Spotlight: Amélie Addison (Part 1)
Amélie Addison tells Becky Chevis about her work as a baroque cellist and musicologist, how she came to know Jesus whilst a music student in Glasgow, her ongoing experiences with Christian Unions full of musicians, and her baroque chamber group Dei Gratia which encourages performers and audiences to think again about the glorious inspiration of baroque masterpieces. Below is a transcript of the interview.
(Please listen to part 2 of this podcast to hear Amélie speak about her injuries and how she's coped with this suffering as a Christian.)
Becky: Hello, I’m sat here with Amélie. We’re at Forum and she’s kindly come to talk to us a bit more about her life and experiences. So Amélie, could you introduce yourself please?
Amélie: Sure. My name is Amélie Addison, I’m a cellist. I grew up in Gateshead and did lots of playing at school and youth orchestras and things like that and went on and studied cello at what was the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. While I was there, I got interested in baroque cello, performing on historical instruments. After that I went on and did a masters at Trinity Laban in London specifically in baroque cello. I freelanced professionally for a few years in London, mainly playing baroque cello - quite a lot of chamber music and playing with choirs and things like that. I also did a lot of teaching; peripatetic teaching in schools, and ensemble coaching on summer schools. I’m now based at Leeds University doing a PHD in the school of music, more on the historical musicology side of things. I’m researching an eighteenth-century English theatre music composer called William Shield who isn’t very well known. He used lots of traditional folk tunes in his music and I’m quite interested in why he did that, what it means, and how he did it.
Becky: Brilliant, thank you. Could you tell us about how you became a Christian and how that weaved into your times in various places?
Amélie: So when I was very little my parents took me to church. In fact it’s been really special coming here to Forum at Quinta because I was brought here on a church holiday when I was five. When I was a child my parents went through some quite difficult times and we didn’t go to church for a while. As a teenager I was a chorister, so we went to quite a traditional Anglican church while I was learning singing. At that point I think I would say that I wanted to be a Christian; I believed in God and I wanted to know him, but at that time there was nobody really in my life who was telling me how to do that. I was trying to read my Bible on my own and just felt frustrated and angry that I didn’t really understand it or know what to do with it. So when I was about sixteen I quit the choir and stopped going to church and the next couple of years were obviously full of A Levels and music college auditions. There was quite a culture of underage drinking at my school so I did quite a lot of that as well.
I went off to music college in Glasgow when I was 18 and I had this thought in the back of my mind that in a bigger city maybe there might be a church where there would be people my age and there would maybe be someone who could explain things to me about God. But I didn’t really know where to start with looking for a church and I was too shy to just walk in somewhere. So, I just carried on doing all the things I’d been doing; practising a lot, drinking quite a lot as well. Then I got asked to play with a Christian orchestra called The New Scottish Choir and Orchestra who were doing an evangelistic concert in the SECC, which is a big venue in Glasgow. I somewhat reluctantly and with a bit of arrogance agreed that I would kind of allow these Christians to have some of my time and I would do them the favour of helping them out with this thing. Of course what happened was that actually I was completely blown away and bowled over by the way that they spoke to God as if they knew him. We had a backstage prayer before the performance and I could see that these people had what I’d been looking for; that they knew God. One of the music students who was there asked me if I was going to church anywhere and of course I wasn’t, so they invited me to go along with them to the church they were attending, Findlay Memorial Church, and that became my home church for the next few years.
I would say that at that point I definitely got serious about wanting to be a Christian and seeking God, but it took some time for me to work out what it actually meant that I needed to be saved from my sins. What brought that home was that although I had started going to church I hadn’t really changed anything else about the way I was living. There were still quite a lot of nights out with quite a lot of alcohol, and on one of those a bad combination of circumstances and decisions made meant that I ended up with alcohol poisoning. So that was the first time that I’d ever really considered that I might die. It was the first time I’d ever genuinely been afraid of dying and it was the first time that I knew that I didn’t really have a leg to stand on – I knew I didn’t have anything to plead before him, to give him a reason to save me. But it was in that really dark moment that Jesus reached out to me, and it was as if he sort of said, “This isn’t what I want for you. Will you give it a try living my way instead?” So I said “yes” - it seemed a bit of a no brainer.
Since then I’ve been a committed Christian; I’ve been part of a church wherever I’ve lived. At the time the RSAMD CU was quite small but very active so I was able to get really involved in that and we were really well supported by a UCCF staff worker and Relay worker. So that was my introduction to being a Christian at music college. It was a really exciting time. The CU was quite active and we did quite a few events – we also met quite a lot of opposition, but I suppose that in a way that kind of strengthened our desire to introduce other people in the college to Jesus.
When I moved to London I was also part of the CU at Trinity College of Music, again trying to show Jesus to the people around us. While I was there I also co-founded a baroque ensemble called Dei Gratia – that means by the grace of God. A lot of baroque music is sacred music. A lot of it was originally written for the glory of God so we try and perform that repertoire in the spirit in which it was intended and in such a way that the people who come and listen to it can’t miss the message. We make an effort to make the words available or to act it out or display it in some way so that people can enjoy the music and also realise what it is about.
I also had the opportunity to play with things like the All Souls Orchestra and The New English Orchestra in evangelistic outreach concerts. It was always really exciting and wonderful to be able to use the gift of music that I’ve always enjoyed so much to glorify God and to praise him for everything that he’s done for me.
As I said I moved to Leeds to do my PhD and there I’ve been able to be part of a church and also to help out as an ASW (associate staff worker for UCCF) with some of the CUs in Leeds, particularly with Leeds College of Music, and we’ve seen some really exciting things happen there in the last few years – I’ve just learned to today that three students have become Christians in the last year through the friendship and the witness of the CU which is really fantastic. I’ve also had the opportunity to read the Bible one-to-one with a student there which has been really amazing.
Becky: Thank you for that.