By Sue Botos
Maybe it was Julian Bliss’ energetic rendition of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” that extinguished a power failure.
The British musician, 24, began his recent presentation at Rocky River Middle School in semidarkness, and ended under full power, as he demonstrated his mastery of the clarinet and answered student questions.
While many performers come from musical families, Bliss, who was in town as part of a partnership with Rettig Music and Bowling Green State University, told the students this was not the case for him. “It kind of came out from nowhere,” he said of his musical abilities. But it was a recorder, a beginning wind instrument, given to him by his parents that ignited the spark.
“I already decided I didn’t want to play a string instrument. I already knew what kind of sound I wanted to make,” recalled Bliss, who began playing the clarinet at age 4, long before most students can handle a woodwind.
“There was never any doubt in my mind. My parents had to pry it from my hands so I could do my schoolwork,” he said in a preconcert interview.
Beginning his professional career on an English TV show at about age 5, Bliss said that he is always relaxed while performing. “No one told me I should be nervous. I didn’t even consider nerves and never thought of anxiety,” said Bliss, adding that preparation and practice does much for confidence.
While nerves are not a factor, Bliss admitted that performing is an adrenaline rush. “I’m quite at home in front of an audience,” he stated. On that note, Bliss pointed to practice as the best way to overcome nerves.
However, some audiences are very memorable to Bliss. He told the students that the “biggest concert he ever did” was in 2002 for the British royal family in the garden of Buckingham Palace the day before he turned 13. He also performed at Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee and for her birthday as well as for her husband, Prince Philip.
Bliss has appeared as a soloist with many famous musical groups, including, recently, the Cleveland Orchestra, and prefers the freedom of expression permitted by solo work as opposed to ensembles. “I never really fancied a full-time orchestra job,” he stated.
Bliss asked the student musicians how long they practiced each day. While the response, on the average was about 30 minutes to an hour, a few honest hands went up for no practice at all. “At your age I was practicing three hours a day,” he told them.
Aside from practice, Bliss advised the students not to limit themselves. “You never know what is around the corner. I never thought I would design a musical instrument,” he noted. Aside from performing, Bliss recently designed the Bliss clarinet for manufacturer Leblanc.
Although classical music is Bliss’ first love, he said he has been playing more jazz during the past few years. “Both styles bring something. Both complement each other well,” said Bliss, who demonstrated his point to the students by performing a classical piece both traditionally and in a jazz style.
Above all, Bliss told the students that to be a musician, they have to love what they do. “Enjoy yourself. Music is so much about feeling. If your heart is not in it, people can tell.”