The story of lovely musician Anna Ryder
Anna Ryder grew up in the countryside in Surrey, England, in a very big dilapidated Victorian house with her large family of seven children and her mum and dad. She´s number four and all the children are very close in age.
-We had three pianos – people gave them to us as our house was big! I played the piano from a very early age. I remember reaching up to press the notes down and being too short to see the piano keyboard but I could hear the beautiful and interesting sound.
-I started playing by ear and soon had chords and tunes of my own. My Godfather gave me The Golden Treasury of Poetry for children when I was seven and I used the words in it to make up songs and then started making my owns songs.
Anna remembers that the family used to have a lot of people round to their house for get-togethers. She says that ”my dad and mum knew a lot of different people including some people who liked playing music! My mum created a ceilidh band in the 70s and she used to go to folk clubs.
We would have parties which included all of us playing music so I learnt to improvise and listen at an early age before I started having any kind of music lessons. Lots of people would turn up, some with guitars and whistles and a drum-kit, and we´d play music well into the night and as children, we weren´t told to go to bed but just fell asleep where we were. I would play the piano the whole day. The next time it would continue and we´d do a ceilidh on the lawn and play music for that, too. Then we´d go off and climb trees! Climbing tree was one of my favourite things and I still climb a tree if I can!”
Anna continues the memory lane and tells me that they used to play quite a bit of folk music, including some Ralph Mc Tell songs and Joan Baez. Later she was given Ralph Mc Tell albums as birthday and Christmas presents.
When Anna grew up, Joni Mitchell and Bessie Smith, featured highly, as well as Ralph Mc Tell – ”little did I know I was to get to know him a little in later life! ”
Her mum used to take them to local homes for old people where they played and sang for them. She says: ”This is where I first learnt about performing”.
-I listened to Fats Waller records my dad had, and tried to learning how to play and sing the songs such as Ain´t Misbehavin´, Crazy ´Bout My Baby and Honeysuckle Rose. I played the records over and over and also transposed them into all the keys. At aged eleven, I was commandeered to play the piano in the local pub. So I played!.
Anna Ryder started recording herself on cassette and later, multi-tracking by using two tape-recorders.
-You record yourself doing one track, then record on the other recorder while playing the one just recorded onto! I tried lots of tracks and found, as you do it more and more, the sound quality gets worse and worse!
-Together some of us kid, would make sound tracks to stories by using various objects and instruments as sound effects. It would invariably turn out to be a ghost story with crackling fire (made with the plastic inner of a chocolate box- only available at Christmas-time), a sudden bang (made by shutting a huge book very loudly up close to the mic), a creaking door (using one of the many creaking doors in our house) and all sorts of other exciting sounds. The stories were always rubbish!
Anna remembers one day at Primary school how the headmaster came into the classroom, holding a weird-looking brass instrument and asked who wanted to play it? Anna´s hand shot up at once.
-It turned out to be a Tenor horn, which I loved. I was about nine and us kids who played these instruments, had a little brass band which we had in the staff room, while everyone else was doing boring stuff in lesson-time. I remember there was a girl called Gabriella who was very samll and she was the tuba player. She just used to get into the tuba case and hide each time!
With the Tenor horn, Anna got into the local Silver Youth Band (this was a set of brass instruments but all a silver colour and for children aged around eight upwards to teenage. Anna says that she learnt a more about transposing into different keys as the instrument was in Eb. She learnt how to play the Tenor horn and piano at the same time, holding the horn in the right hand playing the piano with the left hand.
Anna Ryder playing the accordion at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, 2016, together with Fairport Convention.
-Of course, all this led onto taking up music and learning more about it. I discovered Stravinsky (and in particular The Rite Of Spring), Vaughan Williams, Delius, Mozart, Debussy and others.
-I took up the French horn, not just because I was too old to be in the Silver Youth band and therefore had to hand my instrument back, but because French horns are in more stuff like orchestra and chamber music. There´s more stuff written for French horn and I wanted to play it.
Anna was given a scholarship as a teenager to do a special youth course at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she continued learning French horn with – as Anna says – a brilliant teacher called John Burden, as well as singing and playing in various bands and choirs.
-As a teenager, I went with my sister a few times up to London on the train and busked in the underground to get some much-needed dosh! She played the guitar and whistle and I played my French horn at the time. This was great fun and we got quite a bit of money doing this. In those days, it was frowned upon but now people have to pass some sort of audition to play and the busking spots are much sought-after.
When Anna was 18, she went on to study music at York univerversity, where she got involved in avant-garde music and jazz. She formed a band with her friend Chas McDevitt, who also features on many of Anna´s recordings. Alongside the more classical stuff, she often spent time improvising and playing jazz, and that was also in discovering more composers – such as Webern, Stockhausen Reich and Schoenberg. Anna did loads of performing in various way-out groups of orchestral players, trying out various modern compositions of her fellow students.
-Once I had to play a very exposed solo horn part in an atonal composition which included tapping the bell of the horn and making vocal sounds down the mouthpiece. I transposed the whole of a horn part down a minor third as it was way too high for med and the composer didn´t notice. Not only that but one of the lectures told me, it was the most beautiful horn-playing he´d ever heard. Even though I enjoyed the classical side especially the more avant-garde stuff, I found I just could not take it seriously. I couldn´t help finding it funny.
Anna continues her story:
– Anyway, that´s the early part of me getting into music. I suppose the most important part if that I learnt about listening before learning anything about reading music. I learned about improvising and transposing and, most of all, what chords did and how they related to each other. I loved playing the piano and, even though our big house was cold most of the time, I´d play and sing for hours and hours.
Even if Anna started with playing the piano, she also plays the guitar, which she started learning at the university, she took up the accordion when her mum gave her one of her old ones – ”there was hardly ever a piano where I went and the accordion is a little like a piano”. She wanted to play the trumpet, it was smaller and more portable – ”you can´t play the French horn at the same time as a piano/accordion, but you can with a trumpet!” She also mentions that she ”dabbles” in lots of other instruments like banjo, drum-kit, bodhran, penny whistle – ”anything really! but I can´t really do bowing so fiddle and cello etc. are out.”
Anna Ryder has been a musician all her life.
-I think I always thought that I would be a musician of some sort so I didn’t really choose it. I just drifted with it.
She is a full-time musician but says that she always had various ways of being a musician. Currently she is working as a freelance musical adviser to a company who make educational instruments for children.
-I advise about the instruments – if there needs to be any changes made to them to make them better, I sometimes do practical workshops making music with kids, families or teacher. I make films of the instruments and associated stuff and I help with any other musical aspects of the company.
-I also do cartoons which I sometimes get paid for and this is mostly in for musicians. Plus I am a session musician for anyone who´d like stuff on their recordings. A few years back I was doing a lot of educational work on funded musical and arts projects which gave me little time for being a singer-songwriter but now I´m able to devote more time to the singing. I´ve always done music in one way or another!
If you like to know more about Anna Ryder, please visit her website: