About me

Janet Sherbourne
Janet Sherbourne - Pianist and composer

About me – a potted history! Actually perhaps not so potted but I guess I want to explain how the music I write now has been coloured by the various musical directions I've taken.

I was born and raised in Southampton and began piano lessons when I was 4 (my mum was a piano teacher) and took up the oboe when I was 12. As a teenager I played oboe in the Southampton Youth Orchestra. I played the piano (by now studying with Kathleen Williams) as much as I could wherever I could, from accompanying ballet classes 3 evenings a week (brilliant sight-reading practice!) to playing for keep-fit classes and occasionally accompanying for the local operatic society. I entered just about every class I was eligible for at music festivals throughout Hampshire (classes in composition, sight-reading, solo piano, duets etc) and spent most of my non-school time playing. I studied music at York University where I decided that playing the oboe was never going to be be my forte, so I gave it up and studied singing with Yvonne Seymour instead. I also had some composition lessons with Bernard Rands.

Then I studied ethnomusicology under John Blacking at Queen's University, Belfast for 3 years followed - some years later - by piano studies with Norman Beedie at the Guildhall School of Music.

In 1979 I was a founder member of the English Gamelan Orchestra, the first performing gamelan ensemble in the UK which played traditional Javanese music as well as commissioning new works from composers such as Michael Nyman, Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons. Later I played with Segara Madu, a Balinese gender wayang quartet led by Nick Gray. We were awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship which funded my second study trip to Bali. My other main gamelan activity has been running Metalworks – a gamelan built and initially run by Mark Lockett – for almost 15 years. This group was primarily made up of composers who wrote for the group as well as adapting pieces from Java and Bali. Mark and I twice received PRS Composer in Education awards to work with GCSE and A level music students on composing music for gamelan. I also ran (literally!) hundreds of workshops in schools, colleges and other institutions which later led to me becoming Spitalfields Festival Composer in Education for 2 successive years. Metalworks also performed contemporary gamelan (Indonesian, American and new English works) throughout the country.

As a pianist and singer I've performed in several ensembles as well as solo piano work, ranging from ida (contemporary chamber music) to a duo with Michael Parsons (his and my compositions for piano and voice as well as early 20th century music for piano duet such as Satie's Entr'acte to accompany the Rene Clair film), Mark Lockett (20th century repertoire for 2 pianos including Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole, and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring) as well as new pieces by both/either of us which resulted in  2 US tours and 3 albums  - Slower Than Molasses, Walks Abroad and Cafe Ole. I also played keyboard, sang and wrote for the experimental pop group The Copy, and worked extensively with the choreographer Tricia Durdey.

My main collaboration has been with my husband, saxophonist and composer Jan Steele (www.jansteele.co.uk). We commissioned several new works for saxophone and piano (Gavin Bryars, Dave Smith, Bob Thomas) and have written many of our own, resulting in performances throughout Europe and 2 albums including the amazing stamina-fest Albanian Summer by Dave Smith, a 45 minute nonstop virtuosic tour de force!

Singing has been an important part of my life since my 20's. I have performed mostly 20th century music, occasionally dipped into 17th century repertoire, have written my own songs to perform and also commissioned new songs from Michael Parsons and Dave Smith. Howard Skempton wrote 2 song cycles for me.

Composition commissions have included a project for Channel 4 and contemporary dance works for the choreographers Tricia Durdey, Sarah Whately and Sally Sykes.

I have also been commissioned to write for private events, such as a fairly substantial suite, 'Doctor's Dances' for violin, clarinet, piano and trombone for a birthday recital in Reading Town Hall!

Recently I've been writing for my 6 - 9 piece Latin charanga band, Cafecito (www.cafecito.co.uk), and also library and production music (for instance, the tango, paso doble and cha cha cha used on the recent series of TV ads for Aviva insurance with Paul Whitehouse dancing!)

I am a STAT qualified teacher of the Alexander Technique, something I have found to be of immeasureable benefit to being a musician! I started having AT lessons in my 20's and then in 1992 I decided to undertake the 3 year training course to become a teacher.

I've taught piano for many years – I took on my first pupils when I was 14 - and have also been an ABRSM jazz examiner and accompanist for instrumental exams and recitals. My current pupils range in age from 7 years to 75 and range from complete beginner to diploma level.