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New Scots: Simone Seales, intersectional cellist and educator

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A supportive artistic community and easy access to nature make Scotland a good fit for Floridian intersectional cellist and educator, Simone Seales

As told to Olivia Simpson

I grew up in Tampa, Florida and moved to Glasgow five years ago. For the first 22 years of my life I didn’t experience seasons – it was just hot and hotter! It was a huge challenge to adjust to Glaswegian weather and the constant rain. We have our summer storms, afternoon showers and hurricanes in Florida, but the constant drizzle and grey of Glasgow was quite different!

I’m a classically trained musician. I started the cello at 12 years old, as part of a school orchestra programme, and really only picked the instrument because I could sit down and play: my teacher suggested it might be less nerve-wracking than standing to perform in a recital! I completed my bachelors degree at Stetson University in Florida and my masters at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), though I always find it strange to say where I trained. It’s a very ‘arts’ thing.

After finishing my bachelors, I knew I wanted to leave the States. I felt burned out from my studies, but I knew I had to keep going. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was touring in Florida, which is how I found out about the RCS, as they were doing some masterclasses. The programme at RCS is quite open – it’s very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ style of learning! – which was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t apply anywhere else.

My mum is Jamaican and my dad was Guyanese, so I grew up around Caribbean culture. All of my parents’ friends were from the Caribbean and all my friends were also the children of immigrants, so I didn’t really know anything else. My neighbourhood really was that image of the American melting pot come to life.

a cellist playing on stage, seen from the crowd
Simone Seales performing at Deep Time at Fruitmarket. Courtesy of Fruitmarket. Photo by Chris Scott
a cellist adjusts their kit on stage
Simone Seales performing at Deep Time at Fruitmarket. Courtesy of Fruitmarket. Photo by Chris Scott

In Glasgow, this kind of diversity is not as obvious. My practice has developed differently as a result, and I speak more about diversity, and do so in a different way, than I would if I had stayed in the USA.

I love teaching because I love the discussions that arise. My first experiences of teaching were private cello lessons and leading workshops at summer camps in the US, and I’ve also led workshops on improvisation. Now, I teach a course at RCS called Intersectionality in the Arts, in which I encourage people to talk about their identities, privileges and social groups. One of the things we most commonly discuss is accents, and how each carries with it identities and stereotypes. We also talk about how this relates to class, which is much more widely discussed in the UK than the States.

I’ve managed to really combine and align my work and creative practice. I am deeply interested in intersectionality, feminism, gender, politics, sexuality and race, and my practice is also very much trauma-informed. I am very interested in collaboration, so I love to work with actors, text, dancers, writers and more. When I’m improvising, I like to chat to the audience, like a stand up comedian might do.

As a performer, I don’t exist without an audience, and so I like to make music both for and with them, breaking down any divide between the audience and performer in the process. When I’m performing, I aim to get people to experience and acknowledge their emotions and connect with others in the space. We listen to music in our headphones all the time nowadays, but at a gig, it’s important to recognise that we’re with other people, having a shared experience in a shared space.

I typically get hired to collaborate or do solo performances. In my collaboration work, it’s very much about bringing my improvisational skills to the table, my understanding of intersectionality, as well as my general sense of curiosity. I’ve performed at a wide range of events, including last year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, reading my own poetry and improvising responses to it. I also did a lot of events for Black History month and collaborated with Laura Fisher for their piece FORGED (in the tender heat of your embrace) as part of Take Me Somewhere Festival.

The collaboration process itself is always inspiring to me, as are visits to museums and galleries. I go back to the USA every winter, and a trip to the Salvador Dalí museum in St Petersburg, Florida is always a reset day for me. I find it very rejuvenating to return to those same surrealist paintings.

a black and white image of a cellist on stage
Photo by Jean Yuzheng
a cellist and percussionist performing in a church venue
Photo by Louise Mather

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me, but if I’m not performing, I might start my day with some exercise. Later, I might read. I’m a big Patricia Highsmith fan (I’ve read 16 of her 22 novels in the last year!), and am fascinated by the way she illustrates things like obsession, guilt and truth. I used to practice cello for four or five hours a day, but that’s down to maybe two hours these days. Now, I spend more time thinking and curating my influences and ideas than I do working on my technique.

I live near Kelvinbridge and feel very lucky to live somewhere relatively quiet that’s still well-connected. I’m also right by Kelvingrove walkway, so I love to take a walk down there and see how the trees have changed and how high the river is. Feeling closely connected to nature is very inspiring to me, and it’s a big change from when I lived in Florida, where you really need a car to access nature.

I think it would have been harder to start my career in the States. Scotland and its artistic community are pretty small, which I’ve found makes it easier to get to know people. No one feels out of reach and I find everyone to be nice, friendly and keen to help. There is a more visible black community around visual arts and dance, and it’s been nice to connect with people from this community and have that sense of comfort there as well.

There is a special vibe amongst the artistic community in Scotland. Of course we all complain about getting funding and our work, but when you’re actually doing the thing – when you’re making the art, or when you’re on stage – there’s such a good atmosphere. I’m very lucky to have had mostly very positive experiences. I’m certainly not jaded yet, and I hope to never be!

My lifestyle picks

Eating and drinking In the west end, I love Papercup, a coffee shop on Great Western Road, and The Alchemy Experiment, which has great coffee and art exhibitions. In the southside, Vegan and Veg and The Rum Shack are great, as is Mosob Bar and Restaurant in the city centre.

Shopping I’m a repeat customer at Jimmy Egypt and Sons, which sells lots of musical instruments and accessories and Category Is Books is my favourite bookshop.

Travels I love heading out to Loch Lomond for a day trip as it’s just so easy to get to Balloch, and I find it really inspiring. For something a bit further afield, I’m really drawn to visit Orkney. It’s right at the top of my travel wishlist.

Culture In Glasgow, The Glad Cafe is a great place to see live music in a range of genres and the CCA: Centre for Contemporary Art has some fantastic exhibitions. In Edinburgh, Summerhall has a wonderfully varied programme of live music, film screenings and visual art exhibitions.

To get inspired I find cycling along the Clyde and making a pit stop at the Glasgow Science Centre really inspiring, as well as visiting the Edinburgh International Book Festival when it’s on in August.

Favourite Scottish brands Irregular Sleep Pattern is an independent Glasgow-based brand which makes sleepwear and bedding that’s practical and playful.

READ MORE INTERVIEWS FROM OUR NEW SCOTS SERIES HERE

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