Joanna Stark

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your music-making, and your life.

Hello! I am Joanna, or Jo, or ‘Iron Woman’ (having Stark as your surname can rouse many varied responses in this day and age…). I am Scottish born and bred, but have family connections across England and Wales (so my accent is very deceptive..!). I am originally from Newport-on Tay, but currently stay in Edinburgh where I teach instrumental and music appreciation classes, as well as freelancing in various guises.
My music-making really took off in the Scottish traditional music scene (perhaps early years Highland dance classes are to thank for that!) on the violin, but I became particularly engaged in classical music as a cellist, and enjoyed participating in various youth regional and national orchestras throughout High School. I chose to study a broadly classical music degree at Edinburgh Napier University, where I developed a particular interest in contemporary classical and interdisciplinary music, largely owing to collaborative opportunities with the composition department and other faculties. So I am now very much a ‘portfolio’ musician where I write, arrange, and perform music with my folk duo, ‘Shamblestone’, my Piano Trio ‘Forth Trio’, a contemporary collective called ‘Mother Julian’, as well as more temporary freelance positions. All of these influences are very important to me, and the reason why I love performing with Nevis, which is sort of like a ‘hybrid’ orchestra, marrying musicians of varying interests with a full kaleidoscope of music.

What are your five favourite things?

I find it so hard to list ‘favourites’, but here’s a random selection of things I love:

  • Autumn (and everything to do with it, like the fresh fragrance of fallen leaves and slightly chilled air, or sitting around a log fire with good company!))
  • Inventing/improvising my own dance moves (with or without music)
  • Cooking up tasty (but less-so appealing..) vegan treats
  • Travelling to new places (and the cultural exchanges that take place, like language learning)
  • Playing music with fun and open-minded people, like in Nevis!

How did you first get into music?

My close family were all quite musical when I was young (I used to be serenaded to sleep as a baby by my Dad’s fiddle, or my sisters’ piano playing), and I remember really wanting to play along with my sisters. My Mum organised dance lessons for me initially, and soon piano. From there, I realised I really wanted to play a string instrument, so I took up the violin and later cello in school.

What made you decide that music would be an important part in your life?

I think just being surrounded by it growing up and having lots of positive
experiences playing in a variety of contexts was very special for me. I was (and still am) rather shy in person, but loved the rush I got from performing music and finding something meaningful to say through it, whether at school, in a care home, or a competition. Music has a particularly powerful connection to our memories, and I find myself lost without it.

What has been your Nevis Ensemble highlight so far?

I haven’t been a member for that long, and yet it’s so hard to choose because each performance I have had with Nevis has brought up something new and really special to take away: I loved the thrill of the flash mobs that took place in various shopping centres and public settings where you find some pleasantly baffled (and some more confused) listeners at the sight of a fifty-piece orchestra. However, specially organised performances for charities – like Refuweegee – and more vulnerable groups are the most moving because it takes you into a very different space as a performer and communicator, and you develop a much closer connection to your audience as a result.

What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

I have quite a varied playlist: I am more often than not listening to the Radio (2, 3, 4, Scotland) because you can guarantee you’ll be hit with an amazing new piece but also something familiar to you. Depends where i am and what I’m doing of course: anything from Bach to Aphex Twin; Frescobaldi to Julia Wolfe; Terry Riley to the Rheingans Sisters. I recently discovered an amazing album called ‘Tessellatum’ by Donnacha Dennehy, which is one of the most intense listening experiences I could say I’ve had during lockdown!

How would you describe Nevis Ensemble to someone else?

Nevis is an all-encompassing ‘family’ of musicians and artistic innovators who love performing and engaging with music far beyond the concert hall. We’re all united in our goal to bring high-quality music to anyone and everyone, and endeavour for our performances to meet people where they are at that point in time- it might be for a fleeting moment, or an immersive forty minutes, but nonetheless it’s about creating some sort of impactful experience. Nevis is about more than just the players and the performances: it’s about making connections to people, to place, and empowering voices (literally) all over the world!