Name: Catrin Finch
Occupation: Harpist/ Musician/ Composer
Current Release: ECHO with Seckou Keita on bendigedig
Recommendations: Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” / the statues in the Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway. They are amazing!
If you enjoyed this interview with Catrin Finch, visit the website www.catrinfinchandseckoukeita.com to stay up to date with releases and shows.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I pretty much started writing music from the first day I played a key on the piano as a 4-year-old. I started learning the harp a couple of years later, but it was always really the piano that I improvised and wrote music on for those early years. Nowadays I still mainly sit at the keyboard to write, but have also embraced the world of improvisation on the harp. I guess my early musical influences were traditional Welsh music and Classical music. I fell in love with French impressionist composers such as Debussy and Ravel at quite a young age, but would listen to a real mix of different music from pop bands to folk and Classical. Because music was such a big part of my life from such a young age, I don’ really remember what it was about it that drew me to it in the first place - I just cannot imagine my life without it!
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
My listening experience will quite often depend on my emotional state. Music has a real strength to change and alter us emotionally, so quite often I will turn to different styles and types of music when I am in different moods. As a working musician, I can also switch off from the emotional side of it sometimes, and just be concerned and listening for technicalities. Especially when it comes to listening to harps and harp music.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
If I look back on my career to date, I would say there is a clear line from when I started experimenting with other genres other than Classical music. For pretty much my entire childhood and student years I only really performed and learnt Classical harp repertoire (although I would improvise and play a lot of other genres of music in my own time). After my studies finished and I settled into my performing career, I was given a couple of opportunities to branch out and collaborate with some world music artists, and this opened my eyes to whole other world of music. After a good 15 years now of collaborating with other artists (such as Cimarron, Seckou Keita and Aoife Ni Bhriain), I would probably say that I am more known for my collaborating and cross-genre performances than I am for my Classical. I am always keen to push outside my comfort zone and into new boundaries so I will look forward to see where the next 20 years takes me!
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I definitely think our identity has a huge impact on our creativity. My personal circumstance and situation changed very dramatically a few years ago, and it had a big effect on my writing. Creativity evolves with life experience and events, and I know that the music I write and perform will be different according to the place I am in personally. Apparently, the best music and melodies I have written have been in times of stress and upset (according to my wife!!), but maybe that’s because my emotional state is heightened at these times and creativity flows from that. Who knows!
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Being open, positive, diverse and embracing all opportunities.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
There is room for both but for me it is always “music of the future” and innovation. Tradition is important of course, and we must learn and study what has come before us, which as a Classical musician, I do all the time through the repertoire and music I play and listen too. But, as everything in life, music must evolve. There is nothing I love more than to take a traditional melody and put my own stamp on it. Isn’t that what makes music exciting and different? It would be rather dull if we all played the same music in the same way. Diversity is so important. Does perfection even exist in music? If it does, it’s very much a personal thing to each individual listener.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
A piano, harp, spare strings and a big car!
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Routine does not exist! Every day is different and it depends on whether it’s a concert day, a composing day, a teaching day or a practice day. The one thing for certain is that there is never enough time in the day to do everything I would like too! Once I’ve factored in admin, practice (at least 2 or 3 hours if I can), 3 kids, running a house, and a dog walk, there is rarely much time left!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
If you compare my last two albums with Seckou Keita - Clychau Dibon (2013) and Soar (2017) - it’s quite obvious how the creative process for these two albums changed in the 5 years between them. The first album was created mainly by taking traditional and already existing music and adapting it. In Soar, it really was more “composed” by the two of us, and made up of musical ideas that we had worked on over the few years of playing together. I’m realising that the creative process is different depending on what it is you are working on and with whom. Sometimes I work with other musicians who are classically trained and read music, and other times I work with musicians who do not read music, and so we rely on working together solely by ear. That’s what I love about creating with other musicians though. That’s what makes exciting … not really knowing what will come of it.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
It really depends on the situation. Sometimes when you’re in a room with other musicians the creative process is inspired by each other. Other times creative ideas will come when you least expect it and when you’re by yourself. I don’t have a preference as both ways of writing can be just as rewarding.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music has changed with social attitudes and society as a whole. I think anyone creative and artistic is constantly influenced by what is going on in the world and for that reason music has always played an incredibly important role in society.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I have always turned to music when dealing with heightened emotional situations. As we know music has the power to affect our emotions and the way we feel and quite often we will all have certain songs or pieces that take us back to a situation or a place that was or still is important to us. Sometimes when I perform music and on a few occasions, I’ve done that in a time where I’ve been struggling with something, I have nearly been moved to tears on the stage as I play. As a listener, there are certainly a few pieces that I will always turn to when I’m feeling low as there are pieces and songs that I switch on when I want to dance.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Recently, I’ve been exploring the scientific links between certain frequencies, beats, and music. I’m very interested to find out more about how the science of music affects us, and whether possibly, music could be prescribed to heal, instead of in some cases, medicines. I think there is a lot more yet to be explored in this field, and I will certainly be investing some of my time in the near future looking into these links.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I’m not sure I would ever compare music to mundane tasks. It is so much more as a performer and listener. I think humans are slowly forgetting how to listen and how to absorb ourselves in music and I think listening is something we should teach our children to do. It is only when we let music completely absorb us, that it has emotional power and effect.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
No I cannot explain this, but isn’t it amazing!