My Musical Journey.

In 2018 we celebrated our 20th anniversary.  As part of marking this important milestone we spoke to young people ranging from secondary school students to those in their early thirties, all of whom have been financially supported by AYM at one time or another. Some pursued a career in music, while others chose an entirely different career path. What they have in common is a life enhanced by access to music education. We wanted to share their stories.  

Click on any of the photographs below to read the musicians' story. All photographs are (c) Edward Webb 2018.

Sir Simon Rattle (C)

Sir Simon Rattle

"It gives me great pleasure to introduce this project celebrating Awards for Musicians’ 20th birthday!

Every child deserves the chance to make the most of their potential in life. AYM gives musical talent a chance. The barriers are high if a family is struggling financially and if life is challenging in other ways too. Since 1998 AYM has been supporting young people, their parents, teachers, and the wider sector to make a musical life possible for those with exceptional potential – those who have both the need and the ability to communicate through music. Such talent is precious: it needs identifying, sustaining and nurturing – exactly what AYM does. I’m extremely proud of the transformative difference our charity has made to so many young people’s musical futures, demonstrated so richly within these stories. The need for AYM has never been greater!"

20 stories

Caius Lee

Mozart called the organ the “king of instruments” and there’s a reason for that.

Caius Lee

Mozart called the organ the “king of instruments” and there’s a reason for that.

Originally an aspiring sportsman, music was never on Caius Lee’s radar, until he was 11. In his last week at primary school his potential was spotted during a Bradford Cathedral choir outreach day. Caius was invited to a taster service and allowed to sit in the cathedral’s organ loft. “Being a lad” Caius laughs – he was drawn to the power of the instrument – “the pure volume was like nothing I’d heard in my life!” He immediately asked to learn the organ and sing in the choir. After putting in the legwork to develop his keyboard skills (and growing tall enough to reach the pedals) this dream became a reality.

Alongside support at the cathedral, an inspiring school singing teacher sought out opportunities for Caius to accompany choirs, rehearsals and competitions and by 16 he was leading his own children’s choir. Having spent his gap year as Assistant Organist at Leeds Cathedral, Caius is now off on an organ scholarship to Cambridge.

Maya Moh

I remember just sitting there and saying: “Wow, I want to be able to be on a stage and wear amazing dresses and make a beautiful sound.”

Maya Moh

I remember just sitting there and saying: “Wow, I want to be able to be on a stage and wear amazing dresses and make a beautiful sound.”

With her sights set on a life on the concert stage, Maya Moh knows a thing or two about discipline. Her day starts at 6 am with violin practice before heading to school to play piano at 7.45 am. “The waking up can be hard” she says “but I like having a routine and being organised.” After a busy school week Maya travels from Canterbury to London each Saturday for an immersive day at the Junior Royal Academy of Music.

Describing her love of the violin she says “there are so many characteristics you can portray. When you play it just right, the tone quality is absolutely beautiful.” But the most skilled craftsperson needs the right tools and Maya found herself hitting a wall with tone production due to playing with a basic student bow. AYM’s support changed this; she now has a carbon fibre bow. “It’s a lot lighter so certain bow strokes are so much easier and I can make a beautiful sustained sound.”

True to her potential and drive, Maya has just been offered a music scholarship at The King’s School Canterbury. Maya has a passion for performing and definitely sees herself doing this in the future.

Gavin Higgins

If you’d have spoken to the child me and said one day you’ll be writing for the Royal Opera House, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Gavin Higgins

If you’d have spoken to the child me and said one day you’ll be writing for the Royal Opera House, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Growing up in the Forest of Dean as part of a brass-banding family, music for Gavin Higgins was initially “just what we did” and he remembers wishing he could stay home and read books about dinosaurs rather than go to band practice. It was in his early teens that Gavin recalls first being empowered by music. “I was suffering with Tourette’s syndrome and OCD and music was an important tool for me. When I was playing my French horn the tics and invasive thoughts would completely stop.”

