Meet Benjamin Fitzgerald
Self-taught pianist Benjamin Fitzgerald fuses musical styles.
“My dad is a folk musician; he plays the Northumbrian pipes, so I like to integrate an element of Newcastle in what I do. I also grew up listening to dance music; it’s integral to me.”
Ben takes inspiration from highly respected artists Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm and channels it into his composing.
“They perforated that line between dance and classical, which I didn’t know was possible.”
“Rival Consoles [a British electronic musician] takes it even further,” he says. “They bring classical music into a contemporary realm and that’s where I want to go.”
Questions people cannot answer verbally become clear through creating art. When his grandad developed Dementia, Ben found solace in creating song. Music was his escape as he made sense of the situation, eventually healing.
“Dealing with that, which was horrible, allowed me to express my emotions.”
“How do I heal? How do I grieve? I used those questions as motivation to make classical music; it was my therapy,” he says. “I found it good to represent an intense subject matter without any words.”
Studies show music offers multiple benefits in children’s development. Access and opportunity are not always easy due to costs, location or other factors. Ben is motivated to give young people musical experiences with a holistic attitude, irrelevant of background.
“That usually isn’t done unless you’re going directly into music therapy,” says Ben.
Classical Music helped me with grief, but many people think it is not for them,” he says. “If young people with trauma had a way to express themselves, it could give them a better life.”
“I’ve never had a piano lesson in my life. I taught myself because I couldn’t afford lessons,” he says. “When my grandad died, we got a piano, which was in the family.
“I have imposter syndrome thinking a working-class kid from Kenton [an area of Newcastle] shouldn’t be a classical person. I plan to deliver workshops to children in deprived areas”
Ben’s first visit to Sage Gateshead was to watch progressive trance group Above and Beyond play on the Concourse in 2015. “It was like a rave! it was mint,” he says. Since then, his relationship with the people and communities within Sage Gateshead has deepened.
“I was part of Holly Clark’s artist residency. I’ve performed with one of my bands, Dilutey Juice, and I’ve played at a Glasshouse gig,” he says.
“The Glasshouse was great. My good friend Simian Walker performed too. It made me believe I could do this still.”
Being an emerging artist can be ‘insanely’ competitive. It takes time and emotional energy to apply to schemes and projects and promoting yourself requires different skills than a musician typically uses.
“Sometimes, it can be frustrating because you have to elbow your way to the front.”
“Sage has good programmes including Summer Studios, and the organisation Generator is also doing amazing stuff,” he says. “You don’t feel like you are always up against the world.”
“At Summer Studios, you learn about funding, and it opens doors. The artist residency at Sage takes it to another level of support.”
The local music scene in the North East is building after the pandemic, as cultural venues work hard to regain their audiences, and artists are more able to support their work financially. However, there is still a way to go before things are thriving.
Ben’s schedule is gradually filling up with new and exciting plans.
“I play Latin percussion internationally. I’ve also started doing Afro and Latin house music. Holly Clarke and I are applying for funding to do a contemporary, classical and folk music collaboration,” says Ben. “I also want to put on contemporary classical gigs in the North East to create a bigger scene.”
“In music now, I take each day as it comes. I’m still buzzing from the Diluty Juice gig. I wore a banana outfit on one of the best stages in Newcastle, so I’m pretty stoked,” ends Ben.