How I got into Music, by Simon

simon sousaphone

I started making music when I was quite young, I think I was about 9 years old when I first started taking piano lessons. I always wanted to play the saxophone as well as the piano and mistakenly thought it was a brass instrument.  At primary school I duly signed up for brass lessons and was handed a euphonium, there followed a career in brass playing with a bit of piano on the side!

During secondary school all of my spare time was filled with music making. I was involved in the local youth orchestra, brass band and jazz band which meant I was doing a lot of playing. I knew fairly early on, probably around Year 8, that I wanted to make a career out of music. My instrumental teachers instilled in me the importance of practice and I was pretty good at making sure I practised brass and piano every single day. I really wanted to be the best I could be and quickly worked through my grade exams. These were like some sort of holy grail whilst at school and that when you passed your Grade 8 you went to some mythical level- I realise now that was a load of rubbish.

Following secondary school I went on to sixth form college and was excited to be able to spend more of my time on my music. I also studied English Literature and Sociology. It was when I moved to college I started to get really interested in the history of music and harmony. I started to really enjoy listening to classical music as I began to understand it better. I really enjoyed the large scale orchestral works of composers like Bruckner and Mahler and a lifetime love for that music was fostered. During this time I was really questioning whether I wanted to go for a more practical conservatoire degree or the more traditional university course after college.
In the end I opted for both and went to Manchester University and The Royal Northern College of Music. Whilst studying at these places I really began to realise just how competitive the music industry is and that I had always been ‘a big fish in a small pond.’  I started playing with some really top class musicians and making friends and colleagues I still play and work with now. It really is one of the best times of your life, having that complete focus on your music. There is plenty of competition to spur you on and so many opportunities if you are studying in one of the big cities like London, Birmingham or Manchester.  I also got interested in some pretty niche areas with my university degree! Soviet film music of the 1930s became a particular interest of mine during that period!
My career has been a mixture of performing and teaching. I have been very lucky, I have performed all over the world and played in many of the world’s top venues. I have managed to make money out of playing instruments- which was always the goal- but never the millions I would have liked!!!  I have also had the opportunity to teach all over the world. I have taught music in Cambodia and Australia as well as the UK.  Now I have a family, I have less time for performing and teaching is my focus. I love working at sixth form level as that is when my love of music really evolved.  Music is a  fantastic subject to study and a fantastic career to have. It has taken me all over the world and I have met some amazing people along the way……


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How I got into Music, by James

I never really expected or intended to be a music teacher, just like I didn’t expect to study Music at University, or even at A Level! I should explain; although I don’t really remember when it happened, Music was always my passion and it was the thing that I was most interested in. It’s just that in my head, having a ‘proper job’ or following a secure and structured career path was at odds to studying music and the arts. I suppose I managed to convince myself that Music wasn’t an ‘academic’ choice, or perhaps I was concerned about my future employment prospects. I need not have worried; in retrospect, my study of music has opened up more opportunities to me than anything else I’ve done in my life.
I’ve played the piano for as long I can remember, but I vaguely remember being frustrated because I could play things by listening to them but found making the link between what I was seeing in front of me and hearing much more difficult. I stuck with it, and music theory helped me to fill in the gaps (I still prefer hearing things rather than reading things though!). On starting secondary school, I saw one of the peripatetic teachers playing the saxophone and thought it looked amazing. I started to play, and worked my way up the grades during my time there. Through doing this, I got involved with everything to do with music I could. On GCSE results day, suspecting I might have made a mistake, I changed my course choices for A Level from French to Music, alongside Maths, Chemistry and Physics.

In search of my ‘good career’, I went to university as a Chemistry student. In the summer before I moved after sitting my A Levels, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have made the wrong choice (in retrospect, I probably should have suspected by then!). It wasn’t that I couldn’t do Chemistry, or that I didn’t like it; it was just that I enjoyed Music more, and I wondered whether there might be a better reason to choose a degree course than the search for a stable career. When I moved up to Durham, I loved the city and the collegiate feel of the university, but I still wasn’t convinced about my course choice. I chose two Music elective modules alongside Chemistry (when I was signing up, the tutor said they had never seen it before). Two weeks later, I made tentative enquiries to the senior tutor in college and she got in touch with the Music Department. They told me that if I wanted, and as long as I had my Grade 8 (which I’d taken on Saxophone the previous summer), I could simply change course!

pianosaxWhilst at Durham, my eyes were opened to a variety of different types of music, performance opportunities and composers who I had never even heard of. However, what I valued the most was the chance to work with like-minded people, and make lots of friends who were interested in the same things as me. I also had loads of opportunities and support in starting to play professionally, and began to do so for weddings and functions as a solo saxophonist, in clubs with DJs, and started my own soul band (‘Souled Out’ – I was very proud of the name!). I also found particular areas that interested me – Acoustics and Electroacoustics ‘bolted’ the theory onto the things to do with sound and computer music that always had interested me.

I always intended to study more, and was all set to stay on to do an MA, but an opportunity came up to train as a teacher; I’d always wondered whether I’d like to teach, so I moved to the North West to see if I’d enjoy it. I just wasn’t sure – but then when I stepped into a classroom and the bustling environment of the school music department I realised that I really enjoyed teaching, working with students, and running the ensembles that formed so much of a part of a school’s musical life.

When I qualified, I ended up getting the amazing chance to build up a new A Level Music and Music Technology department in a brand new sixth form college in Rochdale – and I loved it. A few years later I took on responsibility for the leadership of Art, Dance, Drama along with Music and Music Technology, and saw clearly the value of students’ study in those subjects, along with the wider employability and life skills gained by those who studied them.

I passionately believe in the difference a sixth form college education can make. My career has focused on teaching across the breadth of Music and Music Technology, but I have ended up focusing particularly on the areas that interest me the most – namely Music Technology and Rock & Pop Music. This specialism and focus has led to further freelance work as an examiner, trainer of teachers both across the UK and abroad and as an author of revision guides and study materials to help both students and teachers. I find this work really rewarding, and it complements the work I can do as a teacher.