Jennifer Hou

Category: Music - Piano

Award: 2018

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I landed in London in mid-November with two weeks to prepare for my auditions. Up until that point, I had been preparing for my law school exams for a month, and had barely touched my instrument.

I was nervous, under-prepared, but determined to succeed.

I had done a lot of house-hunting on AirBnB to ensure that my five-week long abode would have a piano, and I was very relieved when I arrived to find that the keyboard had a good, consistent touch. It sat in front of a giant window, and it was beautiful to practise with the sunshine streaming in onto my face and the clouds dancing in skies of blue, but more often, grey.

I jumped into lessons by Day 2

I had the majority of lessons with Professor Ian Jones, the Deputy Head of the Royal College of Music, and thus it was for him I played most of my audition repertoire. He gave me detailed advice on pedalling across a range of repertoire which was stylistically appropriate. Professor Jones also encouraged me to listen better, and to have a zero tolerance policy, so that I could improve my perception and increase my expectations of my own playing.

RCM practise rooms

I also had a couple of lessons with Professor Gordon Fergus-Thompson of RCM. As an expert on French Impressionism and Russian Romantics, I played for him movements from Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, and a Scriabin Etude. He provided helpful tips for phrasing and pedalling. I played for Professor Dmitri Alexeev of RCM next who suggested that I could play with more rhythmic discipline. Professor Norma Fisher of RCM taught me how to improve my tone by creating more sound, particularly by strengthening my core and not tensing parts of my bodies that did not need to tense up. Professor Christopher Elton of the Royal Academy of Music gave me guidance on how to shape phrases based on the bigger picture of a work, and harmonic analysis.

Catch ups in London

In between the twelve hours of lessons and five hours of daily practise both at my AirBnB and the Jacque Samuel piano studios across these two weeks, I also made sure I made time to see the delights that London offered, such as the abundance of museums and art galleries. I particularly loved the historical instruments, jewellery and fashion exhibitions at the museums. I also caught up with music and law friends who had been studying in London, who shared with me their student life experience and also their professional goals.

The heart and purpose of my trip

The third week of my trip, and the start of December saw the heart and purpose of my trip. I had three auditions across three consecutive days, back to back. My first was at RAM. It was the first time I had set foot here, and I was in absolute awe; the architecture and design of the place was phenomenal. Truth be told, it was the first time I had to sit an audition since my Conservatorium High School audition, which was a decade ago. I was extremely

Victoria and Albert Museum historical instruments

nervous as I walked into the big hall, where a panel of three greeted me. They were, however, extremely friendly, and my panic melted away as my fingers touched the keys and I was able to enjoy myself, playing in this beautiful venue. Although I didn’t play at my very best, I was delighted to be offered a second interview with the Postgraduate Research department to discuss my ideas for my research project.

Royal Academy of Music

Once the audition process concluded at RAM, I raced off to catch my train to Manchester for my consultation lesson with Professor Helen Krizos at the Royal Northern College of Music that afternoon. Helen gave me insightful advice and a new interpretative approach to the Prokofiev Sonata No.6 that has been a project of mine for many years. Her invaluable knowledge on a wide range of repertoire confirmed for me that she was a teacher that I could learn a lot from. I had my audition for RNCM the next day, which went very smoothly as I started to overcome the challenge of performing only excerpts of pieces.

Returning back to London, I was delighted to hear from RNCM that I had been accepted. This put me in a great state of mind for my final audition that week at RCM. I played with confidence and excitement, which got me through to the second round audition. I was extremely happy after getting through a whirlwind week of back-to-back auditions. I felt like I developed a lot of expertise in mastering an audition. I was able to deal with my nerves much easier, and could focus more and more on the music each time.

Celebrations with fellow BBM Awardees

I celebrated by attending a string of concerts. I watched the London Philharmonia Orchestra perform Strauss with fellow BBM awardees Alison Wormell and Raphael Masters at the Royal Festive Hall. It was lovely to unite at a place watching other people do what we loved to do, and it was also a great opportunity for us to catch up and share our experiences with each other. I was also in luck to see Mitsuko Uchida perform three Schubert Sonatas, one of the most renowned pianists in the world whose Schubert interpretations are highly regarded. Her performance was so emotionally charged and it has inspired me to tackle some Schubert repertoire this year. I also watched Bertrand Chamayou perform a program of Ravel and Saint-Seans at Wigmore Hall. He was a pianist I had studied for my honours research project, so it was a dream turned into reality to watch him perform. I also took the opportunity to watch the Jerusalem Quartet perform at Elizabeth Hall, and they performed a very energetic rendition of Debussy’s quartet.

With Alison Wormell and Raphael Masters

My final audition was at the Guildhall School of Music. This was where I got to perform for the longest period of time, uninterrupted. It almost felt like a recital, and as I had already completed three auditions, I felt I played at my best, knowing it would be my last.

Reflections

When I arrived back in Australia, I really needed respite from an exhausting, but absolutely rewarding and exhilarating experience. This gave me the chance to reflect on the audition process, on how I had developed and matured as a musician, and how I felt much more confident about performing. I am extremely grateful that I was accepted into all four schools that I auditioned for, with scholarship offers from three of these schools.

As the due date of offers started to near, however, somehow the decision making process was more difficult than the auditions! It is extremely nerve-wracking making a decision that could change the course of your life. I am happy to announce, however, that I have accepted offers from Guildhall and RNCM and hope to study there for a year, before I audition for a research based Masters in the United States.

I am so thankful to BBM for giving me the opportunity to have this life-changing experience. Without their financial and emotional support, I could not even have dreamed about having so many lessons, or auditioning for so many schools. All the opportunities that have come my way are because of BBM’s generosity.

With my heartfelt gratitude and thanks,

Jennifer Hou

 

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank my piano teacher, Dr. Bernadette Harvey, for always encouraging, and preparing me to reach my maximum potential so that I can realise my musical dreams. I am also extremely grateful to the six professors in the UK (Professors Ian Jones, Gordon Fergus-Thompson, Dmitri Alexeev, Norma Fisher, Helen Krizos and Christopher Elton) who all kindly offered to give me consultation lessons and who provided me with invaluable knowledge and insight. I would also like to thank my friends and family for their constant support. Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to BBM for giving me the opportunity to go to the UK and live in the centre of classical music for five weeks, to have these consultation lessons, and to attend concerts. It has shaped me into a more mature and confident musician, and for this I truly owe all my thanks.

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