When I embarked upon my musical adventure playing the piano aged eight, I would never have envisaged that eighteen years later I would graduate as a tuba player from one of the world’s finest music institutions with a Master of Arts degree. I look back on my time at the Academy with immense gratitude. As a result of my experiences at the Academy, I feel thoroughly prepared to begin my journey into the professional music world. Without the Foundation’s invaluable help, this would not have been possible.
The Academy’s tuba professor and former London Symphony Orchestra member, Patrick Harrild, has been a musical idol of mine, and to be one of his final students after a forty-five year teaching career was a privilege and an honour. His zest for life, endless amounts of energy and deep-rooted passion for music added incomprehensible value to my Academy experience, and he provided me with knowledge about the tuba, music and life that will stay with me forever. I also received cimbasso lessons from Steve Wick. For most of his career, Steve has been the country’s leading figure in historical tuba playing, and receiving tuition from him was an immensely beneficial experience.
The musical activities that I was involved in at the Academy were truly unforgettable. They involved playing with the Academy Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Wilson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8upOz276R54), the Academy Symphonic Brass conducted by Jeroen Berwaerts, the Academy Big Band conducted by Nick Smart and also the Academy Musical Theatre Orchestra in a fitting tribute to Broadway legend, Hal Prince. I was also a dedicated member of two brass quintets, Jubilee Brass and Harley Brass, both successful groups that performed in various venues around London.
In addition to the musically fulfilling activities taking place within the Academy’s walls, I was hugely grateful to partake in a variety of exciting projects outside of the Academy. This included performing professionally with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia on numerous occasions, the Welsh National Opera orchestra & brass quintet and an array of amateur/semi-professionals orchestras around the Greater London area. Additionally, in 2019 I was involved in the prestigious Cowbridge Music Festival in South Wales, and I was fortunate to be asked to work with a professional London-based brass quintet, Lakeside Brass. As a soloist, I submitted video recordings as part of an application to the 2020 Geneva International Tuba Competition (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9xgxopEZo4).
When we received word that the Academy would be closing due to COVID-19, I was devastated. I had numerous exciting engagements lined up such as my first recording session in the world-famous Abbey Road Studios, and also a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Southwark Cathedral on London’s South Bank. Thankfully, both of these events are being rescheduled. During lockdown, the Academy did a brilliant job of keeping students constantly updated on matters whilst also moving large parts of the course online. This included weekly online lessons with my principal study teacher, weekly ‘Q&A’ sessions with some of the country’s most renowned brass players, and performance classes where brass players were able to complement and critique the playing of colleagues. Additionally, I was delighted to be involved in the Academy Big Band’s online recording of Kenny Wheeler’s Smatta, which can be found on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PubwI9AuM2k).
Due to the pandemic the country’s arts sector has found itself in a critical situation, and the current circumstances are particularly difficult for music students who have recently graduated. I have secured a job working for Royal Mail over this period, but when the country begins its recovery from COVID-19, my studies at the Academy have put me in an ideal position to pursue my long-term ambition of becoming a busy orchestral tuba player.
Without your generous support, I doubt that I would have been able to complete my course. Whilst this Masters’ degree is a valuable addition to my professional portfolio, I am incredibly grateful for the unforgettable musical experiences, the professional relationships I have forged, the professional opportunities gained from residing in London, the invaluable advice I have been given and the life-long friends that I have made along the way. To everybody at the James Pantyfedwen Foundation, thank you!