The founder of Chineke!, Europe’s first professional majority Black and Minority Ethnic orchestra, reflects on how she keeps her own musical life grounded

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©Eric Richmond

The following is published as part of a larger ‘Life Lessons’ interview with Chi-chi Nwanoku in The Strad’s September 2017 issue, out now – download the issue on desktop computer or via the The Strad App, or buy the print edition

Although some people think that being a soloist is only about practising and performing, the reality is that what you see on stage is the tip of an enormous iceberg of effort. Good time management, for example, is vital before you get anywhere near the music. Something Chineke! has really made clear is that performers are like majestic swans on a lake: the serenity on the surface is supported by vigorous paddling underneath! But musicians are actors and visual artists, too – we should be honest with our audiences and not hide things from them. If a tremolando passage is supposed to be terrifying you’ll see it in my face just as much you’ll hear it in my bow. I’m an open book.

Things can get a little overwhelming at times and I have had my fair share of sleepless nights wondering if a particular performance is going to come together. Thankfully I have fantastic support from my family, friends and colleagues. Normal routines and social appointments keep me grounded so I make sure I have time every week for the gym, having dinner with friends, book club, and for spending quality time with my son (via Facetime as he and my grand-daughter are in Australia) and my daughter. These remind me that there is a world outside of music – one that keeps turning regardless of what happens on stage! 

To read the full interview with Chi-chi Nwanoku, download The Strad’s September 2017 issue on desktop computer or via the The Strad App, or buy the print edition

Read: What I’d tell my younger self – double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku