(Picture by Jordan Mixson/Unsplash)
The Southern Cathedrals Festival is a bit of a family affair this year, with talented sisters Lingling and Sumei Bao-Smith, both former Cathedral choristers, performing at the Youth in Music concerts during the Festival, and brothers Dr. Steven Halls, Chairman of the Elgar Society, and David Halls, the Cathedral’s Director of Music, collaborating in a lecture recital.
The question of whether musical talent like this runs in the family is an interesting one. Certainly all David Halls’ children were choristers but none of Steven’s were, and while there are plenty of families that can trace their history through membership of a cathedral choir, there are also those whose talent appears to come from nowhere.
David Halls, Director of Music said:
“Musical talent is not easy to define and perfect pitch, for example, is not necessarily a pre-requisite for having musical ability. What is true, and this is something we are mindful of when we run our voice trials for choristers, is that there are children with musical talent who may not have had the opportunity to discover it.”
In the case of both the Bao-Smith sisters and the Halls brothers, they were exposed to music early and had at least one musical parent. David Halls started piano lessons aged 4, his older brother Steven played cello and his sister Sally was a violinist. Music was a given in their household, with the three children playing in concerts at school and at home. Both parents enjoyed music at an amateur level.
Fast forward to the present day and David, who went to Oxford as an organ scholar, is a professional musician, whilst Steven is the CEO of Three Rivers District Council, Rickmansworth, maintaining a strong interest in music alongside his career. Both enjoy a bond forged by music in childhood.
David Halls, Director of Music said:
“Steven is six years older than me and a really supportive older brother. I think that at times he wishes that he had devoted his working life to music but he has maintained his skills and interest, and it forms a kind of shorthand between us. When we get together or talk on the phone, we will discuss what we are doing musically, what we have heard and so on. Is it different performing with my brother? No not really. We have performed together before and honestly, it is just notes and patterns. Nothing different.”
The Bao-Smith sisters also grew up in a musical household, at least on their mother’s side. They started music lessons very early, and were taught using the Kodaly Method and colour notation. This meant music was accessible and fun.
Sixteen-year-old Sumei Bao-Smith said:
“I don’t remember exactly what sparked my interest in music, but needless to say my mother played an enormous role. She took both my sister and I to a local music teacher who we called ‘Music Jo’, so I imagine it was something to do with her as she was a very engaging and inspiring teacher for a 3-year-old! A few years later, my mother took me to evensong in Salisbury Cathedral, and I remember watching the girls singing in awe and thinking ‘I wish I could do that’.”
Taking this approach certainly appears to have paid off. Both girls are musical high achievers. Lingling Bao-Smith, aged fifteen, won the Strings Solo Advanced Recital Class at the Bournemouth Music Festival this year and her elder sister, Sumei, is working towards her ARSM Diplomas in flute and piano. She won Young Singer of the Year 2018 in the Bournemouth Music Festival and gained a Distinction in her singing Diploma.
So, what will all the siblings be performing at the festival?
Dr Steve Halls is delivering a lecture recital entitled Elgar, the Great War and Wood Magic, in which he will explore Elgar’s Piano Quintet and Violin Sonata. David is one of musicians providing musical illustrations for the talk in the Cathedral School at 11:00 on Thursday 19 July. The recital has almost sold out already.
The Bao-Smith sisters are taking part in the Youth in Music series at the Festival. Lingling appears in the Cathedral School at 16:00 on Thursday 19 July, performing a programme of violin and voice pieces ranging from Bach, Handel and Mozart to Sullivan and Thiman. She will be accompanied by Graham Scott, Assistant Director of Music (instrumental) at Bryanston School.
Lingling Bao-Smith said:
“I have chosen all of the songs on my programme and I am really looking forward to performing them in the recital. I will be performing a variety of different songs, and a couple of pieces on the violin. I don't really have a favourite composer, because I enjoy lots of different music by lots of different composers. If I had to pick one out, I would pick Kavelevski because I really like his Violin Concerto in C Major - it's really fast and has lots of scaly runs and it is one of the pieces that I'm playing...”
Older sister Sumei is offering a similarly varied programme for voice and flute on the following day, Friday 20 July, at 14:00 in the Cathedral School. Her programme includes music as diverse as Bach, Mozart and Schubert, Gershwin and Hageman. Sumei is accompanied by William Ings, Assistant Director of Music (academic) at Bryanston School and a former Salisbury Cathedral Head Chorister.
Sumei Bao-Smith said:
“I love sharing music through performance whether it’s by myself or as part of a group. I love knowing that I’m adding to people’s enjoyment while doing something I have a passion for! I love performing in care homes and to children – I get a lot of pleasure from seeing the smiles on their faces!”
Sadly the Bao-Smiths’ accompanist, Peter Groves, is unwell but the Bryanston masters have kindly stepped in at short notice.
Tickets for all three performances can be booked in person at the Salisbury Playhouse Box Office or via the Festival Box Office at Ladywell 33a in the Cathedral Close.
Tickets will also be available at concert venues up until 45 minutes prior to the performance.
For any other information contact Marie Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org 01722 555148