This month we are kicking off a new feature shining a light on our dedicated team of music tutors working across Hackney both in schools and our collaborative projects. This month we begin with Uchenna Ngwe who began her work in Hackney 12 years ago as a classroom music teacher, and now works across a range of HMS projects and ensembles.
How did you come to choose the instrument(s) you play or did it/they choose you?
I was on the waiting list for piano lessons at school; I choose something else to play while I waited. I’d played the violin for a bit but didn’t get on with it, so I ended up choosing the oboe from a book, after reading it was the one that played the theme tune to Emmerdale Farm!
What do you enjoy most about playing your instrument(s)?
Lots of opportunities for solos! It’s great not having to play the same part as everyone else. As well as working together in a section, you also get a lot more autonomy within the solo sections in the music you play. The oboe has a wider range of music than most people expect from the instrument, which is important to demonstrate.
What do you find most challenging about playing your instrument?
One of the most challenging things is having to know so much about reeds and how to make them! Even if you don’t play on your own reeds, you still need to know how to make them so they’re playable for you personally. They also break really easily! It’s part of knowing the instrument. Also, it surprised me how quickly your muscles feel tired after having a day off, taking a break, or holiday – it always takes a while to build the strength back up.
What do you enjoy most about teaching in Hackney?
I first came to hackney and HMS as a classroom music teacher about 12 years ago and it’s still a great place to work! Everyone is so friendly – students, teachers and everyone in the Music Service office. Outside of the classroom, I work across a range of HMS projects – I work regularly with our Classical Meets Jazz ensemble, and Hackney Borough Youth Orchestra and sometimes with the Hackney Training Orchestra. It’s fantastic to work with such a diverse and talented range of young people from across Hackney.
What’s your all-time favourite gig? (either played in or been to)
My favourite gig that I’ve been to was seeing Stevie Wonder at British Summer Time in Hyde Park a few years ago. It was a great place to see one of my favourite artists. As the gig was in a park rather than a gig venue, everyone had space to dance and enjoy his music.
What kind of music do you listen to most?
No idea how to answer this question! I listen to loads of different styles of music for work and for fun. I’m at home doing admin and practising today so my Spotify list has included Todrick Hall, James Blake, Stevie Wonder, Julia Holter, Anderson.Paak and the whole of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I often listen to different things according to what I’m doing at the time. If I’m working or studying at home, I can’t listen to anything with words. But if I’m doing my accounts anything this fine!
What advice would you give to a student on developing their playing?
Practice! I know every teacher will probably say this but it’s important to know how to practice as well. Playing through your pieces loads of times the night before your lesson doesn’t count. It’s really important to focus on the most challenging bits and work on them slowly.
More about Uchenna:
Outside of HMS, Uchenna has been working on an incredibly varied range of projects, both as a performer and educator. As part of her current PhD research, Uchenna has established plainsightSOUND, a research project exploring the participation and contributions of people of Black British, African and Caribbean heritage in British classical music before the mid-20th century. In addition, she also runs the Decus Ensemble, a flexible and diverse group of professional classical musicians who work together to promote the works of less well-known composers throughout classical music history, for a range of instruments. You can also watch Uchenna’s 2016 TedX talk, Labels and pigeonholes: how to avoid peoples limiting expectations here.