The path less trodden

By Nicole Wilson  -  10 December 2015

As the annual auditions for UK Music Colleges draw to a close, I’m reminded of the year I applied for the Royal Academy of Music in London, nearly 25 years ago.

Applying alongside all my friends from the National Youth Orchestra and Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester I felt the most crushing pressure to succeed, to win a place at this illustrious institution and to not be left behind by my peers. I wanted to be an orchestral violinist and I knew this was the path to take to have a chance at succeeding in that field.

Stringfever creating an unusual niche...

If I failed to get into that music college, or one of the other major UK music institutions, I would have to find a different career path. It was that simple. Or so I thought…

I was lucky enough in the end to follow that career path exactly and ended up in the London Symphony Orchestra - my plan worked out. However I can’t help but wonder at the other paths I could have taken. 

Rightly or wrongly, 25 years ago we felt that there were only a handful of careers in music to take. One could be an orchestral musician, a chamber musician or if you wanted no social life at all, a soloist. One could ‘sell out’ we snootily thought, to pop music or, heaven forbid, folk music or go ‘behind the scenes’ in recording. I had no idea at all of the myriad of possibilities for a career in music. I wonder if I hadn’t succeeded in my orchestral path, what other interesting things I may have tried.

I’ve seen my peers go on to create niches for themselves which did not exist before they thought of them. ‘Stringfever’, the electric string quartet of the Broadbent brothers and their cousin Graham, through combination of sheer talent and naughty senses of humour are in huge demand all over the world bringing their own brand of musical comedy to stages, bars, ships and homes globally. Composer Philip Sheppard was a fellow cello student at the time but now composes for the Olympics and the most diverse range of projects imaginable including creating an game so that anyone in the world can be a composer... Really! 

Music outreach has become one of the most magical ways of sharing music - not just in schools but also in hospitals, for special needs adults, community choirs, Gamelan ensembles and ‘create an opera’ projects to name but a few.

Musicians have had to become their own agents, using sites such as Kickstarter and crowd funding to realise their dreams, learning to programme imaginatively and connecting with the audience before, during and after their concerts. Signing CDs (tapes/records?!) after a concert used to be a special event - now you’d be mad to go straight home after a concert. You need to build your ‘list’ of followers to help promote future events. Sounds like hard work? Maybe. But gone are the days when you could just stand up, play, look aloof and stalk off the stage. And now, by reaching out to your audience, you can learn what they want, what works, more importantly what doesn’t, and create a performance which truly connects with the world.


So for those of you who have won a place at your coveted music college-  bravo. But don’t think there’s only one path. Life’s disappointments can be the most crucial, pivotal moments and can make you find a possibly better route for your career. And for those of you who didn’t get in where you so desperately wanted to, take heart. There are so many millions of ways to skin a cat, if you really want a career in music, persevere and just find your own way - it’ll be less crowded and quite possibly more picturesque…

About Nicole Wilson

Principal freelance violinist in London, ex London Symphony Orchestra and English National Opera, Nicole is also a CD producer, TV/Radio presenter and founder of Musical Orbit.

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