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Scholars’ Spotlight: Leon Schoonderwoerd

Continuing the series profiling University Music Performance Scholars and Performance Award students. This week, second-year Physics post-graduate and clarinettist, Leon Schoonderwoerd.


My name is Leon Schoonderwoerd, born and raised in the Netherlands. I am a second-year PhD student in Theoretical Physics, as well as a recipient of the University of Kent Music Performance Award.

My musical journey started with clarinet lessons at age 7, which I continued all through primary and secondary school. A few years later, I joined a local wind orchestra where I worked my way from third clarinet in the youth band to first clarinet in the main orchestra in a few years time. Meanwhile, I taught myself to play drums and played in a few small bands, unfortunately none of which made it very far.

After a trial lesson at the Amsterdam conservatoire, I decided to not enrol there but instead pursue a science degree. I studied at the University of Amsterdam for six years, obtaining first a BSc in Natural and Social Sciences, then an MSc in Theoretical Physics. During this time, my music-making was mostly on hold, with the exception of a band I started with a few friends during the master’s. We played a few gigs, but when our frontman moved to Germany to pursue a PhD, we decided to quit while ahead.

After finishing my Masters, I lived and worked in Amsterdam for another year, during which I joined a student orchestra. My background in classical music combined with my experience on the drums allowed my to fill their vacancy for a percussionist. When after one programme the opportunity arose to switch over to bass clarinet, I took it. This was a truly great year for me, playing pieces such as Ravel’s Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Janáček’s Sinfonietta. The year ended with a bang when we joined forces with a student orchestra to give a series of concerts in the Netherlands (ending in a sold-out Concertgebouw in Amsterdam) as well as a three-concert tour abroad in Freising, Germany and Bologna, Italy.

By this time, I had accepted a PhD position with Gunnar Möller at the University of Kent, so in the summer of 2017 I moved from Amsterdam to Canterbury in pursuit of science. Here, I joined the lively music programme, which awed me with its beautiful concert hall and proceeded to take over most of my free time. During my first year at Kent, I played bass clarinet and percussion in the University Symphony Orchestra and Concert Band, sang bass in the Chorus, joined the pit band for two musical theatre shows and started a woodwind quartet.

This year, I vowed to take any musical opportunity I possibly could, as a result of which I am playing clarinet in the Symphony Orchestra and Concert Band as well as in an array of chamber ensembles, bass clarinet in the Pops Orchestra, and the odd percussion part for different performances (I hear there are still some tickets for Dido and Aeneas…) [deftly plugged there, Leon: well done…ED]. Additionally, the Music Performance Award has allowed me to take lessons with the incredible Ian Swatman, also director of the University Concert and Big Bands and legendary Hull City supporter…)

Music at Kent thus provides me with ample opportunity to take my mind off physics. Many thanks to the Music Department and Music Society for making all this possible!


The Music Performance Award is open to returning students at Kent, and offers a year’s worth of instrumental / singing lessons in support of a holder’s contribution to the musical life of the University: read more here.

Added value: University Music Performance Scholarships

Musicians are versatile people. They are used to the discipline of rehearsing and practising, to the expectations of conductors and collaborators that they will arrive for an event prepared and able to deliver. They are organised (hopefully, anyway), accustomed to setting aside time to practice and juggling rehearsals and performances alongside other demands of life – shopping, studying, going to school, taking exams, doing the laundry, filling out forms (oh the heady glamour…). They are used to working under pressure, performing in the white-heat of the public eye (and ear) in concerts. And they are usually skilled at working with others, at establishing working relationships quickly and confidently.

Here at Kent, the University recognises that all these qualities are immensely valuable in its students, and that potential students looking for a suitable university at which to pursue their degree may often be trained musicians, who have combined their school life with musical commitments for many years, and who want to continue with their musical interests alongside their course of study. If you’ve spent many years learning an instrument or taking singing lessons, putting in endless hours of practice and performance, then music forms a large, rewarding, part of your life that you don’t necessarily want wholly to rescind when you go to university, and it can be a challenge adjusting to the gaping chasm left in your life that was previously occupied by music; listening to it, practising it, performing it.

