The Monthly interviews Sarah Murphy from Wall2Wall Music and the Women in Music project – part 2

Part one of this interview is here

What is your earliest memory of being attracted to music making?

I was told I could whistle before I could speak.  I have an early memory of dancing with my sister in the back of my parents living room while my dad listened to classical music on his record player. I know that while my dad was trying to educate himself about classical music I was absorbing a lot of the sounds of that music.

Did you have music lessons?

I taught myself how to read and play music when I was given a recorder and a tutor book at the age of 8. I started writing music, by just trying to work out how to do it. I would try to teach my friends at school how to play, and I was also allowed to play my music at the school assembly. They really were a very enlightened primary school to allow me that opportunity.

In my last year at primary school I was offered free violin lessons but I didn’t really like the violin; I found it really uncomfortable to play.

What instrument did you end up playing?

One of the older girls at my church had a flute and I used to beg her all the time to let me have a go. I was eventually given a flute by my parents one Christmas and I started both flute and piano lessons with a local teacher at the age of 10. When I was 12 I began  attending the Royal College of Music Junior Department every Saturday and I moved on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama after A levels.

I think I had a natural affinity with music; I certainly sang and made every effort to learn instruments, and every opportunity I was given made me want to pursue it further.

The recorder was the starting point?

Yes. There is unfortunately an attitude to the recorder which isn’t helpful. I think this comes from peoples experience in schools with group recorders on mass playing out of tune with each other. When it is played well it can be a wonderful instrument and for me it was the first instrument I had the opportunity to play which enabled me to develop my interest in music. I continued to play the recorder with school friends in recorder consorts right up until the time I went to on to music college.

When I have the opportunity to visit schools I am delighted where music making is made relevant to the students’ interests. I have enjoyed visiting Key stage 3 classrooms that engage with practical music making using band instruments, iPad’s with music programmes, guitars, keyboards, and anything which will connect with the music they are listening to. For some teachers the Ukulele is the new recorder. Having been classically trained originally I still have a love for all acoustic instruments. It’s wonderful to see a wide variety and opportunity for access.

You have gone on to become a very accomplished musician?

I have always performed and taught the flute. I formed a flute quartet with friends called Festive Flutes within the first six weeks of starting Music College and we still perform together every year. As a flautist I have always explored a variety of ways to play music with others.  Over the years I have performed in chamber music groups,  ventured into world music,  freelanced with orchestras, worked with composers and contemporary music groups and have travelled around Europe performing.

I have always had other responsibilities, so I can relate to the idea of having a non-linear path  when pursuing a musical career.  I have had caring responsibilities from the age of 15 and have experienced  a variety of challenging life circumstances. I know from experience the impact that has and what it is like to navigate a career which isn’t simply moving forward in obvious stages. In my life Music has always been an anchor and my connection to self.

What are you doing now?

As well as being artistic director of Wall2Wall Music I teach flute at the University of Ulster and I teach and perform at the annual Flutes in Tuscany Summer course. I perform with Festive Flutes and as a freelance flautist.

I have just recently started to fulfil my ambitions regarding my own compositions. I didn’t really feel that I had time to compose, but that has become increasingly important to me and I have started putting aside time to do that.

I had my first official commission in 2016 to create a Bon Odori dance piece as the finale for the O-Bon Japanese Festival in 2017. I composed this for Ibuki Taiko, Irish harp, Marimba, voice, and Shinobue Japanese flute together with the Japanese dancers. I had a special high pitched Shinobue hand made and flown in from Japan to play for the occasion.

That sounds very impressive?

After doing that, I received Arts Council funding under the support for the individual artist  to travel to Japan for a music residency. Out of that experience I was able to compose a piece called “The Swan and the Crane” which had contemporary dance as part of the composition and was performed at the O-Bon Festival in 2018..

This year I composed a suite of 4 songs as part of the Opening Doors project in Mid and East Antrim  working with The Whitehead Community Orchestra and Ireland Voices Choir with special guest soloists mezzo soprano Sarah Richmond and Baritone Steven Andrew Irwin. The lyrics are  based on stories which emerged from community workshops and were turned into a libretto by poet Colin Hassard.

So now I would consider that I have been working seriously on my own compositions which gives me a greater sense of personal fulfilment and that currently rounds off my work as a musician.

For more information on Sarah Murphy’s wall 2 Wall Music see the following links – –

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.