Wednesday, 2 August 2017

8. The Student Perspective - Fourth Year

Joe Sharples is currently a student at the RNCM studying a BMus(hons) in trombone performance. Here you can read his thoughts on jazz, composing + heading into his last year of undergraduate degree.

1. How does it feel to be heading into your last year of undergrad degree?

It feels somewhat bittersweet to be heading now into my final year at university. Whilst it is an ending of sorts, I am honestly quite nervous about life post-university and the choices I will have to make, I am also very excited about the year to come. 

As a transitional period between student life and the wider world, this year I will have the opportunity to specialise musically, and work more independently on the content that interests me. I am very excited to have the chance to work on my first transcription book (which I plan to release by Christmas) and form a new ensemble of my own, whilst I still have access to the excellent resources and support that is available at the RNCM. I’m also looking forward to building upon the relationships and skills I have built over the past three years, making new ones, and laying the professional foundations outside of university for a portfolio career once I have finished my course. 

2. What has been the most valuable thing you have learnt during your time at the RNCM?

This is about to become super-cliched, but a wise chap named Socrates once said ‘know thyself’. Your time at university will span the formative years of the rest of your life, and you’re thrown into a series of environments and situations that are completely unfamiliar and frequently unexpected. Without the security nets that you may have had previously in school and in your familial home, you’ll find yourself completely responsible for your life and your studies for the first time, and as such your first few years will be a period of great experimentation and development. 

So the most important lesson I have learned in my time at the RNCM is who I am, both as a person and a musician - my likes and dislikes, my potential and my limits, my dreams and my fears, my disposition and character. When and when not to push myself, the ways in which I produce the best work, how to fail and then turn that mistake into a success. 

Although I could continue I feel these are the lessons that have facilitated my development the most, and that will enable me to continue to do so into the future. 

3. What have been some of the best parts of studying in Manchester? 

I’m very lucky to be able to call Manchester my hometown, and that I’ve been able to study here too. It is a diverse city that’s as culturally and historically relevant as any other contender on the world stage. It offers a great standard of living for young people such as myself, and whilst it is a relatively small metropolis it is full of opportunity and boasts a friendly and tight-knit environment. 

Manchester is also a really musical city. As a home to numerous major venues, and a place that has produced world class musicians too many to name, the level of musicianship that this city attracts is high. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to access such a fantastic music scene, and profit from the endless educational opportunities it has to offer. Manchester is also very well connected. With a three-terminal airport and direct train connections to most major UK cities, it is very easy place for artists to access.

4. How has your music taste developed and changed since beginning your studies? 

I think the main difference between my taste from being a fresher and my taste in music now is due to the diversity of the music I have listened to, and the ways in which I have listened to it. Before university I was exclusively into western classical orchestral music. But as time went by I started to become more open to exploring different styles of music. 

Firstly via afro-american styles such as the blues, jazz, funk, rock and popular music, and then world styles such as Cuban salsa music, Indian classical music, and so on. I have also become much less concerned with the labels we can apply to music, and much more interested in how you can benefit from an eclectic approach that can influence you to break down genre boundaries and develop your own unique musical voice. 

An excellent example of this is Snarky Puppy. The Brooklyn based band bridges the gap between numerous disparate musical traditions, creating a style all of their own. You can hear them at the link below, where they combine seamlessly the Brazilian pife of Carlos Malta and the Malian vocals of Salif Ke├»ta with their own uniquely American style.  

5. Do you think you are going to miss being a music undergrad student?

Yes and no… Whilst I have really enjoyed my years as an undergraduate student, I feel that I have now gained the skills and tools that I need to continue my musical education indefinitely, beyond my years at the RNCM. 

I’ll definitely miss the resources and support that is available to me as a student, not to mention the easy (free) access to rehearsal venues. However it feels like the right time to be moving on and seeing what comes next. 

6. Of all the music you have played, is there one specific moment you have where you felt that a music degree was for you? What made you decide to head down this path?

I decided very early on that music was the path that I wanted to follow.   I distinctly remember a performance by Jiggs Whigham and Steel City Bones that I went to see when I was about thirteen, and I was so blown away that ever since that day my fate has been sealed. The smile on my face after that concert took days and days to die down!

7. What are some of your favourite memories from the past 3 years?

One memory that stands out to me above all others was my trip to Seattle to take part in the Jazz Port Townsend summer camp in 2015, just after my first year. Supported by the RNCM’s international professor of jazz trombone, Jiggs Whigham, I had the opportunity to learn from and perform with some of the best professional and student musicians the world over, in a beautiful location on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. 

Another fond memory was winning the International Trombone Association’s Emory Remington Trombone Choir competition with an octet I was in at university, and the subsequent trip to New York City to perform as part of the International Trombone Festival at the Juilliard School. 

A performance that I took a lot from would also have to be a salsa night with the RNCM Big Band directed by Andy Scott and Dave Hassell - it was an excellent opportunity to work with these fantastic musicians, and wow the audience with some of my ‘dad dance’ moves. 

8. If you could play anywhere in the world and with a band of your choosing, where and who would you perform with? And why?

If I could handpick the musicians I would most like to play in a band with, it’d look like this: Benny Green (piano), John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums) in the rhythm section, with a front line trombone duet of myself and Steve Davis. 

These are some of the best musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to hear live, and to get them all in one room at the same time (let alone play with them) would be a real treat. Location wise it has to be downtown New York City! Where better to perform than in the jazz capital of the world? 

9. What would be your best advice for those Fresher's beginning at a conservatoire next year?

My advice would be to listen just as much as you speak. Oftentimes I find that I can learn much more by listening to what others have to say (or what they play) than I can by speaking myself. Whilst it is important during your time at university to develop the ability to articulate your ideas with clarity, you’re much more likely to learn something new from what others have to say than you are from the sound of your own voice. 

Furthermore you’ll find that what you do say is much better thought through than it would otherwise have been. In a conservatoire environment especially it is the case that you’ll have to listen to your peers play a lot, and it can be very easy to switch off and think about what you’ll make for dinner after class, or obsess over how much better this person sounds than you do. Instead make productive use of this time - search inwards, and ask yourself constructive questions about what it is you’re listening to… what do I like about this player that I can strive for in my own playing, if I was the tutor in this situation how could I best advise the student, what are the similarities between the way student X is playing the piece and the way student Y just played it, and so on…? 

One final note - to listen means to be open to new ideas, and as to strive to listen in an eclectic and diverse manner. Don’t listen exclusively to one point of view or style of music, but learn from everyone and everything, and you’ll be surprised at what you can learn. 

10. Finally, any further comments you'd like to add?

Whilst four years may seem like a long time, your time at university will fly by before you know it, so make the most of it! 

You have a crazy idea for a new band that you want to try out? Don’t wait for anyone to give you the permission - act on it now. You want to try your hand at something completely new? Your university is likely have a society that caters for it. Don’t limit yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t achieve.

Try, fail, experiment, work hard, succeed, and do it all again. Most of all, have fun!

Thank-you for all of your thoughts and comments Joe. Best of luck with your final year of undergraduate degree! 

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