So we offer Music Performance Scholarships to those who are keen to continue with their musical pursuits whilst studying at Kent. Our Music Scholars (usually numbering between ten and fifteen each year) come from across the university community, studying all manner of subjects from Law to Biosciences, Wildlife Conservation to Politics and International Relations, History to Drama. There are Scholars from across the country; from far-flung corners of the world (Malaysia, South Africa, India, Canada to name a few); and from across the county of Kent itself. All of them, however, united in their enthusiasm for, and commitment to continue making, music for the three years during which they take up residency in Canterbury. Whether attending lectures in Woolf College, drama rehearsals in Jarman, mock sessions in the Moot building as part of Kent Law School, or maths seminars in the Sibson Building, they will all, at various points during the week, make their way in to the Colyer-Fergusson Building to rehearse in the concert-hall or practice in the practice-rooms. And throughout the year, they will perform not only in Colyer-Fergusson Hall, but in Canterbury Cathedral, Deal Memorial Bandstand, and churches and venues around the county, making lifelong friends with others along the way.
Percussionist and former Music Scholar, Cory Adams, talks about his experience, playing with the Concert and Big Bands, Orchestra, General Harding’s Tomfoolery and other ensembles:

And here’s brief excerpts from the Music Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital given as part of Summer Music Week in June this year:

Blond ambition: clarinettist Rianna Carr

The university recognises and values the skills and abilities that musicians can bring to its community when they come to Kent to study; the phrase ‘Good musicians make good students’ is often quoted, with Scholars often going on to graduate with first-class degrees. If that includes you, then take a look at our Scholarships page online here, and see how you could become involved in a rich musical life alongside whatever course you may be looking to study.

Band substance: the Concert and Big Bands

Depending upon what time you pass by Colyer-Fergusson on a Wednesday night, you’ll either hear stirring film scores such as Gladiator, swing classics by Count Basie or versions of Stevie Wonder tunes ringing out. It can only mean one thing: rehearsal night for the University Concert Band and Big Band (though thankfully not at the same time…)

On the conductor’s podium is the sprightly figure of Ian Swatman – Bob Marley devotee and possibly the most dedicated fan Hull City will ever have – vigorously taking charge of Wednesday rehearsals and leading the assembled forces through repertoire in preparation for their various termly concerts. In December, the Big Band can be found in Santa hats and jazz-infused versions of seasonal repertoire for the popular Christmas Swing-along, whilst both forces combine each March for their roof-raising Spring concert, and for a farewell concert each June.

Both national and international students, staff and members of the local community find themselves grappling with the complexity of the repertoire Ian hurls at them each year, as they sweat blood to get the music under the fingers. Each year, too, auditions are held for solo singers, for the opportunity to sing with the Big Band.

Phil Veacock (centre) and the Deptford Rivieras in the concert-hall

A particularly exciting aspect to the working life of the Big Band is the opportunity to work with guest musicians; in the past, this has included trombonist Mark Bassey, trumpeter Mike Lovatt from the John Wilson Orchestra, and saxophonist Phil Veacock from the Jools Holland Orchestra. It’s a great opportunity for the young stars of tomorrow to work with, and learn from, accomplished professional performers.

Mike Lovatt with members of the Big Band

The Concert Band has worked with composer James Rae too, when James was commissioned by the Music department to write a piece for the gala concert to open the Colyer-Fergusson Building in December 2012. As part of an action-packed weekend, the Concert Band gave the world premiere of James’ Platform One.

Composer James Rae (right) with Ian Swatman and the Concert Band

The groups don’t just perform in the adaptable acoustics of Colyer-Fergusson Hall. The Big Band also launches the annual Summer Music Week, a musical farewell to the University’s academic year, with a trip to the seaside to perform on the Memorial Bandstand at Deal, which involves combining rehearsals and coach-trips with a visit to the promenade chip shop and the roving ice-cream stand. (It’s a hard life…). The band has also headed down the road to perform alongside pupils at St Edmund’s School, and also in Whitefriars in the heart of the city.

Whether it’s epic film soundtracks, 70s funk, classic big band standards or soul ballads: Wednesday evenings certainly sound unlike any other on campus…