It was later whilst at the Royal Northern College of Music that Gavin fell in love with composing. “It’s been an exciting five years” he reflects on his career since graduating. “I became Rambert Dance company’s first ever composer in residence, I’ve written the opening piece for the Last Night of The Proms and I’m currently in the middle of writing an opera for the Royal Opera House.” The project closest to his heart was writing the ballet “Dark Arteries” composed for brass band. “It brings together various parts of my life: my love of dance, brass bands and the mining tradition that my family grew up in.”

Sarah Alexander

When you tell people you play accordion they’re all like – “Oh, so you’re in a Ceilidh band?” – so they’re quite taken aback when you tell them it’s classical.

Sarah Alexander

When you tell people you play accordion they’re all like – “Oh, so you’re in a Ceilidh band?” – so they’re quite taken aback when you tell them it’s classical.

Challenging genre stereotypes is no easy feat, but classical accordionist Sarah Alexander is on a musical mission to do just this. When, as a child, she first saw an accordion Sarah remembers thinking it was “different and strange;” both things that appealed to her. Sarah grew up in Buckie, North East Scotland, where accordion is a popular folk instrument; how ever Sarah remembers “completely falling in love with the classical side of it.”

This passion eventually took her to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she was one of just three classical accordionists on the undergraduate programme. When working on her final-year performance programme she came across a piece for accordion and double bass, but with no bass player available Sarah transcribed the work for her friend to play on cello. This experimental duo worked so well that they decided to form a professional partnership and Sarah has set about transcribing an array of works for these two instruments, including Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals.”

Sarah hopes to inspire the next generation of young accordionists through her performance work and as an accordion teacher. As she says, “There’s nothing better than being able to introduce someone to the power of music.”

Dan Moore

You’re making music with a really tight knit group of friends.

Dan Moore

You’re making music with a really tight knit group of friends.

There is a community spirit to music, one that euphonium player Dan Moore has always been keen to tap into.  From seeing his dad, dressed smartly in his uniform, heading off to brass band practice with his tuba, to being invited to join Lancashire’s famous Leyland Brass Band, Dan has always seen music as more than a solo pursuit. Now an integral member of the band, whose focus continues to be engaging with the communities many of their members are part of, Dan is also a marketing manager for his day job, a function he sees as critical for musicians in the modern world.  “The world is changing, you can’t just expect people to turn up to your concerts; you’ve got to go out there and sell yourself.”

He describes being in a brass band as something that’s its own world completely, with its social side too.  “You’re making music with your friends; you go on the coach to concerts together and to football matches at the weekend.” For Dan the twin pursuits of music and marketing have instilled a passion for perseverance and music promotion that are already standing him in good stead.

Watch Dan's film

Leaphia Darko

I’m not an academic, not mathsy – but I realised I understood sound in a way that other kids didn’t.

Leaphia Darko

I’m not an academic, not mathsy – but I realised I understood sound in a way that other kids didn’t.

Effective communication is a talent in its own right, and for some people the initial glimmers can appear in strange and unconventional ways. For actor and musician Leaphia Darko, this began at a very young age when she found herself connecting with sounds in a way other children her age simply weren’t able to. A nursery teacher asked the class to wrap elastic bands around a shoebox and prang away, and Leaphia vividly recalls her fascination with the myriad sounds such a simple instrument could produce. This proved to be a defining moment in her life, one that set the tone for years to come.

Moving from Junior Trinity music school to studying at RADA, which she described as a “dream come true,” Leaphia has never forgotten the power of that early experience. Now both a professional actor and musician, she sees communication as central to her two creative lives. As she puts it: “music and acting are both about talking to people.” And all because of a bit of elastic tied around a shoebox...

Nial Kavanaugh

To meet a pupil who’s interested in music, works hard at music and gets to where they want to in a few years? That’s amazing. It’s like bringing up your own child.

Nial Kavanaugh

To meet a pupil who’s interested in music, works hard at music and gets to where they want to in a few years? That’s amazing. It’s like bringing up your own child.

Music is a mindset, something guitarist, composer and teacher Niall Kavanagh knows well. A graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Niall’s time is split between performing and teaching guitar in primary schools across his native Merseyside. He approaches teaching with a refreshingly creative attitude, one which he aims to inspire in his own students. Watching as they progress from basic guitar pieces – “lots of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’” he laughs – into composing their own music, is something that gives him real rewards. “Kids are creative anyway and I like to get them to write their own music. Some come up with crazy ideas like screaming while playing guitar, but there’s always something that you can work with.”

This organic and creative approach can be traced back to how it all started for Niall. “I was three when my Dad taught me some basic 12 bar blues on the guitar.” Like a sponge he soaked everything in and a competitive spirit helped him progress quickly. “I just wanted to be better than my Dad to be honest!”

Jess Gillam

It’s a real honour to be an AYM Patron – they’re such a brilliant charity.

Jess Gillam

It’s a real honour to be an AYM Patron – they’re such a brilliant charity.

Support doesn’t always have to be only financial. For Jess Gillam, the first saxophonist to reach the BBC Young Musician concerto final and AYM’s youngest Patron, the help and assistance she received from the charity was a lot more about progression than pounds sterling. “AYM are about so much more than financial support” says Jess, citing annual Awards Days as one example, where young musicians come together with professional musicians and meet other young people, sharing their experiences and learning from each other. The performance opportunities, concert tickets and regular updates AYM have given her have been great too Jess says. “It’s a real honour to be an AYM Patron – they’re such a brilliant charity. It’s really important that every child has the chance to experience music: it’s such a part of who we are as humans.”

In addition to her role with AYM, Jess now performs internationally alongside a busy schedule of recording and studying. She’s passionate about the broader benefits of a musical education. “Music is one of the strongest ways of communicating, it helps you to empathise, to question things, to think about the abstract. There are so many human skills that music teaches us other than just being able to play the instrument.”

Watch Jess's film

Julian Bliss

I always want to do more. I would fill my whole year with concerts if I could. I’m always looking for the next thing and trying to push myself.

Julian Bliss

I always want to do more. I would fill my whole year with concerts if I could. I’m always looking for the next thing and trying to push myself.

Some musicians can have something of a complicated relationship between their music and the ability to make a career out of it, but for clarinettist Julian Bliss, there was one event that made him realise that anything was possible. Invited to play live on TV at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, he describes it as a lightbulb moment. The stage, the crowd, the royal audience: the singular power of this moment was enough to ignite an unshakeable certainty that music could be so much more than just a hobby. Suddenly viewing music as a viable career, Julian has never looked back.

Fast-forward a decade and a half and Julian has not only realised this ambition, but expanded his portfolio, consulting with clarinet manufacturer Conn-Selmer and helping them design an affordable high-quality clarinet for student players. And now? Still the hunger, still the appetite, but also a shift in focus. He’s passionate about music education and mentorship, which is increasingly filling his time. In his own words: “I think more people should give back whatever they can to the next generation.”

Watch Julian's film

Myla Newell

All my training and everything I’ve learned has helped me develop as an artist, and hopefully I’ll keep developing.

Myla Newell

All my training and everything I’ve learned has helped me develop as an artist, and hopefully I’ll keep developing.

Some musicians are born to be performers, others find immense satisfaction in being creators, and some find a way to fuse both strands together. 16-year-old multi-instrumentalist Myla Newell has forged her own path from the get go, following her nose and finding her feet all at the same time. Introduced to music at a young age by listening with her mother, Myla started with classical guitar before gaining a scholarship to the rock and pop academy The Rhythm Studio. They’ve allowed her the flexibility to make her own musical choices, from playing live to working with musical inspirations like Will Champion from Coldplay. Myla is already a seasoned performer, playing venues across London and learning to adapt to different spaces.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Myla’s passions for music, performing and dancing have coalesced with an interest in musical theatre. Having spent four summers with Youth Music Theatre UK she’s recently secured a scholarship to study at Italia Conti and she is already eyeing the West End stage as a career path. “There are so many rock musicals now,” she says, “so I’d be able to merge my experience with guitar and gigging with musical theatre, which would be great!”

Watch Myla's film

Sam Wyne

I forgot my instrument for school orchestra, so they gave me a euphonium out of the cupboard and that was it – I’d found my instrument!

Sam Wyne

I forgot my instrument for school orchestra, so they gave me a euphonium out of the cupboard and that was it – I’d found my instrument!

Usually it’s the musician that picks the instrument, but in those special cases where it’s the other way round, something magical can happen. When Sam Wyne first discovered music all he wanted to do was play the piano but his path took an unexpected turn when a brass group visited his primary school. He recalls being “so in awe of these musicians” that when they offered him the opportunity to learn the tenor horn, he jumped at the chance. He loved playing in ensembles but never felt quite at home on the instrument. One fateful day Sam recalls being “devastated” because he forgot his tenor horn for school orchestra. His teacher handed him a school euphonium as a substitute and at that moment the stars aligned. “That was it” Sam says, “I’d found my instrument.” As the euphonium felt so much more natural he decided “to put the tenor horn to bed” and never looked back.

Sam studied at Birmingham Conservatoire and today works as Business Development and Engagement Manager for Berkshire Maestros. A keen member of the brass-banding movement, Sam plays with Wantage Band and has also directed a number of youth brass bands.

Jennifer Pike

Winning the BBC Young Musician at such a young age was a special experience and opened so many doors.

Jennifer Pike

Winning the BBC Young Musician at such a young age was a special experience and opened so many doors.

Life-changing events can happen at any time in a musician’s life, but violinist Jennifer Pike found herself getting something of a head start when she was catapulted to fame aged only 12 after winning BBC Young Musician of the Year. Thrust into the spotlight, she found herself travelling all over the world, recording with some of the most famous orchestras in the industry and forging a career as one of UK’s most celebrated solo violinists.

In a pressured and fast-moving profession Jennifer is quick to emphasise the importance of having good people around you. “The music industry can be very tough. You’re giving your soul on stage at numerous concerts to these wonderful audiences. It’s so personal: connecting with an audience is special but it can be very exhausting mentally and physically, and with the travel too – you can be lugging your suitcase and your instrument and you’re not sure where you’re going, trying to find the concert hall!” Friends give you encouragement and belief says Jennifer. “Talking with the audience after a performance is also a lovely thing. Hopefully I’m still sort of normal!”

 

Watch Jennifer's film

Kwasi Sefa-Attakora

If AYM hadn’t found me and seen that I was good, I don’t think I would have taken music as seriously as I do now.

Kwasi Sefa-Attakora

If AYM hadn’t found me and seen that I was good, I don’t think I would have taken music as seriously as I do now.

Kwasi Sefa-Attakora is a great example of why spotting musical potential in the first place is every bit as important as nurturing recognised talent. After a teacher discovered him at a young age through participating in AYM’s Identifying Talent programme, Kwasi joined the charity’s Furthering Talent scheme. During his time on Furthering Talent, he worked his way up through the grades on alto saxophone, then bassoon and it became readily apparent that he was beginning to take music very seriously indeed.

Kwasi’s involvement in AYM’s young musician-led Talent to Talent mentoring programme further expanded his musical horizons, and this year he has also joined its Awards programme. Most recently he was accepted into the Junior Royal Northern College of Music, which he began in September. Kwasi is ambitious for his musical future: “in 10 years I think I’ll be in a well-known orchestra, like the London Symphony Orchestra. I don’t think I’ll be too famous, not the next big thing or anything, but I will definitely be known.”

