Introducing: Romarna Campbell

From Birmingham to Boston, MA, Romarna Campbell is a 21 year-old  drummer heading to the Berklee College of Music in the Autumn 2017.18870951_10155335113442418_1795933551_n
  When, how and why did you get involved in music?

I got into music mostly through the massive CD and music collection that was in our house when I was growing up. There was always music around, although I am the only musician in the family. When I was about 8, my Mum bought my Dad a drum kit for Christmas. I remember this massive brown box and being beyond excited about unpacking it and setting up this red drum kit, much to my Dad’s inconvenience. It wasn’t even my gift, but my parents couldn’t tear me away from it. From there my Mum actively sought out workshops for me to take part in. I joined a local music school that was every Saturday and took it from there. In fact, the music workshops that I first attended became particularly poignant. I actually busked in the sign-in area to the raise the money for my first drum kit, which was an Arbiter Flat Pack! Absolutely immense! As I got a little older and started to receive more regular tuition, I was introduced to The Notebenders by Andy Hamilton, CBE. It was there that I really discovered my love for jazz and big band music, amongst a really legendary group of people.

How important is it for you to see more people of colour in the industry?

Until recently, I hadn’t realised how important it really was. I think it’s bigger than seeing more people of colour in the industry, I think it’s more about connecting and interacting with them. Something that’s made so much easier with modern technology and social media. That connection reminds you that there are other people in the industry that you have similarities with, whether that be culturally, musically, etc. By the sheer nature of what a musician does, you’re always open to meeting to new people and what they have to express with their instrument through music. I also think that it’s particularly of importance for younger musicians. When you’ve been sat in a practice room for hours on end, it can be easy to feel isolated. So it’s great to be able to refer to or contact musicians that are of influence to you. Sometimes just to remember there are other musicians out there like you, that have probably gone through some of the same stuff that you’re going through. I have had the fortune of attending a conservatoire in the UK for two years, but one of the things I really struggled with when I first started was the lack of diversity, therefore the lack of understanding that can come with that occasionally.


How are you affected as a black person in music? Any advantages/disadvantages?

There are definitely a number of advantages and disadvantages to being a black person in music, which I assume to be the case for anyone of any ethnicity and identity. I am for lucky enough to grown up in a culture that heavily revolves around music and having a broad taste in music. Going up, I was exposed to a lot of really awesome music. Anything from super underground hiphop, to old big band records, to Soca music. There was never any differentiation, as long as it was good music then we would listen and enjoy it. Consequently, my listening ranges from Prince to Lenny Kravitz to Count Basie and everything in-between.

I try not to think about being disadvantaged in any way or even using the word, it puts you in a negative space and mindset. I would much rather think about it as hurdles; these issues are there but can be overcome with hard work, effort and drive. I put a lot of time, effort, work and care into what I do because I love it. So, to have all of that undermined by racist and sexist comments is always really difficult. I fail to understand what my race, ethnic background or gender has to do with me being a musician; the two are not mutually exclusive. I draw influence from those things because they make me the person that I am, but I don’t understand what that has to do with my musical and technical ability and why anyone thinks it’s acceptable to use it against my in any way. Instead these should be things that they also want to learn about and draw influence from in the same way that I do. Everyone has their own trials and tribulations, again, there’s no need for the negativity.


Any exciting projects that you’re working on at the moment and any upcoming performances?

There’s a lot going on at the moment that I’m super excited about!

Firstly, I have been accepting into Berklee College of Music in Boston for Fall 2017! So I’ll be moving to Boston in about 2 months, to finish my undergraduate studies! I can’t wait, it’s literally been a dream of mine since I was 17! In keeping with my imminent move, I am still fundraising to cover the rest of my tuition fees. I have a number of fundraising events coming up over the next couple of months and have set up a GoFundMe page for anyone that its kind enough to make a donation! Details for my fundraiser in June and my GoFundMe page are below:

Berkley’s Club,
258 Broad Street
B1 2HF

I am also super psyched about my new band, B L A N (C) A N V A S. We debuted our first project ‘Limitations of Our Imaginations’ in March to a sold out show in Birmingham. ‘Limitations of Our Imaginations’ features original compositions and arrangements by me. It’s an exploration of how music can push and break down barriers, what it’s like to navigate modern life as a young musician and an insight into me as a bandleader, composer and arranger.
Our latest performance was playing support for Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic project, which is now up on my YouTube channel! It’s my first time being a combination of band leader, composer, arranger and drummer all in equal measures. I also whole-heartedly believe in my bandmates’ skill and power as musicians, both individually and collectively. We’re working on a few more performances and hopefully record and releasing music before I move to the States.


