Tell us a little about your early musical background and when you knew that the clarinet was the instrument for you?
Music was always a large part of my childhood. Having started on piano slightly earlier, I picked up the clarinet around age 9. At the time I actually wanted to learn the Oboe, particularly the Cor Anglais, after hearing it at the Barbican. Unfortunately, they didn’t offer these instruments at my school. It was explained away to me at that age saying I didn’t have enough ‘puff’, so I should start on the clarinet. But I loved it and never switched!
I was lucky to have a fantastic local youth music service in Bromley Youth Music Trust (BYMT); which has a wonderful system of tiered wind bands and orchestras. Hearing the next level orchestra and playing alongside others helps massively in inspiring you to progress and work through the ranks, adding both friendly competition and a social element to the activity – compared to the relative isolation learning piano if you don’t seek out chamber music opportunities. It’s a fantastic system, and I owe BYMT pretty much all my early experience, opportunities and encouragement.
I went to an all boys state school. I always achieved highly in everything I did, but never really fit in socially with my peers. Only while performing music did I ever really like I fitted in with a group; which is why BYMT became such a huge part of my childhood.
I was privileged to gain multiple scholarship offers, ending up at the Royal Academy of Music, London, on a Full Scholarship. I spent 7 years training at the Academy, with a 4yr BMus, 2yr MA and for my 7th year, won a position as Chamber Music Fellow with my own chamber group Ensemble Mirage.
How many clarinets do you own? Do you have a favourite?
At the moment, six! Bb, A and C clarinets, then an Eb, Bass and finally a Basset Clarinet in A.
I wouldn’t say I prefer one particularly over another as they all have their own distinct tone colour and feel. I’m a huge advocate of playing on the type/transposition of clarinet something was written for.
I’m not done yet though... I’m saving up to perhaps change/upgrade my Eb, but primarily, I’m extremely keen to get a Basset Horn!
Tell us about BSO Resound.
BSO Resound is a small chamber ensemble embedded within the wider company of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. We’ve only been working together as an ensemble for a little over a year now, so it’s still early days and evolving as we go.
The main focus, as I see it, is to try and raise general public awareness and understanding of the wide range of disabilities, and experiment/question how educational institutions and employers might try to innovate their processes to eliminate physical or psychological access barriers to their traditional training/workplace settings. Not to fill any kind of artificial "diversity" quota but to enable organisations to foster and take advantage of the specific individual talents each person can bring to them.
For my part, I hope to raise awareness and understanding of High-Functioning Autism in the music industry, particularly within the orchestral sector.
A large part of living with OCD and High-Functioning Autism involves dealing with erratic anxiety levels & sensory overload (all invisible to the casual observer). ‘Auditory Processing’ is often a large part of this; extreme difficulty filtering out background noise to focus in on one task/person talking (particularly in group situations).
Looking back, I feel part of the reason I was always so drawn to music was that when you are actually performing/rehearsing, everyone’s attention & energy is solely on the music; making it perhaps one of the few situations where that background noise subsided enough for me to block it out - enabling me to combat that sensory overload.
My hope as my career develops is that I can inspire other Autistic children & people to break out of their own shells to pursue their own interests. If you can harness your focus and drive in your chosen field – and use it to push you out of your comfort zone to develop those other skills necessary to function in the world – there’s no knowing the limit of what an autistic brain & personality can bring to their chosen field.
What does a typical day look like for you as a working musician?
There isn’t one! – I’m either out and about up in London for rehearsals (usually my chamber group Ensemble Mirage, solo/duo stuff, or freelance orchestral work), travelling around the country for concerts (concert societies, festivals etc), this last year down in Bournemouth/Poole quite frequently with BSO Resound and other parts of BSO, otherwise back at home practising, doing admin or looking for work....!
Outside work, it’s important to stay fit and exercise helps me de-stress.
Ask any of my friends or colleagues, I’m also a massive fan of Star Wars. It’s always been a dream to record in an original John Williams Star Wars soundtrack!
How do you prepare for performances? Are there any specific exercises or rituals you do?
Every player has their own little twiddle they do when they first warm-up/pick up their instrument. I wouldn’t say I have a specific warm-up ritual but I usually start on long notes to test the air flow and some little articulation exercises to test reed response.
When practicing for a performance, whether it’s a new piece or something familiar, I’ll always isolate any little difficult technical passages. In practise I’ll play them slowly well under-tempo, trying all sorts of different rhythms, articulations and even playing them backwards. I’ll make sure it’s absolutely correct before increasing the tempo. When you goback to play them ‘straight’ again, it’s usually much easier in comparison as you’ve been working out all the tension points and awkward finger/tongue co-ordination etc.
Before a performance, it’s often very useful to slowly finger/blow through those passages under-tempo, but don’t mess around with other rhythms/articulations just before you go on stage, you’ll likely confuse your muscle memory – that’s for the practise room!
What advice would you give to aspiring young musicians who are working towards professional careers?
I’ve always said that in a way, ‘learning to be a musician’ is ‘learning how to learn’; the ability to both constructively analyse or criticise yourself, as well as listen & take on board criticism from others and embrace/learn from your failure, in order to improve and grow as a person. This is such an important life skill, one without which any interaction can easily dissolve into conflict.
Regardless of whether you end up in the music profession or not, the love of music is something that will never leave you. The process of learning a musical instrument and the way it teaches you to analyse your own work for self-improvement is an invaluable life skill that will benefit you wherever life takes you.
It’s important to remember that innate talent is only a small part; no-one gets good at anything without hard work and practise, even the most gifted musicians had to start at the beginning somewhere! Learning a musical instrument can be extremely rewarding, especially as you can sense your own progress. When you eventually reach an obstacle however (and you will!), the strength to persevere when things get tough and overcome that hurdle is another extremely important life skill music can teach you; and make you stand out among your peers.
Failure is just as important as success; learn from your mistakes. The person who sails through seemingly without effort will be eithe hiding extremely hard work in the background, or will never learn how to cope with failure, which will be crushing when it finally hits.
If you are serious about applying to Music College and becoming a performing musician, get in touch with the institutions for some consultation lessons during the year ahead of applications (i.e. Lower 6th – as applications for Music College are much earlier than University!). This will give you a great step up and perhaps sort out a few technical issues you may otherwise spend the whole 1st year of your degree ironing out, It will also give you a flavour for different teachers’ styles and what might suit you best.
Lastly, remember you will never stop learning! If you’re learning a piece and you don’t understand the musical language, go and listen to more of the composer’s works and youwill eventually become attuned with their sound world. Gradually, you will start to hear parallels between composers as your musicianship and listening skills develop.
It’s natural to shrink away from what we don’t understand, claiming we ‘don’t like it’; but if instead you say to yourself ‘why don’t I understand this?’ and let it peak your curiosity.
I’ll finish with this saying, I only came across it a few weeks ago but it’s really stuck with me because it’s so true:
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.