Meet the Artist……Frances Yonge, pianist & composer

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and composing, and make it your career? 

I salute my late mother for insisting that I continue with my piano studies despite my pre-Grade 1 tantrums. Once I’d got through the tricky first stage, there was no stopping me. As an adult, I decided to make music my career after three years studying marketing. This time without music showed me that my life would be barren without it. I had a eureka moment, signed up for a music degree at Southampton University and never looked back.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

My father showed me that I could make anything from anything, and not to put up barriers in the creative process. This idea of creativity was inherent in my upbringing and has given me freedom in my songwriting to get across unique emotions and ideas in a powerful way. I have always been hooked on the craft of songwriting, using the millions of notes and words in my head and weaving them together. The process is much like conceiving and giving birth to a new life, spiritual and mechanical at the same time.

I was fortunate to be taught the piano by composer Debbi Parks. Debbi encouraged my creativity and I often played her my ideas in my lessons, learning the piano without pressure. Debbi has been a great source of inspiration to me and has also guided my career. We are both ISTD ballet pianists (Debbi wrote some of the ISTD music) and also improvise for the Royal Opera House’s ‘Chance to Dance’ education programme!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Balancing family life with creativity is always a challenge but my children are very grounding and balance is a good thing. Like most artists, I find it hard to self promote. I don’t have an agent and whilst I enjoy the freedom that brings, my ‘shy writer’ side is filled with dread when I have some new music to market.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I am very proud of my 2012 album, ‘My Garden’. The title song was written about my children and I dedicated the album to them. I was delighted when Code: Marla remixed two of my songs and it’s amazing to hear piano based songs with beats and bass. I particularly love The Big Freeze remix. This song means a lot to me as it is about my recovery after a head-on car crash I had three years ago.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I don’t perform extensively but every few months I sing at the Grey Lady in Tunbridge Wells. It’s a wonderful place and I have met many inspirational musicians there. The music scene in Tunbridge Wells is thriving and Paul Dunton has played a huge part in this, providing musicians like me with the opportunity to perform in a magical setting.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love playing Debussy and the second Arabesque is my signature piece. Bach’s Preludes and Fugues are intriguing, beautiful and highly addictive. I have recently discovered a strange connection to the music of Shostakovich and am looking forward to trying out some of his piano works (any suggestions?). I listen to a wide range of music, from electronic, to classical, to folk. It’s all music!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

My favourite songwriters are Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode) and Trent Reznor. PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and Kate Bush have influenced me greatly and I see them as women of musical integrity and emotional depth. I am also in awe of any musician who is self taught and has learnt everything by ear. Such musicians seem to have great musical insight and intuition as well as incredible determination.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A charity piano recital I did to help me towards doing my diploma in 2011. As an unseasoned Classical performer I was well out of my comfort zone but I gained much from the experience. I find the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ is very true of Classical piano but joy of a great performance (even to yourself in your own living room) is exhilarating.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Be authentic, have integrity, listen, don’t compare yourself to others, don’t rush. Remember why you love music.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A song for a wedding; I love commissions!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

An Ivor Novello would be nice! I plan to have to have several more albums under my belt. I hope to continue and grow my work as a ballet pianist and also develop my work in music education as a music practitioner and piano teacher.

Piano-wise, I aim to become adept in Blues piano and also nail a few of the Chopin Études, the last of which will probably take the most time!

Frances Yonge is a songwriter, pianist, singer and improviser. She is also a creative musician for Royal Opera House Education and music practitioner.

Frances’ album My Garden is available now. Listen to sample tracks:

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