Variety is the spice of life…

At the beginning of 2022 following my retirement and the relaxation of the pandemic restrictions, I was feeling in need of a new challenge. I found it in a post on the Nextdoor app which sought volunteers for the Evelyn Glennie Collection, a preferred volunteer attribute being “a mind that likes problem solving and bringing order to confusion”. That, I thought, could be for me.

After an interview and a tour of the collection, I was and remain full of enthusiasm for the collection itself and its potential to inspire and inform future generations. A very great deal has been achieved already but there is still much to do to curate and preserve the vast array of artefacts relating to the life and career of one of the most outstanding musicians of the late 20th century to the present day.

“Variety is the spice of life” is a proverb taken from William Cowper’s poem “The Task” (1785). Volunteering for the collection is certainly varied and curating it is a mammoth task. I got a taste of this on my first day as a volunteer when my first job was to catalogue the material arising from Evelyn’s performance on the final night of “Children in Need” 2021. On that occasion Evelyn joined Owain Wyn Evans and a host of other drummers in a rousing performance of the BBC News theme. Apart from the documentation to be expected of such an event, I also catalogued Evelyn’s Pudsey ears, worn by her during the course of the performance. This was also my first experience of the charitable work Evelyn has done during the course of her career and on which I am doing ongoing collation.

I have focussed on other aspects of the collection during the last year. These included cataloguing scores of identity tags, which have helped to confirm the dates of Evelyn’s personal appearances and indeed led to the discovery of appearances which had not previously been recorded on the collection timeline. Sorting out invitations Evelyn has received over the years remains an ongoing task. There are vast numbers of those and they are very varied in nature, including many for charity, royal and international events and for music award ceremonies. One particularly amusing invitation was for a women’s health charity event called “Show us your knickers” – sadly Evelyn was unable to attend even had she wanted to!

It has been a particular pleasure to work on the honours section of the collection. I was able to catalogue the material relating to the award to Evelyn of the Polar Music Prize in 2015. There are Nobel prizes for physics, medicine, chemistry and literature but not for music. The late Stig Anderson, former manager of Abba, believed passionately that music should be similarly recognised so he started his own foundation and created the Polar Music Prize, named after his record label. The Prize has been awarded since 1992 and is presented by the King of Sweden. Evelyn’s fellow alumni include Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Ennio Morricone. It is recognised as one of the most prestigious music awards in the world. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I also catalogued the certificates and examiner’s comments relating to Evelyn’s very first music exams as a primary age child in Scotland – it was fascinating to see the wheel of musical achievement come full circle.

I can honestly say that I learn something new every time I volunteer and always find something to pique my interest. Within a month of me joining up I very much enjoyed going to the Horniman Museum with Evelyn and the team to speak with their experts about conservation and curating techniques. I have become well acquainted with the value of the 2B pencil, acid free sleeves and the occasional use of clear nail varnish! The Evelyn Glennie Collection is primarily about Evelyn and her career but it is so much more than that. It is about her quite extraordinary and vast collection of musical instruments. It is also a valuable social history of the time in which she has lived, be it in the changing fashions apparent in her performance costumes and hairstyles or, for example, the progress of communications from tele messages and letters through to e mail. It is part of the history of the organisations and events with which Evelyn has been involved – the BBC and the London 2012 Olympics to name but two. It contains part of the history of the people with whom Evelyn has collaborated, such as Sir James MacMillan. It is reflective of the changing face of popular culture from Val Doonican to Björk.

The Evelyn Glennie Collection is, quite simply, unique and I am proud to play a part in securing its future for the interest and education of all.

Written by Sylvia Cundell MBE, March 2023 and published with her kind permission

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