Katherine: cellist & mum
For my fourth portrait of ‘My mum is an artist’, I was keen to give the spotlight to a musician. During a casual chat with Katherine’s husband on the train, a musician himself, I dared asking him: “Do you know any female musician, who is also a mother?” to which he replied: “Well, my wife is a cellist.” And that’s how I met Kath, an extremely-talented musician with a busy schedule. She was very kind to invite me to her rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a cello ensemble. What an experience to watch the artists preparing for their performance in this London iconic venue. I later met Kath in her Beckenham home on a quiet Sunday with her two adorable children, Oscar and Olivia. They enjoyed some time playing lego, tennis and trampolining while I was taking photos. Saying Kath has several strings to her bow (sorry for the pun!) is an understatement. Now, let's meet the artist...
1. Tell me about yourself? What do you do? How long have you been doing it for? How did you get into it?
My name is Katherine Jenkinson, most of my friends call me Kath. I am a musician who plays the cello. I started learning at the age of 5 so that’s just over 30 years that I’ve been playing now, frightening! From a family of music lovers, I was encouraged to start learning an instrument. The first instrument was the violin but I quickly knew that this wasn't for me. Even now, I struggle with the squeaks that can appear from beginner violinists and I certainly was one of those squeakers. The cello was an instrument I quickly felt at home on. I remember how it felt natural to hold and is comforting to hear as it resembles the human voice. I loved how I could feel the vibrations through my feet when playing low notes. Having said all this, stunning violin playing is somewhere at the top of my list of favourite concerts to go to.
From a very early age I was taken to full-length classical concerts and performances given by my two siblings. In my early years, I often drew pictures quietly during performances and I must have drawn many because I got a real love for art and particularly enjoyed painting at school. Drawing, painting (mainly in acrylics) and interior design are still a huge passion but I currently struggle to find time. A bizarre coincidence is that one of the concert societies our family belonged to was called “Alfreton Hall”. A popular group to frequently perform at the club was ‘The Allegri String Quartet’ (the longest running chamber ensemble still running in the UK but obviously not in its original format). I was asked to become the cellist of the Allegri String Quartet in 2008 and held the post until 2011. I must have played the same pieces with The Allegris that I heard them play when only 6, 7, 8 years old. I even used some of the original copies with some of the original bowings. Possibly some bowing were agreed for the concerts which I attended and drew my way through many years ago!
At the age of 18, I commenced my studies at The Royal Academy of Music. I can’t tell you how much I loved my time there. I had come from a school with little music (not through lack of trying from my passionate music teacher who is now a dear friend). There were only two of us taking A Level music but this was actually quite handy because, as musical scholar, I was on stage performing all the time. I felt like the school guinea pig but secretly I didn't mind. I was thrown in at the deep end - given violin parts to play on the cello in orchestra, sometimes I took sectionals in choir and gave the starting notes for the choir in unaccompanied pieces in concerts. Occasionally I was roped into playing the piano for the hymns in assembly (no halo for me as this was definitely not my most shining moment)! I made arrangements of songs for The House Music Competitions/concerts and was even taught timpani for a tricky percussion part for our performance of Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde” as there were no percussionists at school!
Back to The Royal Academy. I think I hung around like a bad smell as I did an undergraduate course followed by a one year post-graduate, an associateship and a fellowship there (seven whole years)! What can I say? I was happy there, had some fantastic friends and interesting colleagues, I learnt so much and they lent me a few stunning cellos to play on during my time. My transition into the big wide music world was smooth because I was already performing and earning professionally from Year 2 of my Academy life. This is a real perk of being a musician - studying and earning money from what you are studying all at the same time. My main concern about finishing RAM at the time was finding a cello that I was happy to play on and could somehow afford after being spoilt rotten playing on a Stradivarius.
I certainly didn’t have a million pounds hanging around to buy such an instrument after seven years of study!
With the help of one trust in particular (The Countess of Munster) and a player who sold me my now cello for a very generous price, I finally managed to buy the cello of my dreams which was made in 1703 in Rome by Taningard.
