Continuing the series profiling new Music Performance Scholars and Music Award Holders at the University of Kent. This week, second-year violinist reading Biomedical Science, Jennifer Pang.
When I was seven, my primary school offered all students a choice of 3 instruments; violin, flute, or guitar. I chose the violin by chance, not wanting to choose the guitar like everyone else. Coming from a non-musical family, it was a big surprise to my mum when I kept playing year after year and it became a huge part of my life.
At 7 years old, I took time out of my lunch to have 20 minute group lessons until the end of the year when everyone else had quit and I was getting ready to take my grade 1. The following year there was no one else at the same level in the school, and therefore they did not plan further violin lessons except for beginners. My mum contacted the school to emphasise that it was not a very positive message to a child who had shown commitment and was enjoying music so much. The school compromised, giving me regular 10-15 minute lessons until I left the school 3 years later, having achieved grade 3.
Moving up into secondary school I finally got private lessons, Mrs Rose taught me from 8 years old through to grade 8 at 17 years old. During this time, she had introduced me to the High Wycombe Music Centre (HWMC), where I created music with other young musicians for 10 years. At HWMC I took part in many ensembles, working my way up from the junior string groups to leading the Senior string group and Symphony Orchestra. Here, I found my love for music and ensemble playing; I got involved with as much music as I could, from touring Budapest and Reykjavik with the Buckinghamshire County Orchestra, playing with the English Schools Orchestra and performing wedding gigs with the Cedar String Quartet. I cannot express the gratitude I have for all the teachers and staff who have encouraged and shaped me as a musician and as a person.
When applying for universities I knew that I wanted music to continue to be a big part of my life alongside a Biomedical Science degree. I applied to the University of Kent because I saw that the music department creates music to a very high standard, has its own concert hall and music scholarships! Obtaining a Music Award has allowed me to continue developing as a musician and to produce so much incredible and diverse music. At Kent I am enjoying being part of the Symphony Orchestra and String Sinfonia; and also playing in chamber ensembles to gig at the Law Ball, perform in Calais and play Peter and The Wolf for a children’s concert.
My favourite performance so far, has been playing and broadcasting the atmospheric music of Olafur Arnalds for an empty concert hall in a time of social distancing.
Continuing the series profiling this year’s new Music Performance and Award Holder students at the University. This week, final-year soprano reading Drama and Theatre Studies, Sophia Lyons.
My role as a University of Kent Music Award Holder I owe to my parents, who tactfully introduced me to my first singing teacher aged 9. I had been adamant that I would ‘never sing in front of a stranger’, but as soon as my first lesson was over, I knew I would have a lifelong dedication to my voice. Once I had shed initial tears in my Grade 1 Trinity singing exam and achieved a Merit, I made a commitment to get to Grade 8, continue training my voice, and maybe even perform. I very much ‘caught the bug’. Once I had one exam under my belt, 11 year-old me grew the confidence to audition for Annie with a local amateur dramatic society, and was offered the main role. To this day, my Grandmother still talks about how shocked she was when she first heard me sing in the curly wig; “I had no idea you could even sing!”
After Annie, I transitioned into secondary school, and began undertaking a variety of vocal exploits. I started singing Soprano, and then Alto with my local church choir, which encouraged me to join the school chamber choir. I discovered I had a natural ear for picking up harmonies, without having the experience of reading music, which meant I often enjoyed singing the Alto harmony lines. I performed in all the school concerts, often solo’s from musicals such as Les Misérables, The Wizard of Oz, and Oliver, as well as solos in the local church around Christmas times. I also played principle roles in extracurricular shows, such as High Society, Bugsy Malone, and Little Shop of Horrors.
Alongside, I continued my classical training with Trinity, but as I grew into my teens, my tastes in music and my voice primarily began to change. As a result, I began tutoring young students in Acoustic popular performance, and experimented with modern folk music. Throughout sixth form, I was a part of Gareth Malone’s ‘Sing While You Work’ P&O Choir, and for a short while, attached to an entertainments company ‘Blue Lemon’ where I duetted with a male pianist and singer, singing at gigs locally.
