Rock Lee

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

I’m currently studying at the RCS in Glasgow, and before then I was at Royal Holloway down in Surrey, so I’ve been in the UK for nearly five years now! I mostly play the violin, but I also whip out the sax and have been known to sing and conduct occasionally, and I’ve recently started lessons on the viola.

My favourite element of music is ensemble playing – personally, I don’t think there’s anything quite like the exhilarating feeling of being part of the huge sound of a full symphony orchestra, but jamming out in a musical theatre pit band is a close second! For me, playing and singing in ensembles of all sorts has always been the way that I’ve made friends, because you end up forming this amazingly powerful bond between each other when you make music together or make faces at each other across the room while the conductor’s picking on another section!

I’m also really passionate about increasing diversity and equality within classical music, particularly in programming, and generally just trying to update the repertoire – for the past few years, I’ve been working on integrating more work by female composers in particular into my general music-making, both in my recital and orchestral programming, while also commissioning various composers to write new pieces for me. I love working on these hidden gems and introducing them to audiences, because I strongly believe the repertoire needs to develop and be more relatable in order to get more people listening to and playing classical music.

What are your five favourite things? (Foods, places, films, books…)

Really difficult… I think one of my favourite things would have to be my mum’s cooking, which is one of the things I miss most about home! I’d have to go with Three Idiots and Forrest Gump for favourite films, and The Power as a current favourite book, though The Handmaid’s Tale comes pretty close as well! Finally, coming sort of full circle I suppose, I really enjoy the feeling of making a really good meal or baking something and being able to share that with other people – I’d be eating it all by myself otherwise so saves on the calories too!

How did you first get into music?

I have an older sister who started playing the violin just before I was born, so I grew up listening to her learn and going to her lessons – eventually I apparently got curious enough and kept trying to steal her violin, so I got started on lessons myself at the age of four and have just kept at it since!

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

I wasn’t sure for a long time, and nearly quit a few times – when I was 15, my then-teacher moved to a different country so I just stopped lessons for a couple of years and only played once a week with my school orchestra. If anything, that hiatus from doing music seriously was what ended up convincing me that music was what I actually wanted to do as opposed to law or politics, which is what I was originally going to go into. I switched my university application choices around at the last minute and here I am!

What has been your Nevis Ensemble highlight so far?

I’ve only actually done one Nevis tour so far, but I’d have to say my highlight from that was the gig we did at for a youth theatre group – we’d been anticipating a large audience as part of a ‘Christmas Extravaganza’, but what we got on that dreary Sunday afternoon was a group of teenagers who had clearly just been pulled out of a rehearsal for the sake of giving us any audience at all. However, they were by far the most engaged and engaging of all the audiences we had and I think the whole orchestra would agree it was one of the most dynamic concerts we did during that tour – our audience danced almost all the way throughout, they sang along during ‘Take On Me’, and somebody started doing the worm for some reason! This group would typically have no interaction with orchestral music-making in their everyday lives, and yet had absolutely no barriers to enjoying it and no qualms about showing and expressing their emotions.

What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

Because I do so much classical music as my main area of study and focus, I end up not actually listening to it a huge deal in my own time. When I’m on the go, I tend to opt for classic rock like Dire Straits and the Eagles, but also bands like Blackmore’s Night or just your jazz greats like John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck. When I’m unwinding, I go for video game soundtracks from franchises like The Legend of Zelda and The Elder Scrolls, or somebody soothing like Leonard Cohen.

How would you describe Nevis Ensemble to someone else?

Dynamic, friendly, and fun!