Serafina Steer is a folk singer-songwriter and long-standing Dartington alumni, so who better to ask about the Dartington International Summer School? She also touches on award-winning and imposter syndrome, musical epiphanies and holding onto fear. Take a gander and lend an ear…
ArtsCulture: A recent article in Classic FM noted that research has shown young people are becoming increasingly interested in classical music, what do you think is causing this shift?
Serafina Steer: I do think people/young people are more interested in contemporary music. I feel that efforts are being made on both sides (musicians/ programmers vs audience members/listeneners) to remove the snobbishness, elitism and ahem around contemporary composition ie the white old man mafia!
I think contemporary music is catching up with contemporary art in terms of immediacy and relevance. I have a sense that being ‘cultured’ includes being up-to-date with musical goings on more than it used to. I think there is an large enquiring audience, certainly in London, for experimental sound performance.
I’m afraid that Classic FM article doesn’t really make sense to me – I wouldn’t call 15% a shift. I don’t know how they define classical music or even the ‘pop’ music that supposedly the other 60% of people questioned listen to. The reason less young people listen to heavy metal or drum n bass is because they aren’t so much in fashion at the moment, nobody is really making music in those genres or therefore, listening to them.
AC: How has your own work / practice developed recently?
Serafina Steer: I won a Paul Hamlyn award last year and it didn’t sit well with my imposter syndrome. Ha. It was a shock. I had a few long-term projects I wanted to finish up and could suddenly afford to.
Perhaps as a result of the award I wanted to make some more immediate work and started fooling around with improvisation, by myself and with others. That has been quite a journey to embark on. I can feel a new neural pathway being carved. It goes against so much of my performer’s approval-seeking instincts to allow the space for doubt and vulnerability from which trust and spontaneity might spring.
Maybe it’s a selfish experiment.
AC: Your work is constantly developing and progressing. What do you do to supplement your learning and practice?
Serafina Steer: I’m studying Music Therapy at the moment, an introductory course. I’d certainly like to explore this fascinating area more. I want to get better at production so I might do some courses in that next. I go to a lot of gigs/concerts/art exhibitions.
AC: What first brought your attention to Dartington International Summer School?
Serafina Steer: I used to get a kind of bursary to come when I was studying. I’d play in the orchestra for the conductors’ masterclasses and in any harpy chamber music that was required for the concerts. Highlights included playing with Ravi Shankar, The Rape of Lucretia in The Barn theatre/cinema, the Debussy Trio and Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro in the Great Hall.
AC: What aspect of the Summer School interested you most when taking part?
Serafina Steer: I think it’s being in Dartington! I love the estate, the steam train, swimming in the river. I love Foxhole, I love the walk to Foxhole. Going through the gardens in the morning to a rehearsal. I love working in such a beautiful environment.
AC: Some people say that Dartington is for elite musicians only… do you agree with that?
Serafina Steer: No that’s crazy! That’s the whole thing about Dartington. It’s really inclusive and joyous in that sense. It is exactly not that, it’s for everyone. I mean, if you can find a course that interests you.
AC: What would you say to people considering booking courses for a week (or more) on a Summer School?
Serafina Steer: I only did a course once actually. It was quite intense being a group like that for a week, bit of an emotional roller coaster. Pace yourself and be prepared to be sociable!
AC: What are the best kind of teachers and how have you had any moments of musical epiphany when you discovered a new way of thinking or performing?
Serafina Steer: I think I’ve have relished/preferred different qualities in teachers at different ages. When I was young I very much enjoyed being told exactly what to do, how and how much to do it.
By the time I was about 20 I really didn’t enjoy that at all. I guess most musicians are always chipping away at those new ways of thinking/performing. After a while that’s what ‘practice’ is I think, as much as learning notes and techniques. It’s always so tied up with the mind.
My major ongoing epiphany atm – holding on to the fear of not being as good as you wish to be/you feel you should be/everybody else etc is actually a kind of comfort blanket and removing that blanket necessitates accepting and loving your flawed self which is very hard.
AC: Do you teach yourself, and if so what do you look for in you students? If you could ask one thing from them what would it be?
Serafina Steer: I don’t teach at the moment. As I previously mentioned I’m interested in Music Therapy and I think if I did teach again I think I would approach it very differently. I think a sense of mischief is a good sign in a student!
AC: Thanks for your time and answers Serafina!
(top image: still from ‘Night Before Mutiny’ video by Russell Weekes)