Harriet Mackenzie and the World Heart Beat Music Academy

‘Music will be your Friend for Life’

Violinist Harriet Mackenzie

Harriet Mackenzie

On 24th March, internationally acclaimed violinist Harriet MacKenzie gives a concert to mark the opening of a new hall at the World Heart Beat Music Academy, a music school in southwest London offering musical tuition, masterclasses, and performance opportunities to students from across the city.

The concert will feature Vivaldi’s Four Seasons alongside a new concerto, Kayryouacou, by jazz legend Julian Joseph, written for Harriet during the covid lockdown.

Set up in 2012 by Sahana Gero MBE, the Academy recently expanded with a new state-of-the-art premise in Nine Elms, near the iconic Battersea Power Station. The Academy offers bursary positions to its students to ensure that no child is excluded from exposure to world-class music making, and Harriet, who teaches at the World Heart Beat Academy, chats to me about her upcoming performance and the Academy’s broader work.

How did Kayryouacou come about?

Julian Joseph

Julian Joseph

We spoke about it before covid, but then Julian ended up writing it in lockdown. It was such a lovely thing, to have that during lockdown, [to know] that was going on, despite so much else being in a terrible stasis. It was special to have that musical connection with Julian throughout that time. Julian wrote the concerto inspired by the island of his father’s birth ‘Kayryouacou’ (Carriacou) in the Grenadines. I was lucky to spend a lockdown on a Greek island. The gorgeous 2nd movement is called ‘Green and Oleander’ which was/is also abundant in my lockdown haven of Greece. Despite the distances and the restrictions, the notes and the nature connected us.

Julian has been an enormous influence and inspiration to me as a performer, musician, and also as a person. He is a virtuoso pianist, bandleader, composer, arranger, and broadcaster. For years I have been amazed by the seemingly limitless scope of his creative imagination. His undisputed musicianship has broken so many barriers. For example – he was the first Black British jazz musician to host a series at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall and the first to headline a late-night concert at the BBC Proms with his All Star Big Band. His playing and his writing are so extraordinary. He’s also so nice, such a humble, kind, unassuming person. I feel honoured to have a piece written for me by him.

How did it feel seeing the new space come about?

I have to admit that when Sahana, first told me about it [five years ago], I was so excited but I secretly thought it would take at least ten years. I didn’t imagine it could happen as quickly as it happened, and it’s such a testament to her and so many other people who have put so much time and energy into making it happen. It’s extraordinary – it’s a really special place.

How does it feel to have this space?

New hall at the World Heart Beat Music Academy

New hall at the World Heart Beat Music Academy

I think it’s just amazing. It’s absolutely brilliant for the students, there’s a fantastic new space which means they can record and perform. The concert hall really is state of the art, the acoustics are unrivalled – you can choose what acoustic you want and at any point in the hall it sounds clear – there are no dead spots, and the industry standard recording studios will enable the Academy to record young artists at the start of their careers.

It will be fantastic for students to have access to that, but also the excellence of the performers featured in the concert series. They can attract international players, and that means that they’re there, right in the school, connecting with the students and that’s such a great experience for all.

It really shows what you can do, what you can aspire to, and for the students to be able to have that on their doorsteps, to be able to attend those concerts and to see what’s happening – there are often masterclasses or pre-concert events for the students – is just inspiring for them. The high-tech facilities meant that the Academy has also started the EMERGE programme, which offers music industry skills training including sound engineering, lighting, and audio production — all delivered.

Students of World Heart Beat Music Academy

Students of World Heart Beat Music Academy

I hope it’s also going to be an important space for all musicians – not just students of the Academy, or people who are coming in to do concerts, but also anyone who wants to record or do videos. It’s a great, cutting-edge resource, right in the heart of London. And hiring the space goes to support the work at the important work at the Academy.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to the Academy but who might be unsure?

I would say that music is just such a joy, and it will be your friend for life, throughout your life’s journey. It enhances your life in so many different ways.

There are studies to prove how much it helps one neurologically, behaviourally, socially, and also to literally improve the way your brain functions. There are studies by neurologists that literally show your ability to learn goes up, and your ability to learn all subjects, from all areas of education, actually improves.

You share in and create something that is bigger than yourself, and you’re working with people in a way that is life-enhancing. Music manages to express where words fail. So I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about it even a tiny bit to just grab the chance.

More details on the event and the Academy can be found here.

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