Interview with Hilary Seabrook

“Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old, shared a little of what he is good at doing” – Quincy Jones

This is the quote that inspired British writer and saxophone player Hilary Seabrook to start the Harmonious World podcast during covid-19.

Three years on and she has presented more than 100 episodes with musicians, composers and producers across all genres, from jazz to classical, from folk to rock and everything in between.

We already featured it in our round up of the best jazz podcasts, but wanted to catch up with her to find out more about the project…

Stay tuned until the end when we’ll share links on how to become a supporter!

Can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to start the Harmonious World podcast?

I have spent my life playing and listening to music and writing professionally.

My University of London degree from the early 1980s was in English and Music and the two have always been inextricably linked.

I had often thought that I’d like to work in radio or podcasting and the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020 inspired me to take it on properly and it proved surprisingly easy to start.

Your Harmonious World podcast covers a range of topics related to different genres of music and culture from around the world. How do you choose your guests and topics to ensure a diverse range of perspectives? 

The choice of guests is somewhat self-selecting, as I work through a list of new releases and decide which ones really resonate with me.

It’s a great pleasure to listen to so much new music and to then choose which artists I want to interview and find out more about.

My aim is always to have a range of musical styles and influences, so that no two episodes of Harmonious World are exactly the same. I specifically don’t begin the interview with a list of stock questions, as I like to see where the conversation takes me and my guest – or guests.

As a sax player yourself, how has your experience playing jazz music shaped your appreciation for the genre and your approach to interviewing other jazz musicians? 

I am constantly reminded about my own jazz-playing experiences when I interview other jazz musicians and it’s a genuine pleasure to constantly be learning and reflecting on my own playing while talking to others.

This podcast has really opened my eyes to the nuances about genre and how hard it is to really put music into specific boxes. And why should we?

Can you discuss how you balance your work as a professional writer and part-time English teacher with your passion for music and podcasting? Do you have some tips for time management?

That balance is a tricky one and I don’t always get it right.

I have writing clients and teaching commitments that often take up more of my time than I might always like, while trying to fit in playing, writing music, collaborating with other musicians and podcasting.

Added to that, I have family commitments that can sometimes be quite time-consuming – let alone trying to have a social life! The only way to balance it all is with a judicious use of technology that means I block out time for specific activities. There is an occasional clash that needs resolution, but it generally works quite well.

Overall, I am very clear on what my priorities are and I try to ensure that everything I do meets one of those. When I’m doing something, I commit myself to it completely and put everything else to one side.

Occasionally, that means I take a moment to write a note or put a reminder in my calendar so I don’t forget something else that pops into my head, but maintaining a focus is important to me.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your work as a podcaster and musician, and what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced? 

Without the pandemic, Harmonious World wouldn’t exist.

It really kept me sane and gave me something new and interesting to focus on, at a time when it would have been easy to vegetate. Covid-19 also meant that I took a long, hard look at my life and my priorities and I realised what was important.

That process had begun a few years earlier when I had a couple of nasty brushes with cancer and the combination has given me much more of a focus. Music – and the podcast – are one of the key drivers in my life now thanks to both pandemic and cancer. 

You are one of the founding directors of Hitchin Creative. Can you tell us more about this organisation and your role in fostering talent both locally and internationally?

I am passionate about collaborating and encouraging other people to share their experiences – which is why Harmonious World is fundamentally about musicians sharing what they are good at.

Hitchin Creative came about because a number of creative types and I in my home-town decided that we could all help each other as we came out of lockdown.

We have set up a number of initiatives and activities in the town that are all about spreading creativity. We have generated some income for individuals and opportunities for learning and development that are helping spread the word that Hitchin is full of creativity.

You have interviewed many great musicians from around the world. Can you discuss some of the most memorable moments or conversations you have had with your guests?

It’s hard to single out any of the guests as there are so many who have been extraordinary in giving their time and their insights.

I would say that every one of my guests has shown or explained something new to me and that’s extraordinary. Sometimes, we’ve discovered mutual friends or musical memories and other conversations have shed light on improvisation or composition techniques that have been eye-opening.

What would be your best piece of advice for jazz musicians aiming to reach out to jazz podcasters? What would be the best strategy? 

Many musicians have reached out to me directly and I always listen to their music.

I would encourage musicians to be sure that they’re really showing their best work and to make it easy for podcasters to access the music, a press release, photos etc. We have so much to listen to, you have to make it clear why yours is interesting.

Also, I can tell from the tone of their emails or messages whether they’re going to be interesting to interview – so make it engaging from the start! 

What makes a great interview guest? 

My favourite guests have been the ones who answer a question and then maybe take us off into a different direction of conversation. I also love it when we get musically technical and either I can follow it or I learn something new.

My favourite guests have been open to just having a chat and it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Finally, what are some of the upcoming episodes or topics that listeners can look forward to on the Harmonious World podcast?

Where do I start? I have some amazing guests lined up and there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of great new music coming out.

There are some great interviews already in the bag and some more scheduled in.

All I can promise is that listening to Harmonious World is never dull.

Big thanks to Hilary for taking the time to answer these questions!

You can connect with her, and the Harmonious World podcast right here. The podcast is also listening-supported, and you can find out about how you can join here.

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