I then began working part time as a bespoke wedding singer, crafting setlists made from the Bride and Groom’s favourite songs, (having sung several brides down the aisle, I learnt the real pressure that comes with creating the perfect atmosphere with one’s voice!) When reaching my final year at school, I achieved Distinction at Grade 8, and my teacher noted my voice had range and potential to suit a variety of styles, but for me, classical music stood firmly in the forefront, as it was challenging and therefore most rewarding.
Leaving school, I moved to the University of Warwick to study English and Theatre Studies, and decided to audition for their music bursary. Instead, I was offered the Alto Scholarship, and as a result joined the Warwick Chamber Choir, all-female choir Gaudeamus, and started training with a teacher who toured with the English National Opera. In my first year, I was working with extremely difficult classical music, such as Mozart, Bach, and Purcell, which, whilst initially intimidating, I began to conquer. Singing in three choirs meant my sight reading improved extremely quickly, and by the end of my first year, I found I could read at the same level as those who played instruments. I took part in pieces such as Mozart’s Requiem, Verdi’s Requiem, Belshazzar’s Feast, Durufle’s Requiem, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. I was often selected to sing solo, the most challenging being ‘Pie Jesu’ from Durufle’s Requiem in The Stratford Chapel. I was given the opportunity to travel to Nice with the chamber choir, and was lead Alto in a singing project to connect French and Chinese music together in a “Transcultural Cantata”. I worked steadily with my singing teacher to increase my vocal range to three octaves, and began to branch out into a more mezzo-soprano range. At the end of my first year, I entered the Leamington Festival, and placed 2nd in the under 25’s and 1st in the Novice category. I joined the Musical Theatre society, MTW and the Opera society. I played ensemble and solo roles in Die Fledermaus and student written opera, Jurassic Park, and then took on the principle role as Joanne in the musical Rent, performed at the Warwick Arts Centre in 2018.
I then took a gap year and transitioned into second year at the University of Kent. Whilst on my gap year, I found myself yearning to perform again, and by summer 2019, I revisited the amateur dramatics society whom I had performed with 10 years ago. I was in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, playing the top soprano part Johanna. Taking on this challenge meant my voice grew to a top Soprano range. Sondheim’s music I found bridged the gap between musical theatre and classical styles, reigniting my love for both.
Therefore, upon entering my third year studying Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent, I took the plunge and nervously auditioned for a Music Performance Award. I was desperate to get singing and performing again, and the music department at Kent has given me endless opportunities to do so, a highlight being singing the solo opening verse of Once in royal David’s city to begin the annual University Carol Service back in December in Canterbury Cathedral! I am currently singing with the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, and Cecilian Choir. I am working with an incredible singing teacher, and have plenty of concerts coming up this year, leading up to my graduation in July.
Music at Kent has also influenced my degree. As part of a module, I was involved in a project with children at St Nicholas School, Canterbury, facilitating music and drama workshops for children who were at risk of being excluded from the Arts due to having a range of complex needs. I used my knowledge of vocal exercises to create ambience and sensory environments with the children, leading up to an Applied Theatre performance on the main stage at the Gulbenkian.
This combination of Drama and Music has also transferred into my role as Alice in the production of the ‘Musical Dream Play’ Alice in Wonderland, by the Music Department. Drawing on both of these skills has meant my time at Kent has been thoroughly musically fulfilling, full of challenges, which has helped improve my vocal and musical knowledge in the most exciting way. I have a lot of people to thank for seeing potential in that shy 9 year-old, and will be eternally grateful for every opportunity I have been given, especially at the University of Kent.
You can listen to Sophia talking about her experience of being in Alice in Wonderland in a broadcast on BBC Radio Kent‘s The Dominic King Show online here, starting at 27′ 52”.
