Katie Targett-Adams is a Hong Kong-based singer-songwriter and harpist from Scotland. She was recently in town for the International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS) festival, where she sang and played the clarsach (or Celtic harp) as a special musical guest. Targett-Adams has released six albums and performs in English, Mandarin, French, Spanish, and German. She has played for a variety of audiences, including the British royal family, JK Rowling, Sean Connery, Richard Branson, David Tang, and more. Targett-Adams is also the founder of Ceroc dancing (a partner dance that blends salsa and jive) in Asia. Last week, we sat down with her at Dulwich College Beijing.
How did you get involved with the ISCMS festival?
I know Shane O’Shea, who’s the head of music [at Dulwich College Beijing]. A few years ago, I recorded a song to help the Sichuan earthquake survivors. I asked him if some of the students could sing on the track with me. He was more than delighted, so we recorded the song and did a launch at the British ambassador’s residence in Beijing. All the students came and were beautifully behaved in their little blazers.
This isn’t your first time performing at the Forbidden City Concert Hall. What was it like this time around?
Normally, when I’m one person standing there, it feels like the stage is going to swallow me up. But this time, there wasn’t an inch free, [which]gave it a completely different feeling. I had also never sung [Karl Jenkins’] Gloria before, especially with the composer in the audience! You can’t believe that you’re playing and singing with students – it feels like you’re working with professionals.
There were technical difficulties during your performance – but luckily, you were brought back to repeat the song later in the concert. How do you handle unforeseen circumstances like that?
You just find a way to keep going. That’s what being a professional musician means. Because of the balance of the orchestra and because we did a very quick run-through, I wasn’t sure that the microphone wasn’t on. It’s almost worse if you know there’s a problem. Quite often you see something going wrong out of the corner of your eye, but you just have to carry on singing and playing and smiling. Ignorance was bliss [at the ISCMS gala concert,]until I came off the stage and Shane told me the good news!
What advice do you have for young aspiring musicians and singers?
The earlier you can get started, the better. You just roll it out when you’re at school, you just don’t think twice. Whether you’re into music or say, sports, there’s so much going at school and so many facilities to take advantage of, whereas in the big, wide world you’ve got to make things happen [by yourself]. You’re competing against everyone else, whereas when you’re at school, you’ve got a lovely school family cheering you on.
What was your own musical journey like?
I was lucky enough to attend a school where music was quite prevalent. I was doing shows and taking part without questioning [my participation]. When I left school, I studied languages in university, not music. There, I kept my music going, sang in an a cappella choir, had some fun, but didn’t start “properly” playing the harp until after university. I was studying for my finals when I got an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to perform. If you start music early, then it can take different courses – I didn’t actually know that I would do music as a career.
How did you settle on the harp?
I started on the piano and was told to give up when I was 7. That was a good thing; as a young person, you’ve got to try different things to find something that suits your personality. The harp was good for me, because I could sing at the same time. But then I got a bit cocky: “Now I’ll try … the oboe!” I tried the oboe and was fainting in the lesson.
Do you get a different feeling from performing in different languages?
Your voice sounds different when you’re speaking a different language. You speak different languages in different parts of your mouth: English is far back, whereas something like Spanish is right at the front.
What’s the most difficult language to sing in?
Chinese is quite difficult to sing in. It’s not phonetic – you can’t sing what you see [on the page]. At first, I thought that you didn’t have to sing the tones. But if you don’t sing the word 爱 (aì) with a fourth tone, then it doesn’t mean “love.” I have to sing the note, I have to sing it in tune, I have to sing the tone – it starts getting mind-boggling.
Where do you see Celtic music heading?
At the moment, it seems like Celtic music is becoming more and more popular in China. I hear things like Auld Lang Syne and Enya in different places. The good thing about Celtic music is that it can be soothing, powerful, and deep, or it can be very fast like in Irish jigs or Scottish reels. To that extent, it answers what you need from music; sometimes you need to be soothed, and other times you want to be excited.
What’s next for you?
Well, I know where I’m going to be [on March 3]: Right back at the Forbidden City Concert Hall! After that, I’ve just written and recorded a new dance track with a French DJ in Marseilles. He’s this crazy good-looking DJ, gets mobbed in the streets. I’ve just heard the track, and it’s very fun. It’s very different from what I was doing [at the ISCMS gala concert]. I also did a show on Tianjin TV right before Christmas, and the director there would like to work on something. You’ve always got to have a few irons on the fire because you never know which one’s going to come off first.
To find out more about Katie Targett-Adams, visit her official website. Click here to read an Irish-themed interview with our sister publication the Beijinger and for your chance to win tickets to Targett-Adams’ show on March 3.
Photo by Judy Zhou