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West Sussex Music pupil wins special award

TUE 15 JUL 2014

Before Jonathan Duncumb left for University, he was a leading player in the West Sussex County Youth Orchestra.  Now he celebrates the national recognition he has gained for receiving one of the highest marks in the UK in his Grade 8 viola exam.  Along with a special certificate of commendation, Jonathan has received a prize of £150 from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and the admiration of his former West Sussex Music viola teacher Sarah Bridgland. 

Jonathan talks to us about what music and this special achievement means to him.

Where are you from, what are you doing now and what are your ambitions for the future?

I grew up in Worthing, attending the Vale First and Middle school where I met my violin teacher Sarah Bridgland, progressing to St. Andrews secondary school and then Worthing Sixth Form College. I am currently studying mathematics and Music at Royal Holloway University of London, and hope to combine these contrasting subjects in a future career, possibly as a composer.

What impact has learning music had on your life as you went through school and beyond?

From my first lesson, learning music has always been a central foundation of my academic and social life, and has greatly influenced my studies as well as my life choices. I have no doubt it will continue to play a role far into the future.

Could you describe the experiences you had in West Sussex Music Centres and in your lessons?

I remember taking a keen interest in my lessons from an early age, as I was eager to take in as much new music as possible. Soon after I started, I was introduced to the wealth of musical experiences available at music centre, and joined my first orchestra, as well as starting theory and aural classes to improve my understanding of music notation and train my ear. After progressing through the local orchestras I joined the higher level County groups, and have never looked back since. 

 Did you enjoy life-changing opportunities like special concerts and tours, and why were they so memorable?

I participated in the National Festival with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra and County Youth Orchestra, reaching the final on more than one occasion, winning a chance to play with the London Philharmonic Orchestra last year. I also went on the WSCYO 2011 Prague tour, where I gained an invaluable experience. It was wonderful seeing the orchestra enjoy each other’s company socially in a beautiful city, as well as enjoying the rich musical culture that Prague had to offer. It was truly memorable.  

Are there teachers or other musicians that had a particular impact on you, who were they and what was the impact?

All of my instrumental teachers have helped motivate my musical ambitions, in particular Sarah Bridgland and Pearl Akerman for violin/viola and piano respectively. I cannot imagine how my musical abilities would have flourished without their skill and guidance. I have always looked up to my conductors over the years, especially David Bennet and Adam Barker, who have enriched my orchestral experience as a violinist, and viola leader of the WSCYO for my last few years. They offered me their help, refined my playing techniques in the chamber ensemble and have watched over my musical development for more years than I can remember! I am also particularly interested in film music, and composers such as John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams have inspired me with their vast film scores.

 Why is it important for young people to learn music?

I think music is central to most young people’s lives, be it playing instruments or appreciating popular music culture. Music is everywhere we go, and the skills and motivation associated with the ability to play an instrument are greatly valued by employers. Without music, I have no idea what my childhood would have been like, and preserving musical traditions such as orchestras and other ensembles are fundamental for future young musicians to enjoy.

What benefit has music brought to your life?

The gift of music has enhanced my appreciation of the world we live in. Music can be a powerful tool, and can communicate feelings and emotions where words fall short. I enjoy the ability to improvise at a piano, as I find improvisation calming in times of stress, which helped me through my A levels.

How do you feel about your fantastic achievement?

I feel truly honoured to receive such a prestigious award, having only hit the 140’s twice before. It came as a pleasant surprise, and I have only Sarah to thank for helping me achieve such a high mark in my viola Grade 8.

 How did this fantastic achievement come about, what did you or others have to do in order to make this happen?

It came completely out of the blue, and I was only aware I had a chance of getting it because Sarah mentioned the possibility. I came out of the exam feeling like it was the best I’d ever played, and I guess this confirms it! My last memory was of the examiner getting up and walking around the church as I played my pieces. As this had never happened to me before I just kind of went with it I suppose! I had put considerable effort into the exam preparation, (not without my parents encouragement) but I was not expecting such a high mark.

How did you feel when you received the letter from the ABRSM?

In all honesty... confusion! Like I mentioned earlier I was not expecting it and when I opened the letter I took a double take. It’s not every day that an exam board complements your performance for being one of the highest marks in the country, so I had trouble believing it! Now I have a beautiful certificate on my wall to be proud of. It’s so pretty!

 What do you feel about the work that West Sussex Music does?

I feel that the West Sussex Music service provides an invaluable role in the community for young musicians, nurturing musical talent from the very start to when they want to further their education at university, or join the world of work. It also helps having such a tight community, with opportunities at Music centre and county to further your aspirations as a player, and grow as a musician. My years at music centre have been some of the best years of my life, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

 What is your advice to aspiring young musicians?

Practice hard, make friends, but more importantly make the most of what your community has to offer you. Your school years are the most important in your development as an aspiring musician, and there are a wealth of opportunities out there, waiting to be snapped up. There are plenty of teachers and staff to help you achieve your musical goals and prepare you for the world of work. But most importantly, enjoy yourself and enjoy making music together!