Continuing the series profiling University Music Performance Scholars and Music Award Holders at the University of Kent. This week, third-year Biosciences student and violinist, Florence Nightingale Obote reflects on a less than auspicious start to her violin-playing career…
I have been playing the violin for 15 years. I started at the age of seven and have no memory of my first ever violin lesson or the first time I held a violin underneath my chin. My violin teacher, however, remembers it fondly and never ceases to tell me. She’d always say to me, “I remember you when you walked through the door. Your shirt and trousers were way too big for you because you were so tiny, and the moment you held your violin under your chin: you had the biggest smile on your face.”
Even though I do not remember this, I remember my very first violin concert very well. I was playing the French folk song with three other violinists. We practised ample times for the concert, and all seemed fine. But the day of the concert was a whole other issue. So, we walked onto the stage, and bowed at the applause. Then our violin teacher counted us in. As soon as I heard four, I knew I had to start playing, but I didn’t. Instead I was stood there frozen with my bow on the violin while the others were playing the right notes in all the right places. I looked to my parents on the second row who were trying their best to not laugh which started to make me giggle. Then I distinctively remember dropping my bow, and in the process of picking it up I almost whacked one of the other players. After picking up my bow, I tried to find my place, but at that moment, I forgot how to read music, so I just started playing random notes hoping no one would notice. And after the concert, my violin teacher said to my parents at the that I had potential. So, the violin and I did not get off to a great start.
I did improve as the years went passed. Year 7 was when my violin journey started to accelerate. In secondary school, MHCHS, I played in all the possible orchestras I could join. This consisted of chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra, Vivaldi strings, string group, and so on. In year 9, MHCHS did a project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and I was given the opportunity to play the Vivaldi concerto for four violins accompanied by them. A year later, I got the opportunity again to play the Corelli Christmas concerto accompanied by them again. Both were conducted by Benjamin Pope.
Whilst doing all these things in school, I also joined music groups externally. I was part of the Finchley Music strings for a couple of years where I joined Jazz strings as well. I wasn’t very fond of it because I was of being classically trained on the violin, but like my 7-year-old self I decided to persevere with playing Jazz on the violin (it did not last very long). Towards the end of year 9, I played in the Barbican Youth Orchestra where we got to play a several orchestral works, including the famous Romeo and Juliet overture by Tchaikovsky, and works by Glinka and Mozart.
Going back to year 7, I joined a chamber group until year 12. I got to play in trios, quartets, sextets, septets, and octets. We played a plethora of music, with my favourites being: Death and the Maiden by Schubert, Mendelssohn’s Octet, and Dvorak’s American quartet. We also entered music competitions and participated in music festivals. Because of this period in my life, I will always love playing chamber music more than anything else.
During my year-in-industry, I went to Thailand where I joined the Thammasat University Symphony Orchestra (TUSO). I got to meet so many lovely people and had the opportunity to play gigs around Thailand and travel with them to Laos to play at Laos university. The orchestra was quite different to orchestras previously I’ve played in, in the UK. They played more music that appealed to students to get more recognition and they also arranged music from famous TV dramas and K-pop songs. It was very relaxed, and I had a great time playing with them.
I’m coming up to the end of my final year studying Bioscience at the University of Kent, and the music opportunities in the university has been incredible. I’ve played in the Symphony orchestra, String Sinfonia, and have played chamber music with several people. After Kent, I hope my music journey will continue.
I’d like to give a special thanks to my father who is the reason why I started playing the violin.
One of the highlights of Summer Music Week is being able to recognise the outstanding contributions made by several students to music-making over the course of the year at the annual Music Awards ceremony.
