Musicians support renowned flautist who lost all in riot arson

Carla Rees

The morning after the rioting which devastated Croydon, Carla Rees, an internationally renowned flautist, returned to her flat in London Road to discover that she no longer had a home.

Her music, her instruments, even her two cats had perished in the outbreak of arson started in London Road during the riots in which her flat was burnt out. The destruction of her home quite literally floored Rees. Although left with just the clothes she was wearing and a bag she was carrying, her most immeasurable loss was her beloved flute collection and her entire music library.

Rees, 34, originally from Lincolnshire, has lived in London for 11 years. When speaking to EastLondonLines, she was still coming to terms with what had happened to her world. She has had to cancel concerts and commitments from Slovenia to the USA. She said: “Without my instruments, I can’t do what I was doing, or what I was planning on doing. I can’t travel to perform anyway, because my passport was burned too.”

Rees had just returned home from a weekend coaching the National Youth Wind Orchestra, when she encountered the masked rioters around her street. She lived on the West side of London Road – the opposite end of the House of Reeves whose store was also burned to the ground. On arrival, she felt immediately that she needed to leave. She went inside her flat for five minutes to feed her cats then left to check into a hotel for the night. She said: “I heard the masked youths say they where they wanted to target next which was further away, and I hoped that they would leave. So, although I felt unsafe to stay, I also expected that the damage wouldn’t continue. But after I left, they set fire to the two shops underneath my flat.”

Also a professional photographer, Rees lost all of her photographic portfolio in the fire. She had been commissioned to photograph a wedding two weeks before the riots, and these photos were the only ones left since she still had the hard drive in her bag.

Rees, who trained at the Royal College of Music in London and has performed and taught all over the world, is the artistic director of the Rarescale chamber ensemble – which she formed in 2003.  The main body of her musical work was based around two specialist alto and bass flutes designed and modified by Dutch flute-maker, Eva Kingma. These unique flutes were lost in the fire, alongside music which was composed specifically for the instruments.

At the time of the fire, she was in the middle of a “groundbreaking” project involving the design of a prototype flute for future composers to base their new music on. Musicians and composers from all over the world were embracing it, helping to promote new British composers and the flutes were to become widely available.

She said: “The loss of the instruments in the fire has much wider consequences. Six hundred pieces of music were written for the modified specialist flutes since 2003. All of that is lost.” The progress on this prototype now looks bleak in the short term while Rees gets back on track.

To help her, a website has been created by Jonathan Myall, a woodwind instrument supplier in Croydon. Myall who said he was lucky his own music shop was not harmed or looted during the riots, has known Rees since she was a student.

He said: “I saw her a couple of days after the fire, and I thought I just had to do something. People in the flute and musical community from all over the world have offered their support. We have had messages from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and America. On the one hand social media was blamed for the spread of the violence, but it is in incredible how it has helped turn things around too. Within a week, we had hundreds of replies from all these people who don’t know her. One woman offered to give Carla a flute she had owned for 60 years and no longer played. It turned out that the woman was a Baden-Powell, and this flute is now on auction to help Carla. She has a lot of work to do to rebuild, but there are a lot of people behind her and we will do what we can to help.”

Rees, who said she was overwhelmed by the ‘’phenomenal’’ support she has received, is now concentrating on the next steps. She has no plans to return to Croydon, and has been staying at hotels and with friends while she deals with the inevitable administrative burden of claiming insurance for her losses. She said: “It is hard to get the time to deal with an inventory of losses when you have to travel.”

The Dutch flute-maker has told Rees it will take a year to replace her flute, so in the meantime she plans to teach.  She teaches at the Royal Holloway University of London, and also plans to continue with private teaching even though it is difficult to organise while she is homeless. At the same time, she is determined to make sure people know the Ensemble still exists. In 2013, it will mark the Rarescale Ensemble’s 10th anniversary – something Rees says she very much looks forward to celebrating, when the trauma of August 2011 is all behind her.

Further information: Fund for Carla

The ensemble:

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