Thrings meets... Sacha Johnson

Thrings meets Sacha Livern Johnson, professional musician

Matthew Kellow, Thrings Head of Family Law, meets Sacha Livern Johnson, professional musician and Head of Percussion at Marlborough College

Matthew Kellow: Tell us a little more about yourself

Sacha Johnson: I’m a classically trained musician from the South East of London. Having studied percussion at the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall School of Music, I now run the percussion department at Marlborough College.  

I’m also a performer and have worked with some of the UK’s leading orchestras and opera companies including both the London Symphony and Philharmonic, the Royal Opera House and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

MK: How long have you been at Marlborough College?

SJ: I started here as a percussion teacher in 1996 shortly after completing my postgraduate study. My interview was the day after my final recital and so I got on a train to the school, to find the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Hogwarts. Despite some of the other staff mistaking me on the day for a prospective student, I was fortunate enough to get the job.

It took me a while to find my feet as a teacher, going back to basics with brand new musicians. I’d actually said to myself that when the phone started ringing, I’d call it a day at the school but, even though I began getting other work, I came to realise just how much I loved teaching and being able to pass my passion onto future generations.

The school have been magnificent from the outset, giving me a blank canvas and helping to build an entire department, whilst also supporting my playing professionally outside of school, helping me to be a better teacher.

MK: What music have you been involved with outside of the school over the years?

SJ: I’ve had the pleasure to play in many new environments over the years, whether it is performing in musicals on the West End, with legendary orchestras or even recording for films and TV shows.

My first big gig, an absolutely gamechanger, came only a few days after I was offered the job at the College, playing in the house band for the Monte Carlo Casino. At first, I thought it was a wind-up, but it was the real deal. I was dropped straight into the mix, playing every day until the last bet was placed.

What I didn’t know was that each weekend we would be backing whichever big name was playing was in town. I arrived on a Tuesday and on the Friday, I was playing with Tom Jones! The following week it was Celine Dion, then Michael Bolton, the Phil Collins Big Band and so on. It was the most surreal experience you could imagine!

MK: You had a particular career highlight earlier this year I believe, what can you tell us about that?

SJ: I had the honour of being a percussionist in the orchestra for King Charles’ Coronation, having had a call out of the blue to say my name had been suggested. Initially I thought it was just for a local concert, but I was amazed to learn it was actually for the orchestra inside Westminster Abbey.

After the rehearsals had concluded, the day finally arrived and, once I’d made it through the never-ending crowds, I was sat less than 50 metres from the throne itself!

You would think the experience would really grip you in the moment, but it wasn’t until I was travelling home when it really hit me that I was at one of this country’s biggest historic events in recent memory. My kids are of the age where everything I do either gets me a lot of kudos or heavily embarrasses them and this was clearly a big enough deal to get their mark of approval.

MK: What in your view are the challenges the classical music world faces?

SJ: I would say that there’s work needed still to improve diversity in the industry. It’s currently very underrepresented and there are still a number of social and economic barriers.

There has been work over the years to remedy this, for example back in 2015, I had the pleasure of being invited to perform as part of the Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first professional BAME orchestra which was created to help promote greater diversity in classical music.

That being said, more can always be done to help generate interest and opportunity for people from different racial and economic backgrounds.

MK: Music is a massive part of your life. What is it you love most about it?

SJ: I love the fact that you can literally create something that didn’t exist yesterday, that you compose something that reflects your emotion, rehearse and adapt it and then see it through to completion.

Music was always around when I was growing up and has always been a part of my life. Playing is a source of therapy for me and allows me to be the most honest version of me. I can sit alone and play for hours without a care in the world!


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