Rebecca Bell

I had a difficult decision to make. I really wanted to play the violin but also really wanted to go and study languages.

Rebecca Bell

I had a difficult decision to make. I really wanted to play the violin but also really wanted to go and study languages.

A musical path is seldom a straight line, as Rebecca Bell can attest. Cutting her musical teeth with Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Service, Rebecca excelled on violin and spent happy teenage years playing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. At 18 she faced a difficult decision; whether to follow her passion for music or modern languages. Not being “100% sure” that a career as a violinist was for her, she ultimately chose to study French and Spanish at Durham University over taking up a place at music college.

After completing her studies Rebecca was offered a graduate project manager position with a London construction consultancy and has since enjoyed five years in the industry. From leading her university orchestra to juggling freelance performance work around her day job, music has never stopped being a key part of Rebecca’s life and in 2017 she came to the conclusion that being a violinist is her ultimate calling. “I started having lessons again and worked really hard to get to a point where I could get through a postgraduate audition.” The hard work paid off as Rebecca has just begun a master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music.

Sean Shibe

The beauty that comes out of creativity is also rooted in the daily discipline, the daily slog of just going into a room and practising for six hours.

Sean Shibe

The beauty that comes out of creativity is also rooted in the daily discipline, the daily slog of just going into a room and practising for six hours.

Sean Shibe knows all about the hard work, sweat and tears behind a successful solo music career. He first picked up a guitar at a young age after seeing his younger sister learning the piano and has been putting in hours ever since. Admitting that the “daily practice” can sometimes be “challenging” he’s also a true believer that the beauty coming from something creative “is also rooted in the daily discipline.” On the difficult transition from music college to a professional career he reflects that “you’ve got to think imaginatively, innovatively and ambitiously and remember you’re in it for the long haul.”

A believer that art shouldn’t only comfort the disturbed but should also disturb the comfortable, Sean has set out to break the mould, challenging expectations of what repertoire a classical guitarist should play. With the backing of Delphian Records he’s recently released his second album doing just this. Sticking it out and sticking to his guns has borne real fruits for Sean but he acknowledges that the life of a performer is not for everyone. “I don’t think it’s one for people who want that stability in their life because it’s not going to offer it.”

Aletheia Woodhouse

To have somebody who doesn’t know me at all, judging my talent and deeming me worthy of support, was amazing.

Aletheia Woodhouse

To have somebody who doesn’t know me at all, judging my talent and deeming me worthy of support, was amazing.

Sometimes it takes affirmation from someone in the know to get us to where we need to be. Now happily studying music at Royal Holloway and experiencing everything from performing in contemporary music groups to writing a dissertation on music therapy, Aletheia Woodhouse was once a secondary school student in a family struggling to pay the bills. A teacher, Mrs Allnutt (we always remember these teacher’s names!) made a crucial intervention. Realising the family’s financial challenges she told them about AYM.

Aletheia credits the charity – as objective assessors of her musical potential – with giving her a huge boost in confidence in her own abilities at a vital moment. “It wasn’t like my mum saying ‘oh you’re the best in the world!’ it was someone else saying ‘I think you have potential and I’d like to give you money so you can continue your musical career.’”

Shane Underwood

As a RAF musician the uniform gives you a real sense of pride, that you’re doing something not just for yourself but for everybody in the country.

Shane Underwood

As a RAF musician the uniform gives you a real sense of pride, that you’re doing something not just for yourself but for everybody in the country.

