A. Watch an interview with pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. What is unusual about her family? Why does the interview say that the future looks bright for the Kanneh-Mason children?

B. Watch the interview again and answer the questions.

1   How did she first get interested in classical music?

2   What happened to her when she was 17?

3   What is her position in the family?

4   What instrument does her brother Sheku play, and how has he been successful?

5   What kind of relationship do the siblings have?

6   What sacrifices did Isata and her siblings make when they were growing up, and how did they feel about it?

 7   What is Isata’s main reason for choosing a piece of music, and why?

8   What does she mean when she says, “I’m just so lucky that my escape is what I do”?



Her parents and siblings are all talented musicians.

Because they are all professional musicians or about to become professionals.


 When she was growing up her parents were always playing classical music around the house.

 She won the Elton John scholarship, so she could continue her studies at the Royal Academy of Music. She also performed with Elton John.

3   She is the eldest child.

4   He plays the cello. He won the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and performed at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.

5   They have a very good relationship because they give each other advice and help each other.

6   They couldn’t always go out or go to parties. They got used to it.

7   The emotion because she thinks people want to listen to music to make them feel something special.

8   She feels she is lucky that her job is also what helps her escape everyday life.


Music in the family

N = narrator, I = Isata

N   This is Isata Kanneh-Mason. A talented pianist studying at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music. She’s quickly gaining a strong reputation in the world of classical music. It’s easy to see, and hear, why, but how did this young prizewinning artist first become interested in classical music?

I    So, I first became interested in music because my parents were massive classical music fans. And they were always playing classical music around the house and I just always listened to it. And it was always part of my childhood so, I feel like I’ve always been interested in music.

N   Isata herself started playing an instrument when she was very young.

I    Well, I actually started playing the recorder when I was three years old. And then when I was six, I had my first piano lesson, and I’ve been playing since then.

N   It wasn’t long before Isata’s remarkable talent was noticed. At the age of nine she started studying at the Junior Royal Academy of Music. When she was seventeen, she was awarded the Elton John scholarship to continue her undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music, and actually performed with the pop legend.

I    Playing with Elton John was amazing. I was seventeen years old and I played with him in LA, I actually played the viola for that concert. And it was, it was just such a fun experience because it wasn’t classical music so, it was nice to do something different. And it was also just amazing to be part of that energy on stage. He’s a very charismatic person and I just really enjoyed the whole thing.

N   But Isata hasn’t made this journey alone. Incredibly, she is the eldest of seven siblings that all share Isata’s talent and passion for classical music. There’s Braimah, Sheku, Konya, Jeneba, Aminata, and Mariatu. Between them, they play a variety of instruments, in fact, her brother Sheku, who is a cellist, won the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and performed at the royal wedding in 2018. What was it like growing up in such a musical family?

I    I’ve always loved growing up in a musical family, but it’s quite hard to say what it was like because I don’t really know it any other way. But, I do know that it was always very noisy, very busy, um, and the house is just always full of music. I think growing up in a musical family definitely helps me as a musician because I think it’s so important to just be surrounded by music, and to always be listening. And also, my siblings and I, we always give each other advice and help each other with our practice. So, I’d definitely say that being part of a musical family has really helped me grow as a musician.

N   With so many talented siblings, are they competitive?

  I wouldn’t say we’re competitive because we were lucky enough that we all chose different instruments. And, although several of us play the piano, the ages are quite far apart so there’s never been any competition. There’s always just been a sense of spurring each other on and a sense of support.

N   Isata and several of her siblings are already well on the road to being professional musicians – but it is not an easy career choice.

I    I think if you have a career in classical music, it’s always going to be a sacrifice. For my siblings and I, we definitely felt that at school, sometimes you can’t go out with your friends or go to parties because you have to practice. And not everyone may always understand that but I think if you love music enough, which we all definitely did, then the sacrifice is so worth it. And I think if you want to succeed in anything, you have to make sacrifices, so, I think we got used to that.

N   What is the most important thing for you when you’re choosing a piece to perform?

I    For me, the emotion of a piece is extremely important. I think there’s, of course, a massive intellectual side to classical music, and you need to analyze the music you’re playing. But at the end of the day, when you go to a concert, you go because you want to feel something special. So, I think the emotion of the piece completely defines it for me.

N   And the importance of emotion is easy to hear in Isata’s playing.

  I think for me, playing has always been a release from everyday life. I think there’s so much emotion and there’s just so much in music and so playing has always been kind of an escape for me. So, I’m just so lucky that my escape is what I do.

N   This piece, by nineteenth century composer Clara Schumann, appears on Isata’s debut album. Both Isata and Sheku already have contracts with the prestigious record label Decca, and it seems likely that other siblings will follow in their footsteps. For the Kanneh-Mason family, the future looks bright.

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