You may know, if I have somewhere revealed it, that I go to a specialist music school in the UK. I wouldn't say which one it is though as you'd all be able to contact me and find me and stuff given that I haven't been so secretive about my real name!! Lol. Well, I got in to this place last academic year, and finished my first full year there on July 8th.
I was first encouraged to audition there by my piano teacher, who came into school for me, and only me, given that I surpassed the level of the piano teacher who taught all the other pupils in my school. I had never really considered applying for a music school, I had guessed that if I did go there I might not like it or everyone would be so 'upper class', but yet I still applied. Having been told at my first audition that I would be put forward to a 'main audition', I was delighted as I wasn't even meant to be told. I was really quite nervous for my main audition, and I almost felt unworthy of being in the place - a normal, everyday high school student who 'just' plays piano, auditioning for a place in a specialist music school in front of experts in their field? It almost seemed pointless. I felt drained during the part where the Head of Keyboard asked me questions. "So, are you interested in going to university or conservatoire in the future?" I gulp, thinking, 'Am I supposed to be going to conservatoire?' I will admit, I did feel uncomfortable but I did the job, and once it was over, I sort of felt relieved.
On January 17th, a letter came through the post with the logo of this school on it. Well, more of a 'package' than a letter. Me = feeling optimistic When I read the letter saying I had secured a place, I think I was crying non-stop for 10 minutes. I struggled to not be emotional for the next day after that! It shocked me more than anything. It was literally my dream come true. They gave me in the package a lot of different pieces of information, including a Student Handbook of sorts that was really nice to read over the Summer holiday before I started. It was so interesting to have a sneak peek at what life might be like in an independent boarding school just from this handbook.
Still, when I arrived there on my first day, although we were gently eased into the routine, it was very different from expected. Fortunately, it didn't take long to work out where everything was - it is quite straightforward, and fairly small as well because of there being 300 students tops. Meeting everyone was a joy, and it felt like 'everyone got along with everyone', probably just because everyone wanted to have some friends! People seemed to like me, which I was glad about. Also, having lessons with my piano teacher and composition teacher were really fun - I felt like I was going to accomplish a lot with them. Academic lessons were also interesting, and it felt liberating to only have 3 subjects instead of, like, 12. Like seriously, LIBERATING, I tell you.
Life during the day was quite simple, but things in Boys' House (the accommodation) were a little more interesting. There are particular times every day when you have to sign in, so that the staff there know whether you will be staying in the 'house' or going off to practice or if you have an instrumental lesson etc. There were (almost) weekly meetings to sort out issues and provide notices to everyone about particular things. Assemblies were twice a week (really?)
, Choir on Thursdays, and specialised sessions for your department (i.e. orchestral group - strings, woodwind etc.) on Wednesday. And don't forget - you still have homework and coursework to do!
It might not sound that busy, but given in the sixth form (that's 11th and 12th grade for US citizens ) how much you are expected to practise (aim for a minimum of 4 hours a day!) and revise (the same amount of time as your subject lessons on that day), life got hectic. Really really busy. Not that I ever managed as much as was recommended - you just had to plan out your day by day activities to the last minute and hoped that no one would steal your favourite practice room. I have a lot of favourite practice rooms heheh
So, fast forward a few weeks on, and things are remarkably different to how you thought they were. It turns out not everyone wants to befriend everyone, and if you aren't popular, well, tough. Oh, and if you aren't the dude who can play insanely fast, then you aren't likely to climb the popularity ladder either. If you go out for pizza every day, you'll have friends dripping off you (Kalle, this is not life advice. May I repeat: NOT life advice. ) Oh, and you'd better go to socials. If you don't, you're just a quiet, shy person who should probably be avoided - they might have a horrible habit of picking their nose or something. Yeah. Not so great.