Music can open doors to unexpected places. Bassoonist and RAF serviceman Shane Underwood’s musical journey began traditionally enough playing clarinet at school. But a chance encounter with Youth Music’s Endangered Species scheme brought him into contact with the instrument that would shape his future: the bassoon. Knowing he wanted to make a career out of music – “I’d do it regardless of whether I was getting paid” – Shane studied at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music and later at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

It was after completing his studies that Shane decided to join the RAF, where he got a place to train with the Band of the Royal Air Force College. Service, performance and pride, both musical and military, are all tied up together in a career that so far is proving extremely rewarding. “Although you’re a musician, you’re also serving the country. To wake up in the morning and put on your uniform: it gives you a real sense of importance that you’re doing something not just for yourself, but for everyone.”

Zara Hudson-Kozdoj

It’s possible to become a classical musician and for that to be your career, even if you have the most humble beginnings. So don’t be phased: be bold!

Zara Hudson-Kozdoj

It’s possible to become a classical musician and for that to be your career, even if you have the most humble beginnings. So don’t be phased: be bold!

Cellist Zara Hudson-Kozdoj is an example of how music engenders social mobility when it’s combined with talent, hard work and the support of a loving family. Living in a council flat in Holloway, North London, the sacrifices her mother made are the reason Zara says she has a musical career at all. Saving every way she could to afford music lessons, her mum pushed Zara to work hard at her music in order to audition for Junior Guildhall. From there she won scholarships to the City of London School for Girls and then to Chetham’s School of Music.

She’s now studying for a master’s at the Royal College of Music. Zara is also a member of Chineke!, the professional orchestra of British BME musicians which has seen phenomenal success over the last few years, opening the refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall and playing at the Proms. “There is help when you need it,” Zara says. “You do have to look for it, you do have to work really hard, you can’t be afraid of asking people and you have to be bold and believe in yourself... but I’m living proof that it’s possible.”

Meredith Kiemer

Everybody knows me as the girl who plays the harp. I don’t know what I’d do without this amazing instrument!

Meredith Kiemer

Everybody knows me as the girl who plays the harp. I don’t know what I’d do without this amazing instrument!

Meredith Kiemer was only four when she first picked up (or rather, climbed up, as she was rather small) her mum’s Clarsach (Scottish harp). She has played it so much over the intervening years that it has become an inextricable part of who she is. “It’s such a big part of my identity” she says, “I can’t really go a day without playing it.”

Meredith studies both Gaelic Scottish and classical music and credits a special relationship with her teacher for helping her develop a broad-minded approach to music. “She really understands how I feel about both the music and the instrument” Meredith says. “She’s a composer and she’s creating some fantastic music that I couldn’t even think of.” Being pushed beyond obvious musical choices is a big deal for Meredith: “if you expand your repertoire then you understand your instrument more, because there’s not just one way of playing any instrument.”

Meredith earned a place at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh age 10. Now 12, she has won several age classes at the Royal National Mòd, Scotland’s prestigious Gaelic music competition. She has high hopes of becoming a soloist and travelling the world.

Duncan Ward

How lucky I was – somebody always appeared to inspire me to the next level. This led to Simon Rattle learning about what I was up to and creating a post for me at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Duncan Ward

How lucky I was – somebody always appeared to inspire me to the next level. This led to Simon Rattle learning about what I was up to and creating a post for me at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Duncan Ward understands better than most the art of saying yes when the right opportunities arise. Starting out on an electronic keyboard at home, it was composing that really sent sparks flying for young Duncan. With encouragement from a teacher to “just go for it” Duncan composed, directed and conducted his first musical at age 13. “I went round auditioning my teachers” he recalls, “I even had to fire one of them!” However it was his time at university in Manchester when he really cut his teeth conducting the symphony orchestra. Seeing his potential, his conducting teacher prompted Duncan to apply to prestigious conducting masterclasses. “I had this incredible summer where I got to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra, go to Lucerne and study with Pierre Boulez and audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.” Things snowballed and Duncan caught the attention of Sir Simon Rattle who created a position for him at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Duncan now works internationally conducting and composing but still finds time to support AYM in his role as Patron. In December 2018 he will conduct a special orchestra comprising AYM Awardees and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the AYM annual Awards Day.

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