Sarah Sarhandi is a is a composer and virtuoso violist with joint British and Pakistani heritage based in London. She studied viola as a performer at the Royal Academy of Music. Her music weaves together fluid sometimes fragmented melody, viola, voices including her own, sound and electronica.

Her latest piece of music, Heart, was written during the lockdown. Hear about the process in her own words.

Heart is a piece of music that arrived a few weeks into lockdown. I'd created a soundscape in my studio. And as I listened to it over and over, quite obsessively, a piece began to emerge. I was also writing words at the time, attempting to make sense of the extreme emotions the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown were generating in me and others and it seemed natural to embed these words into the music. As I listened, the viola melody came to me. I felt suddenly completely released from lone captivity in my flat as I worked. It almost seemed like a download. I was transported across time and space and seemed to fly. I was exhilarated, excited and completely absorbed. My viola became a thread weaving through and connecting me deeply to people and places across time and space, its sound a vibration, an expression and affirmation of human unity, strength, kindness, hope and ultimately of love in the face of sadness, terrible loss, uncertainty and suffering. 

Making music through lockdown has been at times easy and at other times challenging and difficult. It has been quite wonderful in many ways to be able to focus without distraction. I have been living alone. From the room where I work I look out, four floors up through huge flat windows onto a sea of leafy tree tops (pictured above). There are no public roads so it's very quiet. At times especially at first I felt quite shocked, lonely, frightened and trapped but then it seemed almost as if my flat became a ship sailing across a green ocean and that at the end of this voyage of lockdown it will dock and I will disembark who knows where. This feeling of movement and mystery within stillness and solitude has contained me, given me an interesting creative space in which to dream and imagine, to focus and explore and to consider my practice as a composer and artist.

I've kept in close communication with creative friends and colleagues including the American poet Vincent Katz, Pakistani dance artist Suhaee Abro who is currently based in Italy, composer, musician and writer David Toop, artist and sculptor Julie Goldsmith and others. Being in touch with my artist friends who have individually been adjusting to and responding to the challenges and opportunities of lockdown has been a huge source of inspiration and comfort and has given me a feeling of solidarity and strength. I am also incredibly lucky and grateful to have been supported through this time by the Geraldine Connor Foundation and Arts Council England from whom I received a grant - from their emergency fund. I have a teaching practice which I managed to quickly move online which has kept me grounded.

I'm now exploring an online presence/development for my project Both Universe, a musical and cross disciplinary performance that explores, celebrates and reflects on the sometimes harmonious, at other times colliding and dissonant worlds of my heritage which is both English and Pakistani. This project includes my collaboration with the late Aamir Zaki, Pakistan’s brilliant and most legendary guitarist. I first brought Both Universe as a work in progress to Alchemy Festival Southbank in 2016 and to Kala Sangam Bradford. I was due to workshop it at a creative lab at the Whitworth Manchester this June with a view to further activities and a tour but this is suspended at the moment because of COVID-19. 

I’m not sure whether I’ve found the process of creating during lockdown easier or more difficult than normal. It’s certainly different. My neighbours might have found it difficult to hear my music - they’re never normally home! I’ve not been able to make plans to perform or to consider travelling which has been frustrating. I had planned as well to perform this year in Pakistan for the first time which I was incredibly excited about. However, lockdown has been a time of unexpected discovery especially in the arena of developing online connections, innovations and opportunities. I really haven’t missed shopping or running around London and I’ve happily learned to make delicious biscuits and cakes for my working tea breaks.

All of the creative impulses, discoveries and processes that I’ve been exploring through lockdown have hugely influenced the way in which I will work in the future. In some ways the creative world has become kinder, more generous, accessible and interconnected worldwide. Increased confidence in online and virtual activity and expression is a key aspect that I will take with me going forwards as well as strengthened and nourishing existing and new relationships with artists and support networks. New musical work takes me forward creatively. Perhaps virtual is in many ways becoming the new actual. The boundaries between them are certainly more fluid.  

One piece of advice I would give to fellow artists through this time is to have faith in your ability to navigate through it. Have faith in and listen to your fundamentally creative nature because it is that which will allow you to adapt and to keep moving, see you through and help you to navigate to wherever we will all be later on.    

Listen to Heart

Sarah Sarhandi is a composer and virtuoso violist with joint British and Pakistani heritage based in London. She studied viola as a performer at the Royal Academy of Music. Her music weaves together fluid sometimes fragmented melody, viola, voices including her own, sound and electronica. She is particularly interested in and recognised for her collaborative work. She has recorded and performed worldwide, written and recorded for film and TV. Recently she has begun to create her own videos as well as initiate projects driven by her music with film and video practitioners.

Read Sarah's full biography on our Creative Associate Artist page.