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Passing the Baton: Naomi Sullivan and Daniel Tong

Welcome to the sixth instalment of Passing The Baton – in which members of the RBC community interview each other.

Each week, a member of RBC staff or a student will interview a colleague to gain some insight into how the Coronavirus crisis has affected their life, both professionally and personally. The interviewer will then “pass the baton” to the interviewee who will go on to present their questions to the next person along, until finally closing the loop with an interview with our first interrogator.

Daniel Tong and Naomi Sullivan

This week, RBC Head of Saxophone Naomi Sullivan talks to Head of Piano in Chamber Music, Daniel Tong.


Naomi Sullivan (NS)

What has surprised you about yourself during lockdown?

Daniel Tong (DT)

I feel I should give an upbeat answer but, in all honesty, how little I miss giving concerts. I am sure I will rediscover my appetite for it and know it's very much part of me, of course, but at the moment it feels right to be at home and I have slightly lost my connection with all that. Not with music, just with the idea of performing. I can see online that some of us can't live without it, broadcasting home performances every day and turning their spare rooms into concert halls. That's not me.


Online teaching! How is it for you?


Effortful, but rewarding. Somehow the time spent with students seems even more valuable during the current adversity. We're managing on a combination of video calls, sound enhancement, recordings sent in advance and discussion by video and email. Those are the positives but I can't wait to get back into the same room as the students and have the sound resonating in the air around us. Also for the chamber groups to be able to play together again. I breathe chamber music.


If you had a Covid time capsule, what items, ideas, memories or achievements would you put in it?


The current lockdown has been quite particular for my family, with two people here with major health issues. We have been taking isolation very seriously, disinfecting everything carefully when it arrives on the doorstep. I haven't been out for many weeks. Therefore it's curious, looking out of the window at empty buses with all my friends and colleagues talking about what they will be allowed to do, when our perspective is slightly different, not concerning rules but how to stay safe. In my time capsule I would put a large bottle of disinfectant spray, some seeds for the garden (where lots of time has been spent), a couple of chapters of my PhD, my headphones which are used more than ever, one of my daughter's schoolbooks and a volume of late Brahms piano music, which has kept me company.


I first met you in person during the 2018 RBC International Piano Chamber Music Festival. (saxophonist, Andreas Mader needed some help with saxophone equipment). How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the festival, if at all, and what do you think students and teachers can learn from the current, necessary enforcements?


Coronavirus hasn't (yet) affected the International Piano Chamber Music Festival, which isn't due again until autumn 2021. I would plan to advertise in early autumn for preliminary auditions next spring. But two other festivals that I am involved with have been heavily affected. Perhaps most sadly, my Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival was due to celebrate its 20th birthday with a big jamboree at Wigmore Hall which had to be cancelled in April. Our summer festival for young artists will also almost certainly be cancelled this July and the Winchester Chamber Music Festival, which I set up 12 years ago, was also cancelled this month. Such a lot of effort goes into these things, but I hope that when we all come back people will appreciate the music and the wonderful atmosphere of these events even more. We are trying to supply a little online content for our supporters in order to stay in touch, but an online festival really is far removed from the real thing. I'm not sure what we can learn apart from how to adapt and how resourceful we can all be when necessary. Also what a supportive family the musical community is. But I certainly don't hope that the current situation leads to even more music happening online. There's enough of that already.



Your PhD concerns Beethoven, how do you think he would have responded to lockdown?


Beethoven would have been on Twitter five times a day, berating those who were acting irresponsibly or failing as leaders. In between times he would have written a string quartet and perhaps a symphony. He would have understood the sacrifices that were needed at the moment but would have been single-minded in his work, unlike me.


Who is your cricketing hero and what can musicians learn from the sport?


King Viv Richards, the Master Blaster, who I watched playing for Somerset when I was a kid. We can learn from sportsmen and women that presence and attitude are every bit as important as technical skill. But, having said that, without the latter you won't go far.

Viv Richards


Next week, Dan talks to RBC fourth year trumpet student, Sam Walker.

If you have enjoyed our series Passing the Baton and would like to take part, why not get in touch? We always want to hear from our RBC community, and would love to feature our Jazz and Theatre students. If you’re interested, please contact Pete Holder.