A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#27 Kids in Folk III – Nissa
First published in Trad and Now magazine, August 2011
As previously mentioned, it cheers this little heart to see and hear the youff of today making music. And all the more so when it’s folk, or folk-related, or in the ballpark or within striking distance of the more popular folk postcodes.
I’ve had some interesting discussions with people who are getting towards the upper end of the age spectrum, and there seems to be a divergence in attitudes to how much and what sort of encouragement the young folk should be afforded.
That sounds a bit weird. Allow me to elaborate.
I played a young person’s original composition and recording recently on air, and an acquaintance rang in on and talked about the track I’d just played in somewhat derogatory terms.
I listened to the critique and mumbled a lame, ‘Yeah, but they’re only 13’, to which the caller quite rightly replied that lack of advanced years didn’t necessarily equal quality and by the way, we don’t need another [insert 70s artist of heavy influence here].
I thought about it afterwards and reasoned it’s a fair thing to give kids a bit of a pump up, and schedule gigs or at least support spots, and airplay and such-like, and the market is going to determine how they go from there.
All of this, of course, has nothing to do with the act in the title line. I was just musing on topic.
So, turn the clock back about four months to the 2011 St Albans Folk Festival.
I’ve written before about the value of attending blackboard concerts at festivals. The big names are not going to be there (or not always) but it is a chance to see a diverse array of talent, sometimes in very formative stages, and sometimes there are some real value finds.
At St Albans, there’s the added attraction of a superb venue – The Fickle Wombat – under new management. The new owners were still a few weeks away from their official opening when they opened their doors to provide the traditional venue for the blackboards, bush poets and Kariefolkie.
Stepping in to MC part of the blackboard proceedings, it was my great pleasure to meet a talented young pair from the NSW Central Coast: ‘Nissa’ (Naomi Jones and Elissa Koppen), playing bass flute and fiddle, with incidental accompaniment on piano accordion from a mum (Narelle Jones).
As the festival wound down on Sunday night, we sat on the veranda of The Settler’s Arms as the rain teemed down, and I spoke with various members of the two extended musical families to learn more.
I’m always interested to hear where musical impetus comes from, specifically parental influence and direction, and in Naomi’s case, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
Mum Narelle has played piano since she was very young, has played in church, accompanied her elder daughter, who was learning Suzuki method violin, in concerts and music exams.
And there’s more.
‘I’ve done early childhood music training, worked a lot at the local primary school taking music classes and I’ve written and produced four musicals,’ Narelle adds.
So, with something of a musical lineage, was music something Naomi wanted to do or felt she should do?
‘No, I love music, but I don’t really remember because I started learning the violin when I was four!’
Narelle chimes in to observe that Naomi’s musical studies go back further than that, as thanks to Narelle’s early childhood classes, Naomi actually began her tuition in utero.
What was the balance between music and other pursuits like?
‘I had school, and practice when I could. I’m trying to practice more, but sometimes you have to do other stuff’.
And what’s the Nissa story?
‘My friend Elissa plays the flute and I’m Naomi. So we sort of mixed our names together and made ‘Nissa’.’
‘And I think we’ve been playing for about four years together. And I think our first festival was St Albans about three years ago?’
Confirmed by mum.
Where from here? Say, in five years?
‘I don’t really know yet. I love folk festivals, but I also love classical music too.’
‘I actually have no idea what I’d like to do!’
That’s an answer.
My first question to Elissa Koppen is about the instrument she plays which is almost as big as her. If the girls have been playing together for four years, I hazard a guess it would have been as big as her to start with.
‘It’s a bass flute and I’ve had it about six months.’
There goes that theory.
‘It is very heavy though, so the more you play it, the lower you hold it. I get used to it, but it can ache after a while.’
‘It does give some rich, deep tones.’
What started Elissa off with her music?
‘I played recorder when I was seven or eight years old. Then I picked up the flute when my arms got longer!’
‘When we were living in England, we were watching the London Proms on TV. And they were playing ‘The Planets’ by Holst.’
‘And I heard that and I said, ‘I want to play that, and I want to play the flute, and I want to play in an orchestra.’
Influences from the parents?
‘My dad’s musical; my mum’s not. Dad played trumpet, I think, as a child and drums.’
‘Naomi and I have been friends for a while. We decided to play music together and that’s how it happened.’
Kids must hate it when I go into interview mode and ask where they see themselves in five years’ time, but I posed the question and Elissa was gracious enough to answer.
‘Hopefully we’re still playing music together, and still enjoying it as much. Hopefully a lot better!’
‘And having a lot of fun!’
Which is what one would hope for kids who sacrifice so much time to practice and hone their talent: that they’re still having fun.
If you’re on Facebook, you can follow Nissa at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nissa/118360011525350
And hopefully back at St Albans Folk Festival at Anzac Day long weekend 2012.