Since leaving my place of study, I have continued down the path of solo, chamber groups, some chamber orchestras, recording sessions and some teaching and more recently sitting on panels. I love the variety. Last year I was involved in an album where I was soloist with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and I felt proud when it reached no.1 in the Classical iTunes charts. I spend much time with my chamber group of ten years, Aquinas Piano Trio with whom I’ve recorded three albums. They were received well by the press, in particular Gramophone Magazine and The Strad Magazine (a geeky magazine for string players) who made us album of the month! The three of us are the best of friends as well as happy chamber music colleagues so this is a bonus.
You can hear me on many movie soundtracks including Star Wars, Harry Potter, How to train your Dragon, Mission Impossible, Fast and Furious, Rocket Man and even Shaun the Sheep. I’ve recorded for Robbie Williams, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding and performed with artists such as Arianna Grande, Beyonce and Jay Z.
2. How long have you been a mum for?
I am surprising myself whilst writing this but almost 9 ‘Buzzlight' Years. I have two children. Oscar who is almost 9 years old and Olivia who is 4 years old. Oscar started school only a few days before Olivia was born and Olivia is due to start school this September. For the first time in nine years, I’m wondering if I might be able to stop chasing my tale - ok, I know the answer to this but please let me dream!
3. What do you love about your art?
Well, the music making goes without saying, but I also love the variety of my work and being paid to see the world! One advantage of being a musician is that you are always meeting so many different and interesting people. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I love the unpredictability of it all.
One day I might be playing in a beautiful concert venue like The Wigmore Hall and the next day I might be at Abbey Road recording the music for a new Marvel movie or playing to kids in a Pre-school followed by performing in a jazz big band concert and the next day I’ll be getting on a flight to India to perform with Indian musicians. Variety definitely is the spice of life for me and for many of my musician friends I think!
4. Has motherhood changed you as an artist?
Of course, I think that’s only natural. I’m much freer and relaxed as a person which is reflected in my playing. I definitely have more patience and feel more accepting towards others. Time management - I am terrible at preparing repertoire in advance. My husband jokes with me as he knows that when I have a big concert coming up, the house will be spotless before I even start on my cello practice. This used to be fine when you could take the week off before the concert and crash 10 or even 12 hours a day if need-be but this schedule can’t and doesn’t work with kids and paying a mortgage. Also, I have to add since having kids the words ‘spotless’ and ‘house’ do not go together! This is something I am working on - embrace the mess, it means a happy home (yes I believe this, honestly)!
I generally love adventure and travelling which I have to do frequently in my line of work but I don't travel for long now as I want to be there for the children. I tried taking Oscar on tour with me to California when he was only a few months old and it was a disaster. We were both poorly and it was tough whilst we were travelling around and performing. Lesson learnt!
5. What has helped you combining your family life and your professional/artistic life?
It’s definitely my amazing husband, family and friends. My husband, Nick, is a real hands-on Dad. I hadn't planned on marrying a cellist or even a musician for that matter but it helps enormously because Nick just understands and he is happy to do what is needed to make it work for us both. He is happy to be the only Dad in the group of mums taking their kids to a swimming lesson and enjoys spending his Sunday mornings taking Oscar to cricket.
Credit to my Mary Poppins childminder who shall remain nameless as I don’t want any of you stealing her! Without her, I would be a complete wreck and I’ve often told her that she must be my Fairy Godmother! She has been there since Oscar was born and is part of the family.
Talking about family, I have enormous support from them and I am forever grateful for this. My parents don't live close by but they are amazing at coming to stay and covering childcare for a patch. The kids have such a close bond with them as do we. They are beyond generous with their time and care for us and are rocks of support both for my family and musical career. My sister and her daughter, my 22 year old niece, have also been a huge help and have a close relationship with the four of us. Our local friends are supportive and are great at doing the odd early pick-up or drop off or playdate for us which of course we always try to repay. I am incredibly lucky because I realise without this set-up there would be no way I could do what I do.
