Abi was born in Somerset in 1965. Her best Christmas ever was when she was given her first violin. Thanks to much encouragement (encouragement that became nagging when Abi would rather be out riding her pony!) she went on to study violin with Bridgid Kirkland-Wilson and Itzhach Rashkovsky at the Royal College of Music. Since then her enthusiasm for all types of music has been focused on teaching. Her teaching style is encouraging and innovative and she has a rapport with both adults and children.
In 2004, another delightful gift (an electric violin) lead Abi in a new direction. She saw the possibilities of using effects such as ‘overdrive’ and ‘echo’ and she embraced the chance to learn more about music technology. She now has a recording studio where she produces her own versions of a range of musical styles. She is exploring the world of traditional music from gypsy and klezmer to music from North and South America, Britain and Ireland as well as rearranging music from the classical and popular world. She uses these explorations in both teaching and performing.
“My music goes from baroque to rock.”
Abi’s other passion in life is her animals. Here are some of her musings on the subject of music and animals.
I often wonder what horses make of music. Do they perceive it as yet more noise from us,no different from our chatter and clattering and noisy machines? Or do they hear the order that one gets from good music,bearing in mind the Fibonacci sequence is all around us in nature as it is in music?Or maybe the vibrations and patterns of music mean more to them than they do to us with their quieter minds and deep connections with their environment.
Over the years I have exposed many animals to music. My cats have witnessed the long hours of violin practise required to become a professional player and on the whole have proved indifferent to my efforts. One or two have thought the bow flying through the air as I played was for batting,grabbing or swinging on. Some would hang around simply because my practise room was warm.(An open violin case,with is velvet interior is better than any cat bed on the market,although more comfortable when the violin is removed!)
One cat,Feral Beryl, used to hide the moment I took my violin from its case. Maybe she thought I had rescued her and her brother to secure my supply of cat gut for strings!(Gut strings have never been made from any part of a cat but they are not suitable for vegetarians. )
So on the whole it seems that cats would rather not endure violin music. They do however find pianos interesting and if you happen to have a harmonica and the ability to make it sing,then you will probably find,as my boyfriend has,that cats cannot get enough of its sound. They will climb on you,join in with excited mewing and possibly roll in ecstasy at you feet. This happens with both male and female cats so I don’t think it is the resemblance of the harmonica to a calling queen or caterwauling tomcats.
Dogs on the other hand think anything we do is great and that includes any musical activity. I usually have to remove my terrier puppy from the music room to prevent my students being distracted. He is proving useful with one very young student who is going through a phase of not wanting to play her violin. I tell her the puppy is really excited to hear her play and that we must practise something for him. Young Marvin is then allowed in,he watches attentively with a wagging tail as if genuinely delighted by the performance.
When it comes to horses and music this is something which I am deliberately studying rather than simply observing. My conclusions to date are that some horses are more musical than others with the apparently less musical ones needing more care in the choice of key,style and instrumentation.My dressage horse seems to love music. When working at liberty to music he will change his movement to fit the music and if I play my violin to him in the field(yes,I am nuts) he will come over and seems to breathe in the sound or place his muzzle where he can feel the vibrations. My young spotty pony is cautiously curious,which seems to be the most common reaction in horses. Once the caution has passed she would like to be more interactive which involves wet lips and teeth so for the sake of my violin research has been put on hold.
I am planning to take my fiddle onto the moor to play to the wild Exmoor ponies in order to observe their reaction to music.(Told you I was nuts!) These ponies will tolerate people,but generally do not interact with people. A youngster may come up and sniff you if you sit quietly for long enough,but the silent disapproval from the herd can almost be felt.For this experiment I will need a warm,still dry day when I have no other work to do, so it may be a while before I am able to do this.
I am also working on determining whether some or most horses can differentiate between musical pitches. I have assigned different commands to different notes in the hope that given time the horses in training will learn to give the correct response to the various notes. One horse in the experiment (the spotty pony) is already clicker trained and she has passed the stage of going through her repertoire of tricks and eventually finding the right trick and now seems to perform the required trick around 70% of the time. Another horse who is not clicker trained(my musical dressage horse) seemed to get the idea very quickly with around 90% correct response. It may seem to be daft way to fill time,but I am learning so much about training methods along the way. I am aware that my horses are already well trained to my body language and are well tuned to my intention so for the real test I will need someone who does not know the correct response to play the commands.
I will post an update on my blog page when I have made more progress with these experiments.