It might sound similar to other places, but I can honestly say after a year that my particular year is really bad for rebellious culture and general annoying teenager-y-ness. I am not the typically popular sort of guy, no-one has a crush on me (not that I care that much), I was one of the worst pianists in my year when I arrived. And I did struggle making friends in fact. More than I thought I'd ever really have to. Depression, loneliness and anxiety kicked in a few times. Life here wasn't fun anymore. All novelty was lost - just a fancy school with nice pianos and bitchy people. Coupled with a hearing problem that started in February, I felt like nothing could be done. Nevertheless, I picked myself up again, started enjoying life more, and found out who my real friends were. If I hadn't got out of that dark place, I wouldn't have a level head now - at least I know who to stick around next year and who to avoid. There will be a future blog post about depression and anxiety, because like many people, especially of *our* age (13 - 17 or something like that), it is something that is common. I want to make sure everyone on here knows how to get out of it cos it sucks.
I almost forgot to mention - the joys and horrors of sharing a dorm. Yep. Boys' House is so full of single rooms (15 out of like 60 or something). I started sharing with a Chinese autistic guy - as you can imagine he has often been made the subject of much laughter and banter over the years he has been there. He is nice, sometimes a bit rude, but he likes to keep himself to himself. It wasn't so bad sharing with him. Plus he liked the music I played at night. Always a bonus.
Then, it turns out that he wants his own room to accommodate the jet lag flying back from China after holidays and stuff, and some other people want to move around. I get to share with someone I've never met before. 'Ooh, how exciting' me thinks. Peeps, 'tis the [insert music school name] life.
While I've been at this specialist music school, I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I had a piano assessment in March, and got a merit which I am happy with. (Just to note - that is not equivalent to music exams, such as ABRSM.) I've also done a lot of compositions, and had a fair few played in 'Composers' Concerts' which are tri-annual (typically November, March, end of June). I am willing to share the recordings of the November and March ones if people are interested - although I don't know if my performers would like it. Just don't tell them please My piano repertoire this year has included a Beethoven sonata (Op. 26 in A-flat), a couple of Scarlatti sonatas (annoyingly difficult though - K. 132 and H. 513), Carl Vine's 5 Bagatelles (excellent little gems - I will upload a recording sometime), a piece by Liszt (Sonetto 104 del Petarca), Debussy Etudes 1 and 2, a Bach partita (No. 6 in E minor - really bloody hard), and finally a Haydn sonata (Hob.XVI/46 in A-flat). That is roughly chronological btw.
A few other things about this school I really like - you get to meet a lot of people from different cultures and backgrounds - this is an international school with students from at least 50 different countries or something like that. Also, similarly, you get to meet musicians who play different instruments and get to hear them play in lunchtime concerts, and around and about. It is wonderful to hear music in the practice corridors and when orchestral rehearsals are happening too. I think the diversity of the school brings it together. There is also a 'new' school building (2010, imo not THAT new) which has excellent facilities and literally accommodates everything apart from the accommodation. And the drama studio.
Another thing that is great is the student library. There are so many books on lots of different topics, reference items, music books, sheet music (kindly donated by rich people), a few jazz CDs bizarrely, and fiction books of course. It's a great place to go when you need to do your homework or do some general research. They have computers in the library too, which can make life easier, especially if you don't have a laptop of your own. They all come equipped with Sibelius 6 too, which I use a lot for making neat-looking scores of my compositions. I only do the actual composing on paper though, as my own laptop does not have Sibelius (they should bring the price down just a tad
) and I compose out of improvising and by experimenting a little with interesting sonorities at the piano.
So in short, I really like it here. There are great staff who actually care about your academic and musical development, *some* friendly people (some really really rich people who never smile and get suspended and stuff), and a fabulous appreciation for music across the board.
If I have anything else interesting to say about my life at this music school, I will edit the post but make it especially clear. In the meantime, hope you all enjoy prying int- reading about my experiences! As for my next blog, I don't know what it will be on, but probably creative writing as I have some of that all ready to go.