Held after the Music Scholars’ Recital on the third day of Summer Music Week, this year the awards were excitingly scattered across the whole of the week-long music festival, as various prize-winners were away through either having the downright audacity to start gainful employment, illness or examinations – suffice to say, it made it much more fun, tracking the recipients down across the days, although it did afford the opportunity to sneak-present some of the prizes on the nominees at moments they hadn’t expected…
The Canterbury Festival Prize, which is awarded to a final-year student who has made an outstanding contribution to music at the University was this year awarded jointly to Music Performance Scholars Cory Adams and Anne Engels. Hispanic Studies student Cory has been principal timpanist with the Symphony Orchestra, one of four players in a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique back in March, and has also been kit and percussion player with the Concert and Big Bands. Anne, studying English and American Literature and Philosophy, has played principal flute in the Symphony Orchestra and Concert Band, a member of the Flute Choir and was the featured soloist in a Harry Potter-themed lunchtime concert earlier this year. Both students received their awards from the Director of the Canterbury Festival, Rosie Turner.
The Colyer-Fergusson Music Prize, awarded to a student who has made a major contribution to organising music at the University, was awarded to India Bottomley, for her exceptional all-round, behind-the-scenes, kitchen-sink skills in administration and organisation as Chorus Manager. Having completed her degree in American Studies, India has already started employment in London, so we were especially delighted to be able to spring her award on her on the final day of Summer Music Week, when she came back to sing with the Cecilian Choir and Chorus.
Patron of the Music Scholarship Scheme, Dame Anne Evans, was present to award the John Craven Music Prize, which goes to a returning student who has made a major contribution to music at Kent. The prize was awarded jointly to Music Performance Scholars Charlotte Webb and Ruth Webster. It’s fitting that they should both be receiving this prize – both are Music Performance Singing Scholars and both in their second year, reading Biomedical Science. Both students have this year sung in the University Chorus, Minerva Voices and Cecilian Choir, featuring prominently as soloists throughout this year in major concerts in music by Handel, Lully and Vivaldi. Charlotte also plays trumpet in the Symphony Orchestra and Ruth is a member of the Musical Theatre Society show choir.
The First-Year Prize went to trombonist and Music Performance Scholar, Jasper Rose, in recognition of someone who has made a significant contribution to music during their first year at the University. Reading Criminal Law on the Medway campus,Jasper has played in the Symphony Orchestra, the Concert Band, and has been the featured trombone-player in the Big Band this year. Jasper was unwell on the day of the ceremony, so again a lighting-strike presentation was unleashed at the rehearsal for the Concert and Big Band gala the following day; Jasper received his prize from the Director of Music, Susan Wanless.
The remarkably cumbersomely-titled (but no less valuable, for all that!) University Music Awards Committee Prize, for a student who has made a special contribution to music, ended up being a three-way split – the Committee has the unenviable task of allotting the prizes, and it’s often difficult to choose between nominees – between second-year woodwind player, Jonathan Butten, second-year cellist Faith Chan and final-year trumpeter and conductor, Joe Prescott. Each student is a Music Performance Scholar, and has in their way made a particularly valuable contribution – Jonathan (reading Biomedical Science) is principal oboist in the Symphony Orchestra, but the award was given to acknowledge his exceptional cor anglais playing in Symphonie fantastique in the Cathedral Concert, and as oboe soloist in concerts with the String Sinfonia in concerti by Vivaldi. A Law-reading cellist with the Symphony Orchestra and String Sinfonia, Faith’s prize recognises her immense skill as the solo continuo player in major performances of Baroque repertoire this year. Joe’s award is in honour of his contribution across so many areas of music – playing trumpet with the Concert and Big Band, his role as student conductor of Minerva Voices, and as Music Director for Musical Theatre Society showcases and productions. He has also sung with Chorus, Cecilian Choir and Chamber Choir, and is the outgoing President of the Music Society this year. He also played the Last Post for the annual Remembrance Day gathering. The prizes were presented by Chair of the Music Award Committe, Dr Dan Lloyd, and Dame Anne Evans.
As host of the ceremony, Dan Lloyd, remarked, the prospect of yet another committee meeting isn’t necessarily one to lighten the spirit, but the annual convergence of the Music Awards Committee is one that is all about celebrating student success, recognising their achievements and the impact of their music-making throughout the year. This year has been a particularly fine one; many congratulations to the winners.
Images: Dr Wei-Feng Xue / Dan Harding
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.