Pathway to a Masters of Performance in London
Kate Waller, 2019 Music
In November 2019, I embarked on a month-long tour of Europe and the UK as part of my BBM Youth Support Global Industry Scholarship. The overarching purpose was to create a pathway towards a Masters of Performance and kick-start the next stage of my development as a musician.
The ambitious trip threw me head-first into the competitive world of the performing arts and gave me an insight into the diverse cultures and origins of Western Art Music. By the end of my time abroad, I had received 13 private lessons, visited 8 different universities, attended 2 masterclasses, and successfully passed an audition. I also attended concerts, visited a reed-making factory and interacted with students who have already made the brave choice to study overseas.
I had hoped to use this experience to refine my performance skills on the oboe, as well as knowledge of reed-making, ensemble playing and expectations for postgraduate study. Looking back now, I am able to say that I met those goals and have a clearer vision for continuing my path as an orchestral musician.
Lessons & University Visits
The trip commenced with a jet lagged lesson in Amsterdam with the principal oboist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Alexei Ogrintchouk. After showing some nervousness, I was told to leave my butterflies at the door as “nerves don’t do anything to help us learn.” It was at this point that I really felt my attitude towards having lessons shift and I was able to keep my performance anxiety at bay (mostly) for the sake of my development as a musician. The rest of the lesson was fast paced and intense – I’m not going to lie, I felt exhausted afterwards! However, it was a real highlight and put me in good stead for the rest of the trip.
A few days later, I visited Christian Wetzel and Rebekka Löw at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne, and then Ralph van Daal at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf. The standard was extremely high and the students were very dedicated to the oboe. Over the course of the next three and a half weeks, I had lessons with Kai Frömbgen in Hanover, Fabian Menzel in Frankfurt, Christian Schmitt in Stuttgart, Emanuel Abbühl in Mannheim and Jean-Louis Capezzali in Lausanne. As I intend to do post-graduate study in Europe, I knew that it was very important to meet as many teachers as possible so that I could learn about their expectations and then meet those requirements in future auditions.
All of the teachers I met are held in high esteem as leading professionals in the field of classical music. I felt challenged to put my best foot forward in every class, paying close attention to their advice and trying to implement it quickly. It was interesting to sit into the different classes and observe such a rich variety of sounds and interpretations. In order to follow the directions of each teacher, I needed to embrace a whole new level of flexibility and reach outside of what I knew or had practiced. I’m sure that this comfort-zone breaking experience will contribute greatly towards helping me find my own voice as a professional musician.
Practice & Audition
My BBM Global Industry Scholarship journey culminated in an audition for the Masters of Performance course at the Royal College of Music, London. With only 15 minutes to rehearse with an accompanist directly before my audition, I felt a lot of pressure to stay coordinated with the pianist throughout the performance. What if they go too fast? What if they don’t give me time to breathe? In that moment, there was nothing I could do except take a deep breath and trust in my preparation.
In the lead up to the audition, I found it very difficult to practice effectively day-to-day. While I always knew this was going to be the case for a travelling musician, I had my eyes opened to how vital it is to maintain a routine for general instrumental fitness. I came to value any small window of focused playing time and even practiced in a cellar once when I wasn’t allowed to play at my accommodation! Thankfully, I was very well prepared and the frequent lessons helped me to produce a nerve-free audition that I was pleased with. Consequently, I successfully passed the audition and was offered a place at the university.
As a self-coined “social introvert”, I found this trip quite socially demanding. It’s one thing to email a stranger on the other side of the world but performing in front of your music idols in a room full of their best students is on a whole new level. From this experience, I had to put my ego aside and muster plenty of courage and focus. It seems that performing in front of others is much more common at European Universities so the experience gave me a good taste of what to expect of the courses on offer.
This trip has also taught me that practice is precious and that I should never take for granted the comfort and convenience of the resources available to me at home in Sydney. I am thankful for the environment that has allowed me to flourish thus far and the support network that bears my burdens with me along the way. That being said, now it is time to embrace opportunities that will push me to the next level of musicianship, even if that means joining the early-morning fight for practice rooms (which seem to be much less available than those in Sydney).
Overall, I am extremely grateful to have received the BBM Global Industry Scholarship. It has enabled me to chase my career aspirations at full speed without having to worry about how I could possibly afford it. I have come home feeling tremendously inspired, motivated and brave, and better equipped with the skills and experiences that will push me ahead in my career.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge a few important people who have encouraged and believed in me relentlessly. My very talented husband (and fellow BBM recipient), Thomas Waller, my parents, Lyndie and David Leviston, and my extraordinary teachers, Conall McClure and James Kortum.