When I was a student at a leading conservatoire, I was lucky enough to know someone who offered to give me a lift into college every morning. We had a funny interaction based on the timing of the pickup at one point. There were occasions when I was several minutes late and my benefactor was irritated by my lateness. After that, I turned the tables by arriving at the pickup spot 10 minutes before her. She decided to teach me a lesson, by arriving even earlier than me after I had done this several times.
We had many interesting conversations on our journeys. The lady who gave me the lifts was well connected in British Classical Music, but she had spent the early years of her childhood in East Africa. Coming from an almost diametrically opposite direction, I didn’t have her musical family connections, and I am an African who grew up in London as a young child.
It turned out that this lady knew my singing teacher of the time – they had been contemporaries as young emerging performers, even though their lives had gone off in divergent directions. Some of the advice she gave didn’t sit well with me at the time, but in retrospect many of the ideas make a lot more sense to me now.
She was interested to know about the musical background of my family, since she was impressed to an extent by my talent. I discovered around the time I knew her, that my mother’s family had been musicians for many generations before my maternal grandfather, but no one in my immediate family had carried on with the tradition.
Whenever I spoke to her, I always seemed to have a new opportunity to try my hand at something, like writing a chapter in a book, or something similar. Unlike many others, she encouraged me to explore the possibilities as they came along, telling me that a time would arrive when I would have less energy to do so. At one point she stopped and marvelled, saying that the sun shines brightly on me. I couldn’t understand what she meant, as an impoverished music student in that moment, but now I can see that the experiences have contributed immensely towards making me the artist that I am. I appreciate the role she played in my life, which went beyond giving me those lifts to school.