6. Do you have dreams for your children?
My dream is for them to be happy, feel loved and secure and always look out for each other.
I don’t really dream for them to be musicians because I think it’s a tough life but I will support them fully if this is the path they decide to go down.
7. Have you noticed an artistic side in your children?
I say to my kids that if they aren't musical, I will eat my hat! They both listened to countless concerts over the 9 months they were growing inside my tummy! This has to have had an impact on their musical ability right? Oscar is in his second year of playing the flute (his choice of instrument by the way) and Olivia tinkles around on the piano and cello but is currently much more interested in anything art or crafts related which she happily spends hours on almost every day. In fact I won’t ‘eat my hat’ I will ‘throw it into the ring’ if Olivia doesn't end up doing something with her arts and crafts and Oscar something with the flute. He currently wants to be a “beatbox flautist”!
8. What advice would you give out to other mums who try to combine their art/creative work with their family life?
Without sounding too soppy, always follow your heart! You know when you’ve been overdoing it at work and the kids or your partner need you at home (and you need them for that matter). You also know that that particular project is hugely important to you and you’ll be putting that first for a few days (unless something unexpected crops up). As working mums we can easily feel the guilt of dividing up our time. I’ve worked hard at trying to relax about this over the years - to stop analysing the being mum/wife/daughter/sister/friend/being artistic/making money/ battle in my head and try to simply follow my heart and go with my instinct.
9. What are your main struggles and victories since becoming a mum?
Struggle equals lack of sleep! When I’m at home in the evening then I’m generally practising until the early hours or catching up on admin or housework. The accumulative tiredness is tough when you don't get catch-up days (unless on tour and the mums with little ones disappear for the first few days to try and catch some shut-eye)! I’m terrible at knowing when I’m too tired to do any good and I should just switch off and shut down for the evening! Juggling diaries can sometimes seem like mission impossible. I spend train journeys trying to sort childcare arrangements out because every week is different for me.
Because I’m freelance I’ve also struggled with (but have got much better recently) at saying no to work when I’ve not seen the kids enough. It’s blooming tough combining work, family, partner, friends and some ‘you time’ but the rewards far outweigh any struggle !
10. Is it true that women artists “can’t have it all”?
Is this one of those questions… “is your glass half full or half empty”? Do any of us really ‘have it all’? To be totally honest, I feel unbelievably lucky to have what I have. Ok, sometimes it’s tough but I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to have two healthy and fun children and a fulfilling career. I wouldn't change it for the world!
11. Can you tell me about your plans for this year?
In a matter of weeks I have my first duo (cello and piano) album out on Stone Records (music by Shostakovich and an American composer called Lawrence Rose).
I am going back to where I grew up in Derbyshire and performing Dvorak Cello Concerto with the local orchestra, Derby Concert Orchestra, in Derby Cathedral for their special 75th Anniversary Concert. It’ll be exciting to see so many familiar faces both in the orchestra and hopefully in the audience. I have concerts scattered throughout the year with my group, Aquinas Piano Trio including finishing a Schumann Cycle at London’s Kings Place and a European Cruise. We hope to get back in the studio this year and record our 4th trio album.
One concert I always look forward to is “Guy Barker’s Christmas Big Band Special” in the Royal Albert Hall a few weeks before Christmas. This is always the beginning of Christmas for me.
I’m off to Italy with The Academy of St Martin-in-the-fields Orchestra and a few months later to Belgium with a cello ensemble. I have various other chamber music and solo concerts throughout the year including working with a fabulous violinist called Ning Kam for some violin and cello duets.
First of all though, a three-week holiday for the four of us in Greece. We have never been away for this long so we are excited to have the quality time together and without the cellos which will stay locked up in the UK!
Where to find Kath online:
Marion & You Photography is a lifestyle and documentary family photographer in South London specialising in family, newborn and baby photography as well as maternity photography.
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