Abigail Heath

Clarinet Teacher and Performer

Abi’s Music Story

Abi started playing clarinet at about the age of 7 at primary school and was lucky to have a great teacher at school from the Hertfordshire music service.

Music was her escape as an undiagnosed dyslexic for a long time, finding school restrictive and frustrating. She moved schools in Year 9 by getting a music scholarship to Bishop Stortford College. She started learning with a super teacher, and loved playing in ensembles, orchestra, and wind bands. During the sixth form, Abi decided she wanted to pursue music as a career and applied and successfully got into the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

She completed both her undergraduate and postgraduate at the Guildhall with distinction, but only after sending 374 (!) letters out to various funds and associations to help fund her postgrad studies. Various organisations have supported Abi as a musician along the way, including the Zetland Foundation, Leverhulme Trust, Essex Young Musician Trust and Hockerill Education Trust.

Following the Guildhall, Abi followed a busy schedule of performing, teaching, and leading community music projects. She worked with the “Wind Up Penguin Theatre Company” which toured developing countries doing workshops to children in areas where there were limited opportunities, within the poor districts of Rio, Brazil and across in India. From here she went onto train alongside “Musicians without Borders” as an Advanced Community Music Trainer. This has taken her one step closer to realising her dream of training people in developing countries to create and sustain their own music programmes.

Amongst her community projects Abi has also performed in some of the top venues in London, including the Royal Albert Hall, The Royal Opera House and the Barbican. She is also a founding member of an Arts Council funded contemporary ensemble, Ret Frem, an ensemble which seeks to give a platform to under-represented and emerging composers.

"I think I’m fun and engaging, and really focus on encouraging people to take musical risks and really say something with their playing."

What was the Guildhall School of Music and Drama like?

Well, I was in a minority who had not gone to a specialist music college and it was quite a shock to the system, surrounded by people who had been used to practising for hours every day! I really enjoyed it though and soon adapted. I loved the unpretentious nature of it vs some of the other music colleges, and how encouraged we were to explore all kinds of repertoire.

Where would you suggest people buy a clarinet from?

I always shop at Woodwind & Reed in Cambridge and would highly recommend them. They have a website www.wwr.co.uk , and they also run the site www.reeds-direct.co.uk also. I’ve used them for repairs, instruments, accessories and reeds for the last 20 years and they always provide great service

What age do you recommend starting to play the clarinet?

A good age to start is about 8 or 9 (when you have your adult teeth), but you can start as young as you like these days with lighter plastic clarinets.

So, what are you like as a teacher?

I think I’m fun and engaging, and really focus on encouraging people to take musical risks and really say something with their playing. I have a good studio of private students, and I teach for Hackney Music Service so I have a wonderful variety of people and styles of music on a daily basis!

What has been your career highlight to date?

A recent highlight was quite an unusual and energising experience was touring the “Ping Pong” Concerto in Shanghai. It was a series of music inspired by table tennis matches, performed by a trio and two professional ping pong players. We performed at the Shanghai final of the International Table Tennis Championships which was just unbelievable! It was an amazing audience and atmosphere!

What clarinet pieces would you recommend people listen to, to inspire them to play?

The Finzi Bagatelles hold a very special place in my heart, and the Neilson Clarinet Concerto demonstrates the instrument beautifully. I also love all the old English composers’ work such as Vaughan Williams.

Book Abi Here