Q&A with Principal Piccolo, Jennifer Seddon-Mori

APO’s Ben Gemmell talks to APO Principal Piccolo Jennifer Seddon-Mori about her musical background, following your dreams and her travels through south-east Asia.

Where are you from?
Wellington. But I’ve now lived longer in Auckland and feel proud to be an Aucklander!

How long have you been a musician in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra?
I think since 1983! I’m pretty sure we didn’t have contracts in the early days. I just know that I was straight out of university, the then Auckland Regional Orchestra was newly formed and we worked part-time, mainly in the evenings so that we could hold other jobs.

What is your musical background? Have you always wanted to be a musician?
My parents tell me that as a toddler they’d find me bouncing in my cot late at night, apparently excited by their classical LP’s!

My earliest memory of hearing the flute was a school orchestra performing a Mozart Concerto when I was 8. I immediately loved the flute sound and pestered my parents to learn. After three years of fife and recorder, I finally started Saturday morning group lessons.

For five years, I learnt in the itinerant system (free lessons) and my teacher was the retired piccolo player of the National Orchestra. At 15, he introduced me to the piccolo and – shall we say – the rest is history! I’d discovered my ‘niche’ and from then on knew exactly what I wanted to do: two years of intense study with a private teacher, and then university to study. I had no plan B!

Can you play any another instrument, other than the piccolo?
I play a lot of flute, and alto flute. As a tertiary student, one of my early professional gigs was alto flute in Daphnis and Chloé.

At secondary school, I learnt violin for a while but the teacher would always say to me; “Ah but you can already play the flute...” More recently, I also had snapping incidents when trying to tune my daughter’s violin, so I have great respect for my string colleagues! At university, I had to quickly learn piano for some score reading courses and I wish we’d had one at home when I was younger.

How did you pass the time during New Zealand’s lockdown?
Baking! We had a two-month feijoa harvest and I cooked just about every recipe I know!

I also really missed espresso coffees, so I refurbished an old machine. They’re quite full-bodied now.

I’ve had family to look after and I’ve been able to run nearly everyday in our home gym – just as well with all that baking! I’d also better mention practice: I had been playing through study books from my student days, including Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin and Moyse’s Fifty Variations.

What is your funniest story about performing as a musician?
A couple of fun concerts spring to mind. Playing for the Topp Twins, and for NZ Opera’s The Mikado. In The Mikado, the wonderful Coco, with his Scottish accent, made me crack up and it was hard to play every time he appeared. When I met the actor backstage, I couldn’t believe he was a Kiwi! 

What advice can you give to any aspiring musicians who want to make it in the industry?
Follow your dreams and just take every opportunity that comes along. You’ll likely have disappointments because it’s competitive, and some people will tell you that you’re not good enough. That hurts, but pick yourself up and keep following that inner calling. You can make it – it’s a fulfilling life.

What are your interests outside of music?
Gardening, cafes, books, movies, my cat. 

What makes you happiest?
The love of my family and spending time with close friends. Birdsong, which I hear around me in my upstairs studio.

What might surprise people to know about you?
I used to do women’s sport fighting. I’ve also done lots of body boarding. In Wellington I cycled everywhere, including to university. I’ve travelled through a lot of south-east Asia, including Tibet and I’ve enjoyed yak butter tea with monks in Lhasa. Yes – I could handle the altitude!

I had a year of intensive study based in London and travelled by rail to many masterclasses in Europe, including two days in Oslo, Norway (I have Norwegian ancestry)!

Quickfire! What is your favourite-at-the-moment...?

Book: I read a lot of classics (Dickens, Austen, Bronte etc). Encore Provence by Peter Mayle was delightfully funny and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry; heartbreaking.

Movie: An oldie: The Mission for the gorgeous Gabriel’s Oboe theme. I wanted to see Emma with screenplay by Eleanor Catton, but then came the lockdown.

TV ShowMy Life is Murder with Lucy Lawless, plus Episodes (set in Hollywood). Plus comedy re-runs especially BlackadderFawlty TowersMirandaBlack BooksKath and Kim!

Food: The sweet tooth likes: Chocolate, citrus, almond, soft ice cream.

Song: Many, but I listen to a lot of George Michael and Phil Collins.

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