Yolande Gregor-Smith, an examiner for London College of Music Exams at the University of West London, talks about her journey in music
Her fingers glide across the various scales of the piano skilfully. And despite us telling her repeatedly to smile for the camera, Yolande Gregor-Smith, says apologetically: “Musicians never look like the same person when playing their instrument.” An examiner for London College of Music Exams at the University of West London, Yolande is in the city to review Western music students at MCBS Kalagramam, Pattom, and CDMS, Kuravankonam.
After the photo shoot, we head for the director of Kalagramam, Fr. Ajin Elavuthinkal’s office for the interview. On the way, she pauses and sticks her head into an ongoing Carnatic music class at Kalagramam. She listens and applauds them as the students render ‘sa, re, ga, ma…’ “It is great to hear all the different music from all over the world,” says Yolande.
A renowned pianist, Yolande began her tryst with this musical instrument when she was six years old. “My mother, uncle and grandparents were musicians. My grandmother was perhaps the first woman cellist to play in a pit for a silent movie orchestra. With music in my family it is but natural that I follow suit.” Yolande says she was lucky to have had great teachers and ample opportunities while growing up. “I was raised in Zimbabwe, Africa. While I could have chosen any musical instrument, I chose the piano as, as a kid, I felt the keys went up and down like a see-saw. I also liked the tinkling noise. I had fantastic teachers at my music school and was able to perform on television and at various concerts.”
Yolande left for the Royal School of Music, London, when she was 18, and was further trained by pianist Bernard Roberts. “In my twenties I did various solo performances. I played for BBC Radio, performed at various music clubs, concerts, London halls… I also had the opportunity to play with a lot of musicians”
It was at a music festival at Sheffield that Yolande met her husband, Bernard Gregor-Smith, a cellist. The duo worked together and produced several albums. The duo has two sons: Ben and Max. While Ben is a sub principal cellist of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, Switzerland, Max is pursuing medicine in Barcelona.
Yolande grins as she recalls how reluctant a child Ben was in music. “He was talented but rather laid back when it came to practising music. Although we gave him the freedom to do what he wanted, we reminded him that one needed a minimum amount of practice if one wanted to develop a career in music. He would stick to that minimum.”
Yolande says giving direction to a child is extremely important. “If we push too much we infringe on the child’s freedom of choice but if we don’t give direction they might lose the opportunity to choose for themselves whether they wish to be a musician or not or to be involved in music,” says Yolande who enjoys her job as a music examiner.
“It combines two of my favourite things – music and travel. My job as an examiner has taken me to places like Ireland, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong… This is my first time in India and Thiruvananthapuram is my first stop.” The pianist finds the city and its people charming. “I like the way the people are friendly and rooted to their culture.” Ask her about how she found the students in the city, and Yolande comments on how the students showed no signs of nerves during the examination. “They are so calm and focussed. And all of them are so polite,” says Yolande whose next stop is Hyderabad.