Musician Ed Hooson believes music is an international language and that music students should explore beyond the boundaries of their syllabus

Ed Hooson has given his life to music. He began piano classes as a child, and by 14, was enrolled at the local music academy, where he also played the double bass with the youth orchestra. By 18 he had joined the Royal Academy of Music, London, as a piano major with a double bass minor, and he then spent the next four decades of his life touring the world with London’s most prominent orchestras, playing ballets, operas and chamber music. He finally quit to become an examiner for the Trinity College of London; and now, at 60, Ed is in India to test a 1,000 Trinity students across Kochi, Palakkad and Coimbatore. Ed says his new avatar in music is like a “fresh lease of life”.

Ed came to music quite by default. His parents were musicians as were his brother and sister, with whom he often performed piano concertos. “I never did very well at school. I remember that I loved cricket and my parents say I enjoyed watching orchestras play on TV,” says Ed. With a childhood immersed in music, Ed says he learnt the double bass because his teacher declared him too tall for the cello, an instrument he had wanted to try out alongside his piano lessons. “I grew to feel at home with the double bass and it’s been the instrument I’ve played in orchestras all my life, including with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.” In his time, Ed has performed with world-renowned musicians and composers such as Andre Previn and Luciano Pavarotti.

All along though, he continued freelancing as a solo pianist, and as a piano accompanist. Equal proficiency at two instruments has been a blessing, says Ed. The piano has given his fingers immense dexterity which has helped with the wide finger stretches and fast movements the double bass requires; while the double bass, with its fret-less fingerboard, has attuned his ear to pitch and intonation.

Many skills

As a Trinity examiner too, Ed says these skills have come in useful, because he is a ‘generalist’, as opposed to a ‘specialist’, an examiner who grades students across various instruments. “Joining Trinity was my way of trying to give something back to music, because I had much help from many tutors across my career,” says Ed.

The four-year experience has taken him across continents from Lebanon to Ireland, Cyprus and, on multiple occasions, to several cities in India. “Before I first came, I was told that the standard of classical music, particularly keyboards, would be slightly lower among Indian students of Trinity. But I arrived to find students play with great fluency,” says Ed. After reviewing hundreds of students, Ed takes a quick breather at the National Academy of Music, Ravipuram. If he had to pick a bone about the quality of playing he has seen so far, Ed says the emotional quotient expressed through the music could be a notch higher. Could that be because Indian students are often uninitiated into the historical and cultural contexts within which the classical pieces of Trinity’s syllabus were written? “That could be, but either way, all systems of music are worth learning, for what you pick up is ultimately an international language,” clarifies Ed.

The advantage Indian students have is the ability to improvise — a skill drawn from their knowledge of Indian classical music systems. “Indian classical music is memorised and internalised from the start; it becomes an inherent part of you. We, on the other hand, use notations and play by what is written in the book. The room for improvisation is little,” says Ed. Thus, even though opportunities for Western classical musicians are rare in the Indian context, when compared to the many orchestras and troupes the West offers, Ed urges students to explore beyond their books.

“It is important to find a way to make your learning of the Trinity syllabus practical within your life. Constantly ask yourself, ‘How do I take this further’.” He says students must explore the vast repertoire that exists outside the set pieces of examination. “These certificates and exams shouldn’t become an end in themselves, rather a stepping stone to discover more.”