Picture: Evelyn Glennie by Jim Callaghan

For the first in a new series of articles on maintaining our own best health, solo percussionist (and BAPAM patron) Dame Evelyn Glennie spoke with us about looking after mind and body while managing the pressures of global tours…

Evelyn Glennie is the world’s premier solo percussionist, performing worldwide with the greatest orchestras and artists. Her solo recordings exceed 40 CDs. A double GRAMMY award winner and BAFTA nominee, Evelyn composes for film, theatre and television. She began The Evelyn Glennie Podcast in 2020. Evelyn was awarded an OBE in 1993 and has over 100 international awards to date, including the Polar Music Prize and the Companion of Honour.

Can you tell us a bit about your career to date?

I travel around the world giving solo/concerto performances and other collaborations. I also compose, give presentations and am involved with many educational and charitable organizations. I am Chancellor of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and President of Help Musicians. I also curate The Evelyn Glennie Collection.

Drumming is physically demanding, do you do any fitness training to ensure you are fit to play? If so, what do you do?

I do not have a fitness training routine because it is nigh impossible to do anything on a regular basis with the schedule I have. However, I make sure I walk, cycle, work in the garden and ‘move’ a lot. I am always on the go doing something in order to keep the body supple. Suppleness and flexibility is key to what I do. Strength comes when then body and limbs ‘talk’ to each other so the diversity in how the body is being manipulated is important. Moderation is also important to what I do, therefore allowing time for the body to be actively still.

How about touring, is there any special preparation regime and how do you keep physically and mentally fit whilst on tour?

Physically it is about making sure that I try to walk as much as I can when on tour and conducting everything in moderation. Being prepared in every sense so that there is as little stress as possible is important. This is important for both physical and mental wellbeing. Making sure that the food I eat is what I feel is right at the time. I try to eliminate being hostage to regimes or types of food but instead really listen to the body and mind in the present.

Get enough sleep, make sure there is plenty warm up time on the instruments, make sure the temperature of the hotel room and dressing room are suitable for your preparation and comfort. Treat the mind and body as the main engine in order for everything else to function well. Clear communication with others is key so that messages are put forward with team work and understanding in mind.

Do you have a ‘health rider’ or what do you think venues, promoters, managers etc. can do to help touring artists take care of their health and wellbeing?

I ask the promoter to provide certain drinks and snacks during rehearsals/concerts. I also make sure I have a reserve of healthy snacks when required and as a safety net. If I don’t see food places close by to where I am I ask the promoter to bring food in to the dressing room. I try not to eat too late or else eat something light following a performance. Listen to the body in what it needs and have a balance between what is reasonable for a promoter to provide and what you yourself can do to help your situation. A ‘must’ is making sure plenty of water is at hand.

Was it always this way or was there a point when you realized you needed to develop a regular health routine, or discovered you needed to focus more on taking care of your health?

Due to the nature of the time it takes to set up/dismantle the percussion instruments I have always been aware of what my body requires to function. Regularity is not something I can entertain but I can make sure that what is required for the particular moment is at hand. If there is nothing to eat close by I make sure that I am driven to a supermarket to pick up suitable food to function well. I also ask for slightly more food to be brought in than required so that there is the option to keep things tiding over for a longer period. Making sure that I am not pulled in all different directions to do things outwith the agreed schedule is something I have learnt to do. It is easy to get sidetracked and to do many more activities than expected. I have learnt to be clear in declining something if it detracts from what my mind and body are doing or need. This is imperative in keeping a good creative balance and therefore a healthier mind and body.

How do you manage your downtime, do you have any top tips?

I make sure I have plenty of time to myself to simply think and be alone. Much of my work is being with people I don’t necessarily know well, therefore it’s crucial to have the time to recharge and be with your own thoughts and to give yourself time to do something totally different to your work. I like to read, walk around, sit and people watch, hunt for more instruments, generally I do what I feel like at the time.

Have you had any health problems affecting your performance and if so, what did you do?

No, thankfully but I have been in very stressful situations regarding lack of time to set instruments up before a rehearsal or inadequate warm up time or working in freezing temperatures. Outdoor performances need special care due to the temperature changes even in the summer and so it’s making sure plenty of warm clothes are at hand, standing your ground as regards to appropriate time to warm up, respecting what you do and making sure other people respect what you do! I have spent years bringing percussion from the back of the orchestra to the front and much of that success has been about respecting my family of instruments and what is required for a solo percussionist to perform at the highest level as a concert pianist or violinist would.

Is there a link between your health and creativity?

Definitely. Health starts with listening to your mind and your body, not someone else deciding what or what not you need. We are all different and so listening internally is crucial. Warming up, warming down, having the mental space to analyze and connect with yourself, laying down the reasonable ground rules in what is acceptable to function and clear respectful communication will all help to ensure the longevity and quality of performances.

What would your health advice be to other musicians?

Listen to yourself! This may sound selfish but it is necessary. Everything we do starts from within so having the balance between internal and external influences is crucial. Our body and experiences change each year so what may have worked 20 years ago may not be suitable now. Listen to the moment.