Bach in the Bloodstream: An Interview with Doug Badger

5 Mar 2021

Doug Badger

Doug Badger, principal cellist of Skipton Camerata, has just recorded the Preludes to the first three Cello Suites by JS Bach (now available to watch on our YouTube Channel). We asked Doug about the recording and how he's getting on during the coronavirus pandemic.

Doug, why have you chosen the Bach Cello Suites for this video?

For me, Bach is a musical spirit level, especially in times of crisis. The purity of the writing, unadorned with dynamic markings or other musical directions, allows the freedom simply to play the notes and discover what else happens or needs to come out on any given day. I've worked alone on a variety of musical projects this year, but Bach has been a constant companion, so the Cello Suites were the natural choice for this video.

However, I found it surprisingly difficult to settle on a particular Suite, as mood and inclination are so changeable in these unsettled times. I eventually chose the opening Preludes from the first three Suites, as their contrasting moods seemed a fitting reflection of the current climate. The first is quite serene, the second intensely melancholic and the third buoyant and invigorating.

Tell us about your cello. Where did you get it?

I am extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful cello, bequeathed to me by my former teacher, Eleanor "Kitty" Gregorson MBE. She taught generations of cellists, many of whom went on to have successful performing careers. At 12 years old, I first climbed the 80+ stairs to her top-floor flat in Edinburgh, to be met by an indomitable 82-year-old woman with a twinkle in her eye. She lugged cellos, music stands, bags of shopping and who knows what else up and down those stairs every single day!

I continued to visit her often, until her death in 2004, at the age of 100. Her cello had been passed from teacher to pupil for generations, and she chose to entrust it to me. The great many experts who have examined the cello over the years can only offer speculative provenance, but it's a remarkable legacy, and I hope one day to pass it on to another budding cellist.

Have you been involved with Skipton Camerata for long?

I first joined Camerata about 15 years ago, a couple of years after it was formed. I became Principal Cello a couple of years later and have continued in that role ever since.

Ben has always fostered a convivial atmosphere within the orchestra, but also a commitment to the highest professional standards, both of which are key to happy musicians and successful performances. Although the personnel have changed here and there over the years, there are many long-term members like me who love working with the orchestra and can't wait to get back to it, just as soon as we're able to do so!

Speaking of getting back to work, what about Covid-19? How has it impacted you and your work?

Since March 2020, I haven't performed in public. That's the longest time since I first picked up a cello, 35 years ago. The financial loss is tough, especially as I - like a great many other freelancers (not just musicians) - have been entirely excluded from any government support for my lost freelance earnings. The greater loss though, is that music is our lifeblood, something that we have tirelessly dedicated ourselves to since we were young children. It's not just something we do - it's an essential part of who we are. Without it, and without the connection that we have with the audiences with whom we share our lifelong passion, we're cast adrift.

This is a tragically dehumanising crisis for us all, the full impact of which won't really be appreciated until our lives return to some kind of 'normality', whenever and whatever that may be. Now, more than ever, we need music and the arts, to allow us to share our losses, to begin to heal, and to bring us back to each other again.

What do you imagine the future holds for the music industry?

I'm fearful for our future, even once we emerge from this pandemic. 

It is being reported that around a third of freelance musicians in the UK have left (or are intending to leave) the industry, as they can't access the vital support which would allow them to continue in their profession. Many also feel that the arts - one of the industries most badly affected during this pandemic - are being sidelined, and that little attention is paid to the vast economic, societal and educational benefits which they bring to our nation. Our cultural heritage is under threat, our school curricula ever more bereft of the critical creative thinking which music and the arts foster in our children, and important voices such as Sir Simon Rattle and Nicola Benedetti falling on deaf ears as they campaign vociferously for the cultural health of our nation, especially in light of new restrictions and obstacles imposed by Brexit.

So what do you do when you’re not playing the cello?

I have a gorgeous 3-year-old daughter, who you could say is a Skipton Camerata baby, as her mum is the Principal Viola! Whatever else is going on, our daughter keeps us grounded and is a constant source of joy and wonder.

I work part-time in the library at the RNCM and also for Skipton Camerata as the fixer and de facto music librarian. Music is a big part of my life!

Aside from that, I also try to find time to be a chess player, cuber, cryptographer and coder. Do you see a pattern emerging? I draw the line at crocheting though (I'll stick to crotchets). I'm drawn to activities which, like music, have seemingly limitless potential for learning and discovery. I may never be a chess Grandmaster, but I'm always improving, and now I can solve a Rubik's Cube in under 20 seconds too!

In July 2020 - given the uncertainty about my future as a musician - I began learning to code, to develop the skills necessary to embark on a new career path. 600 hours of coursework later and I'm hopefully well on my way to becoming a web designer, software developer or creator of the next must-have phone app!

No matter what though, I'll always have my cello to hand, ready to embark on the next musical adventure.

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