.
What's your number one listening tip?
Always listen critically. Not in a judgemental sense but with an enquiring mind. Questioning is what leads us to exciting discoveries!
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