Genevieve is an Australian multi-percussionist, who has recently returned to Australia after 15 years of being based in London. She has recently been appointed to staff as a percussion and academic lecturer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and was formally a teaching professor at the Royal College of Music. Whilst in London she was a member of "ensemblebash", "Galvanize Project", as well as a founding member of "The G Project", an exciting contemporary collaboration with cellist Gabriella Swallow. Genevieve has performed with and/or recorded with Nash Ensemble, Melanie Pappenheim, Chroma Ensemble, Gavin Bryars, Joanna MacGregor, Colin Riley, Kate Halsall, Steve Schick, Lionel Richie, Josh Groban, Akon, John Crawford Quintet, and was a founding member of Flamenco/Indian/Arabic fusion group, Alcazaba. Genevieve also regularly performs in theatre productions as a Musical Director /and or Percussionist/Keys player. Credits include American Psycho: The Musical (MD, Keys 1), Shakespeare Globe (Various Productions: MD and Principal Percussion), Thriller (West End and Touring- Perc/Keys 3) and Never Forget (Perc- West End).
Why did you take up percussion and how old were you?
Mine was a very round about beginning to percussion - I originally started on piano when I was 7 and I unofficially added percussion to the mix when I was 14. At the time I was playing flute/piccolo in my high school concert band rehearsal and I was desperate to convince the conductor to let me switch over, so one day the percussion section were all away and I jumped on and used my piccolo as a stick to prove I could do it - and I got the job! So, then I played percussion and drum kit in the school bands for a few years, without getting any lessons, and had the time of my life, even joining the WAAPA Exhibitioners programme percussion ensemble, led by Gary France which was a massive inspiration! When I was 17, I was accepted to study piano at UWA, and after two years on piano I finally switched to percussion in my 3rd year of my Bachelor of Music Education degree - and I never looked back!
Who was your first teacher and where did you start?
Paul Tanner - who was an incredible first teacher and is an absolute musical legend in the Western Australian Percussion scene.
What instruments/resources did you have?
I started with a drum kit which I bought cheaply from a friend and then broke that apart and turned it into a set of concert toms with cymbals and separate snare set up…then the saving for a marimba began! Once I had graduated, I was lucky to teach in some high schools that had vibes and glocks, which I was able to take home over the school holidays to practice on and borrow for gigs. That really helped! Once I was established and touring with Tap Dogs, I was endorsed by Vic Firth and popercussion cajons for my flamenco and pop session work.
Do you have any advice for young percussionists during this stage of education?
Be a yes person and say yes to lots of different musical experiences - throw yourself into every sound!
With your knowledge and experience now, what performance opportunities would you suggest young percussionists engage with?
See my answer above - if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity - then learn solo rep as a starting point, as well as join a percussion ensemble and even some bands/orchestras.
At what point did you decide this was the profession for you?
About halfway through my degree when I discovered percussion, I instantly developed career-tunnel vision!
After school, where did you continue your studies and who did you learn with?
I studied with Paul Tanner and Tim White at the University of Western Australia for my undergraduate degree, then once I graduated, I continued my lessons with Tim White privately. I was very fortunate to also win a few scholarships and fellowships - first the AYO orchestral fellowship studying timpani in Tasmania with Matt Goddard, then the Flora Bunning UWA postgraduate travel scholarship to New York, where I studied with Duncan Patton (Timp - NYMet Opera) and Chris Lamb (Principal Perc. NYPhil and Head of Perc. Manhattan School of Music).
Why did you decide this pathway?
For my undergraduate degree, I actually studied classroom music teaching (Bachelor of Music Education) and I immediately loved teaching and had enough work to stay in that profession for the rest of my career and not pursue performance. I really enjoyed teaching and it helped for a number of years to save money to pay for lessons and instruments while I caught up with my percussion chops after starting percussion so late! Once I was more established the teaching I reduced my teaching until I was full-time performing. I have always drawn on this teaching experience in some way and combined it with my performing career as it progressed.
What was your first ever professional engagement, what was it like and how did you get it?
I certainly can remember the first gig early on in my career with Tetrafide Percussion - a new percussion ensemble that had formed in Perth and I was invited to join. It totally was a career breaking moment for me and I stayed with them as a permanent member for 8 years. This proved my strength and passion was ensemble playing.
What happened next?
Tetrafide went from strength to strength- playing a variety of contemporary classical gigs and interesting collaborations. We ended up doing a lot of national and international touring which was the most incredible passport to the world and eventually led to me settling in London.
When you were in London, you were a member of 'ensemblebash', what was this like?
I absolutely loved it and was so sad to leave when I moved back to Australia. Bash were a real inspiration for Tetrafide and a logical next step to my career after moving to London.
You have performed with many orchestras/ensembles, artists and theatre productions. What do you enjoy about the ‘portfolio career’ of a percussionist?
Never a dull moment! It sounds cliché, but for me it is so true. I love being my own boss and having such a varied and flexible working week. I also really enjoy the variety of different musicians that I get to collaborate with, it keeps it really fresh.
You have also MD'ed shows in the West End and the Shakespeare's Globe, how has this differed from just performing?
Next level multi-tasking just about sums it up! I really enjoy the challenge of having to truly lock in with the action on stage and lead the ensemble in for each cue. Theatre is such a living breathing and changing art every night, so the music has to flex and react/respond with that. It feels like true creative collaboration night after night.
How did you end up playing with Lionel Richie?
I had worked with Mike Dixon, the UK MD and arranger before on a dance show recording and then a west end show, so it was him who invited me into the Lionel UK band. That was a memorable week of gigs and I was very spoilt with a drum tech sorting all my gear for me!
Do you have any other strings to your bow?
I have my (very) basic piano chops, so I can double on Keys in shows which has been handy. Most of all, I love how I have been able to combine my teaching and playing experience and lead and facilitate creative music workshops on some of the most incredible community projects. I have made some really lasting connections through this that are really important to me personally and professionally and it has been really rewarding.
With your experience of recording, is it different to performing live?
I could almost say recording is a whole different extra skill set to performing. It takes next level patience and such consistency and accuracy as a player.
You currently are an academic and percussion lecturer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Before this, you were a professor at the Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Junior Guildhall. What was this like and what is your relationship with education?
Yes, this is a recent position for me at WAAPA and I am absolutely loving it! Teaching across percussion and academic teaching in Classical, Contemporary and Jazz music streams is a brilliant diverse buzz of musical energy. I do miss my London friends, family and colleagues a lot and teaching at Royal College and Guildhall were incredible, but I am lucky to have found a regular position back here in Australia and my young family are loving the beach lifestyle. For me education is so fundamentally linked to playing in my career, so I am really enjoying being involved in nurturing the next generation of talent. The future of music is certainly looking bright.
Does teaching help your performing career?
Absolutely! I am constantly cementing my knowledge and interpretation of technique and performance, to have to search for a way to get that across to students makes me dig deep to pass that on effectively.
What is your career highlight so far?
There is a few to name, but it’s the unusual wacky site specific small intimate touring gigs that seem to come to mind immediately when you ask me this - one was playing at a private festival in a clearing of a field and then abandoned barn at a historic house in rural Germany with Stephen Montague and ensemblebash.
What is the best thing about being a musician?
Making music and friends all over the world.
What would your 'Top Three Tips' be for a young percussionist thinking about a career in music?
1. Say yes to all the musical offerings that come your way.
2. Play each note with intention and passion and never make a sound you don’t mean.
3. Make friends with composers and pay them to write new music for you!
If you would like to find out more about Genevieve, please check out his website:
Vic Firth sticks www.vicfirth.com
Popercussion cajons www.popercussion.com