Rhona McFarlane

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life. Not necessarily music-related!

I was brought up in Montrose in the north east of Scotland.  I have always been a bit of a dreamer.  Growing up I loved being creative; making up musicals with siblings, creating ‘bands’ with friends, putting together dance routines and pretending I was a ballet dancer.  It’s clear to say I lived in a world of my imagination.

At school I was quite shy but music played a big factor in helping me grow in confidence.  I would always look forward to music lessons, it was one of the main places at school I felt in my true comfort zone and a place I could discover and express myself as an individual.

I was fortunate to have a very giving violin teacher in secondary school who gave up a lot of her time to help me achieve my goal of getting into a Conservatoire as I was less advanced than others who had musical training and tuition from a young age.  This was a struggle and I took a year out after sixth year and practiced many hours to be good enough to secure a place at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

I am now in my 4th year at RCS and can’t believe where the time has gone!  I live in Glasgow and enjoy running especially the Park Runs.  As well as studying violin I like to keep up my piano playing and perform as a singer songwriter.  Having growen up near the sea I like to get out the city when I can and go hiking or discover new places with friends/family.

How did you first get into music?

My mum played piano and so I heard that a lot while growing up.  My dad also played guitar and would sing so I was surrounded by music.  My older brother played piano/guitar which I also looked up to.  I actively looked for music as a kid and there are home videos of me as a child watching The Firebird ballet on television and dancing as if no one was watching. This fascination with music grew and I began to learn piano and violin at the age of 7 and subsequently guitar at the age of 13.  This led me on to song-writing where I would perform at school shows and local music festivals.  Living in a small community surrounded by people who encouraged my music gave me the confidence to develop my musicianship further.

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

When deciding what to study I was torn between Pharmacy(science) and music.  However, I soon realised music was a necessity for me in my life.  The act of practicing in a solitary room was like meditation and a place of mindfulness.  I liked breaking the music down into smaller pieces and empathising with the composer’s music.  I found the whole act of learning a piece of music very enriching to me as a person and the process of delivering it in a performance fulfilling.  The act of sharing and connecting with people through music was an inspiring feeling and something I craved in a society where we are becoming more disconnected.

Two events that sparked my desire to study the violin further was playing Beethoven’s ‘Egmont Overture’ side by side with the Venezuelan orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel.  The conductor and the musician’s energy were so powerful, and their passion was something I had never witnessed before.  I couldn’t stop smiling for days after and knew I wanted to be able to part of something similar.  I also went to see Nicola Benedetti play ‘Bruch Scottish Fantasy,’ one of the first classical concerts I had been to.  The beauty of the music and her playing had a big impact and I got the motivation to want to play as beautifully as her.

It is certain that without music I wouldn’t have the strong friendships I have now, I wouldn’t know the powerful feeling of being part of a team of people playing together and connecting to the audience and wouldn’t have seen the amazing places across the world that playing in orchestras has given me.

What has been your musical highlight so far?

It is so hard to pick one!  Playing with NYOS brought life changing experiences the highlights being the 2015 China Tour and playing The Firebird at the Albert Hall in London.

Outside of Violin my song-writing highlights have been playing on the Janice Forsyth show and a concert I put on myself in my hometown of Montrose where I collaborated with a local artist.  This concert was extra special as it was a combination of different art forms (traditional music, classical music, song writing and art work).  Community and friends were brought together and enjoyed music they would never normally listen to but now have an appreciation of.  This was very fulfilling, and it proved to me the importance of valuing all art forms/genres and that it can all be enjoyed in the same space and should be accessible to everybody.

Who are your favourite composers/artists/musicians?

It’s so hard to pick just one!  My music library is so varied.  One minute I could be listening to Chet Baker then listening to a symphony!  I love all kinds of music and find I lean more to different composers or artists at different times in my life, so it changes! 

My selection of my favourite composers at present are Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Debussy but every composer has something different and special.

My favourite artists at the moment are Bear’s Den, The Blue Nile, George Shearing, John Martyn, Nick Drake and Rickie Lee Jones

What do you anticipate for the Nevis Ensemble?

Getting to know fellow musicians. Rekindle the act of connection. Break the boundaries. Energy. New spaces. Excitement. Learning