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Pete Yelding: Diversifying the musical stories we tell

Ahead of his upcoming training session for Sound Connections, cellist, sitarist and vocalist Pete Yelding discusses our connected musical histories, his commitment to shining light on these connections through his practice, and provides a deeper insight into what he hopes participants will take away from his session ‘Reconfiguring musical spaces: Telling the whole story about our musical histories‘, taking place online on Tuesday 22 March, 10am – 12pm.

I am a cellist, sitarist and vocalist. I grew up in an environment where I encountered and learned from world class musicians from all over the world. So, from quite a young age, I had a tangible feeling of ways our musical histories connect. At 18, when I made it to music college, I learned quickly that the musical stories told in institutions in the UK obscure these connected histories.

In my practice, whether it is performing, composing, consulting or leading workshops, I am committed to making those connections known and felt.

To achieve this in my work, over the past decade I have:

  • Researched ways that colonialism and racism have been embedded in music supported by institutions from economically powerful countries in Europe and North America.
  • Studied historic flows of musical knowledge between continents and nations, which are often overlooked or excluded from dominant musical histories.
  • Developed a way of talking about musical cultures that centres the knowledge they produce as opposed to just the way they sound.
  • Developed ways of working in my creative and performance practices that centre the musical knowledge I have received from master Hindustani musicians and West African Griots, who were foundational to my musical training outside of institutions.
  • Explored ideas around ways of listening and listening as an active (and often transformative) practice.
  • Explored ideas around positionality (the way you or I, and our identities, relate to structures of power) as a creative asset, instead of a creative hurdle – as it is often thought of.

This has led to performance collaborations with organisations and artists such as dance artist, Zinzi Minott; tabla player and composer Kuljit Bhamra; Sound and Music; the Royal Shakespeare Company; tabla player and producer, Talvin Singh; Griot and master Kora player, Sura Susso and Bristol Old Vic.

Most recently I was part of a re-designing of Charanga’s music curriculum, where we were able to make more visible the connections between musical traditions and their histories than previous curricula have managed. I have also consulted, given interviews and co-led workshops exploring diversifying and decolonising musical stories for organisations such as Sound Connections (in collaboration with Tej Adeleye and Cassie Kinoshi), the BBC and Together Productions. I am now studying towards a PhD exploring the body as a musical archive and the embodied musical lineage of my Ustad (master performer and teacher in Hindustani music).

I believe that our musical imaginations are foundational to the ways we relate to others and the world around us. If our musical imaginations are shaped by a musical story that elevates certain kinds of musicians and musical knowledge above others, then we are more likely to act as though other kinds of musicians and musical knowledge don’t matter as much. Moreover, if that’s how we treat other musicians, it’s also likely how we treat other people who aren’t musicians. To change this, we need to re-wire musical imaginations.

Through the workshop I am leading, I hope to present provocations, concepts and explorations into ways of telling diversified musical stories in your practices and institutions with which you work. It is my hope that after this session you will approach the way you influence the musical imaginations of your partners, students or audience members a little differently.

Pete Yelding (he/him)

Pete is a cellist, sitarist and vocalist from a family of travelling Showpeople. His unique musical voice and multifaceted skill set blends multiple worlds of musical knowledge into soulful songs, pieces and improvisations that owe their existence entirely to his masterful teachers.

He began his sitar training in North Indian Classical Music during his cello and composition studies at Birmingham Conservatoire, and later studied with Jonathan Mayer of the Senia veen-kar Gharana. Since, Pete has become student of the legendary Sarod player, Ustad Irfan Muhammad Khan, the inheritor and Khalif (chief) of the Lucknow Shahjahanpur Gharana. In addition to his ongoing study under Irfan Muhammad Khan, Pete has received vocal tuition from Rauf Saami, son of Ustad Naseeruddin Saami. He has also received tuition in string performance techniques from Fulani Griot and master of the Riti, Juldeh Camara and Mandinka Griots and masters of the Kora, Sura Susso and Jally Kebba Susso.

He allows the techniques from across his practice to cross-pollinate and inform one and other so his cello, sitar and vocal playing sound alike. This unique and carefully crafted sound and his research has led to collaborative work with Zinzi Minott, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Talvin Singh, Kuljit Bhamra, Sura Susso, Bristol Old Vic, and Charanga. He is now studying a PhD at Bath Spa University looking at the body as the musical archive, with a focus on the Lucknow Shahjahanpur Gharana.



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