Foresters Competitive Scholarship winner Thea Butterworth has been torn between two great loves since she was 15 years old: the double bass and the harp. Even though she’s tried several times to commit whole-heartedly to one, she’s never been able to break it off with the other.
Having played piano myself, I know how difficult it can be to excel at just one instrument, so I can’t imagine finding the motivation to study two. So how did Thea wind up stuck in the middle of this “Team Harp” vs. “Team Double Bass” love triangle anyway?
“When I was a kid, I tried to play as many instruments as I could and I just didn’t want to give any up” Thea says. “I always wanted to play more instruments – and bigger ones!”
That explains a lot.
Thea started off by playing the comparatively tiny violin, which her older brother Oliver playfully teases was not exactly her strong suit.
“I was awful!” Thea admits. “So I thought maybe if I played a lower instrument, it would sound less screechy.”
A few years later at a wedding Thea saw a beautiful, angelic woman playing a harp, and it was second love at first sight (or sound).
Now in her second year at the Royal College of Music in London, Thea no longer feels the need to commit to one of her giant instruments and so she is studying both simultaneously. In fact, the Royal College is the only institution that allows her to study two instruments as a joint major.
Across town, Thea’s brother Oliver (also a Foresters Competitive Scholarship winner) is studying percussion at the Royal Academy of Music – Thea’s college’s rival school.
But it’s not entirely surprising that they ended up at competing colleges. Growing up, Thea and Oliver had a healthy (but heated) sibling rivalry of their own, which Thea happily admits has helped push them both to succeed.
But just to stir the pot, I ask Thea: who’s more talented, you or Oliver?
“Well, one of his instruments is the triangle… I think that’s all I need to say” she jokes.
Is it as easy as it looks?
“I think so. Although he practiced it for two hours yesterday, which drove me crazy!”
Joking aside, Thea and Oliver are very supportive of one another. “At first, we were competitive and I was motivated by thinking, ‘I can do better than you’”, Thea says. “But now we’ve turned a corner and really help each other. He’ll even give me tips.”
And while they try to avoid playing just as a duo because it leads to bickering, the siblings have played together in a large orchestra.
Thea dreams of continuing to play in a large London orchestra when she graduates but she has also set her sights on teaching.
In addition to her busy school schedule, Thea already teaches violin and cello to primary school children and gives private bass lessons to a few kids around London. She also teaches for the National Children’s Orchestra at the Royal College.
Working with the kids has certainly been rewarding and definitely keeps her on her toes. “They’re very enthusiastic,” she says with a laugh. “Sometimes I’m trying to teach and the kids will start using their violin bows as Jedi lightsabers.”
Despite the shenanigans, this multi-talented teacher is certainly helping to cultivate the next generation of gifted musicians.
Read more feel-good stories from local communities: