Musical futures secured and famous jazz teacher's return!

Following a rigorous auditioning process, six students were offered places to study at the country's best music conservatoires. Auditions for each discipline vary with auditions to study jazz consisting of performing with a 'house' band made up of existing conservatoire students, improvising and transcribing solos from listening only a couple of times. While the interview process to study composition involves showing a portfolio of work, a viva discussing compositional style and influences, transcription and a theory paper.

Trombonist Joel Knee, previously at The Petersfield School, has excelled himself by being offered places at four of the major conservatoires. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama have offered him a scholarship to study jazz, and he has also received offers from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, the Royal Academy of Music and the Birmingham Conservatoire to major in jazz.

Ellen Drewe, previously at Amery Hill School, is currently studying A level Music and the BTEC level 3 Subsidiary Diploma in Music (Jazz). She has lessons on tenor saxophone and voice but her particular strength lies in composition. Ellen has been offered places at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study Composition. Trinity only offer seven people a place to study composition each year, and Ellen was offered a place on the spot. She said 'I wasn't too nervous in my interview as my teachers, Pande Shahov and Phil Singleton had spent so much time working with us on our applications, working on our interview/audition technique and grounding us all so we knew what to expect. As a result we have all succeeded in being given fantastic offers.'

Joe Bristow, previously at The Mountbatten School in Romsey came to Alton College purely for the music courses having heard of the excellent reputation of the department. He too plays trombone and has been offered places at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Birmingham Conservatoire and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance to study jazz. He said 'I am thrilled with the offers I have received, and couldn't have done it without the help of all the music staff at Alton College. As well as excellent individual instrumental teaching, everything we learn is put into context to help us have a wide musical knowledge and understanding. I am pleased I chose to study here.'

Cam Barnett, previously at Weydon School, plays double bass and has been offered a scholarship at Birmingham Conservatoire and places at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance also to study jazz. Cam said 'Everyone at Alton College has been really supportive in the application and audition process. The addition of Andy Light [new Curriculum Manager for Music] to the music department was exactly what was needed - a College alumni who has great insight into education and the next steps we are taking.'

Kieran Murphy, previously at The Petersfield School has been offered a reserve place at the Royal Northern College of Music having auditioned on drums. Places are extremely highly in demand with thirty people auditioning for just six places with three reserve places.

Another drummer, Jack Cousins, previously at Weydon School has been offered places at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Royal Welsh College of Musis and Drama, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and also at Leeds College of Music to study jazz.

All the students will need to decide where they would prefer to study by the end of January and accept their places. Guildhall School of Music and Drama have been so impressed with the number of Alton College students auditioning and have requested that a link between the two institutions be set up which will benefit future students studying music at the College.

In addition to the notable success of students gaining places at world renowned Conservatoires, the music department has further fantastic news. This term, Alton College alumna and world-renowned jazz trumpeter Laura Jurd, previously at Amery Hill School returns to College as teacher of Jazz. She brings with her extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for jazz, performance and composition which will fit alongside existing talented teaching staff; Pande Shahov, a composer and teacher at the College who also works as a Professor of Academic Studies at the Royal College of Music, Head of Aural and Musicianship at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and composition teacher for Hampshire Music Service and new Curriculum Manager for Music Andy Light who studied at Alton College himself before going on to study percussion at the London College of Music. Andy’s previous roles include Head of Music at Downs School in Berkshire and Assistant Head of Performing Arts at The Vyne School in Basingstoke. In addition, Rebekah Abbott has joined the Performing Arts department and is also teaching singing. She has an MA in Music from Cambridge University and brings with her a wealth of experience as a professional soprano and teaching singing. 

We caught up with Laura on her first day back at College teaching the Specialist Music Performance (Jazz) course.

Alton College and (the late and former Curriculum Manager for Music) Martin Read were a big influence for you; how important is it for you to return to Alton College to teach, encourage and influence the students in their formative years?

It is massively important for me - Alton College was the first place that I felt connected with like-minded people. I was introduced to all kinds of music across all genres and was lucky enough to have one-to-one lessons with Martin Read who was really inspiring and made me curious to find out more about everything music related! After studying at Alton College and thanks to the incredible support from the music department I went on to study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance. It is fantastic to be given the opportunity to come back and spread my infectious enthusiasm! 

You have a wide and varied career already performing, recording, composing, teaching. Are you surprised at how fast everything has happened this early in your career?

I didn't really know what to expect but I didn't expect anything without hard work. I had wanted to be a musician from a very young age so knew which direction life was going to go. I don't take anything for granted and make the most of all opportunities that are open to me and take things as they come. I love music so much that it doesn't always feel like work anyway!

You are lucky to be talented in both performance and composition across a wide variety of genres. A lot of musicians get pigeon-holed early on; how have you avoided that and what advice would you give to the students to prevent them from specialising too early on?

People usually refer to me as 'jazz trumpeter', but I have never worried about what other people think or say. I know that I am predominantly know for my performing and am grateful that I can use that attention to showcase my compositional skills too. I would advise students to grab every opportunity they are offered, to ask questions, and not to be self-conscious as that is the only way to learn properly.

You seem to appreciate and enjoy most musical genres, but is there a particular style you prefer and do you prefer performing or composing?

As I was so curious about all music when I was growing up and taught by inspirational teachers who taught me not to be narrow-minded, I love most music and can't pinpoint one particular style or influence that I prefer. If pushed, I would say my greatest influences might be Stravinsky, Steve Reich, Django Bates, The Beatles, Benjamin Britten and Ligeti but there is so much repertoire it is difficult to pick. I am lucky enough to be able to combine performing and composing as my band, Dinosaur, perform a lot of my original compositions.

Being a musician can be quite intense at times. What do you do to relax? What advice would you give to aspiring musicians and students studying at Alton College?

Music is all encompassing and is everything in my life, so when I am not performing I love to listen to music, go to gigs, discover new artists but I also enjoy cooking and the outdoors, calming activities. I would advise students to do what they enjoy and if that is music, so be it, but remember to take some time out for themselves too. Spending down-time with friends and family is really important.

Apart from landing an amazing teaching job back at Alton College, what new projects are you working on in 2016?

My band, Dinosaur which consists of fellow Trinity ex-students are recording a new album in March for autumn release so rehearsals, travelling and gigs with them will take up most of my time. Also teaching and doing educational music workshops in schools in London. I am also part of the BBC New Generation Artists programme, so there’s plenty to keep me busy!

Laura Jurd will be leading the Alton College Jazz Band and teaching the BTEC level 3 Music Performance (Jazz) course.