To find out further information about Romarna, you can follow her social media and visit her website as listed below.


Folk Ensemble: Joining the Band on its 20th Anniversary Year

My Experience being a violinist is the UK’s largest folk band

So in September I joined the Folk Ensemble.  At the conservatoire, it’s listed as an elective but it certainly doesn’t feel like an insignificant activity that I do every week. When I joined, I don’t think I really knew what I was letting myself in for. Earlier on in my violin life, I’d learnt a few folk fiddle tunes like “Fairy Dance” and “Drowsy Maggie” also known as “Sleepy Maggie” but I didn’t really know much folk music. I’d seen and heard about the folk ensemble that the band had done many gigs and played on large stages and last year they played at the Royal Albert Hall. I thought I’d just go and see what’s what. That first rehearsal was completely different to any musical experience I’d ever had before. I immediately sensed that I had joined something truly special and unique. I also kew that I’d jumped in at the deep end, seeing as this year is the 20th anniversary year of the band and there were lots of gigs lined up with little time to learn the rep. The first session was high energy, crazy and fun. Learning a completely new different style of music with complex rhythms by ear was tricky. Slowly but surely, from week to week, rehearsal to rehearsal, I went from feeling a bit awkward and self-conscious about my playing wrong notes to just letting loose and simply enjoying music.

Particularly for me, folk ensemble has been a huge part in relieving my performance anxiety. Throughout the last year or so, on and off, I’ve found it very difficult to enjoy playing the violin. Sometimes it’s been a real challenge to find enjoyment in what I’m doing. Folk Ensemble has truly made me remember how much I love music and the power that music possesses. Joe, our leader, encourages us to move, jump, dance and shout when we’re playing instead of standing there awkwardly and it really helps! We had out first gig of the year back in March for Birmingham’s St. Paddy’s Day parade and before the gig I wasn’t sure how I was feeling about playing to a huge number of people. However when it got to it I had no inhibitions whatsoever – all the negative feelings of inadequacy that I normal experience with performing had gone. Being in the folk ensemble has really helped with building my confidence as a musician. It is changing my the way I think about performing into a positive experience. I’m looking forward to the fact that I now have opportunity to play and share our music with large audiences. I also love the fact that with the folk ensemble, I’m reaching different audiences than I would do with classical violin.FE_28688x48829_001_78f63ab92840e1244ca6705da1120c9a

From a musicianship standpoint, my ear has improved tremendously. At first, I was a little bit slow in learning the tunes and retaining them was hard. Many people in the band have been in the band for years and know these tunes inside out so there’s an extra incentive to learn the tunes well. However, just last week I caught a new tune on a first time hearing! It’s a good feeling to know that I’m improving in more ways than one. A few of the sets we play have really fast violin tunes and they can be really quite virtuosic. Playing folk music is truly facilitating and complementing my violin playing in general. Joining the group and learning more about different music styles  gives me a greater scope of what the violin is capable of. Also, folk music is a different sound world to classical music and it’s great as it helps me to explore a wider range of colours and timbres with my classical repertoire.

If you’re interested in experiencing Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble and  folk music fused with different genres, I suggest coming to one of our tour gigs with our first one on Friday 12th May at the Town Hall in Birmingham. Click here to buy tickets. Along with it being the 20th anniversary year, we have our latest studio album ‘Painted’ being released on 11th June.


Follow Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s social media:

Facebook page



Awards for Young Musicians


Awards for Young Musicians is an arts charity which aims to help talented young people to further their musical development. Whether you need help with music lessons, instrument purchase, orchestra fees, course fees or travel, AYM endeavours to help gifted musicians between the ages 5-18 in the UK.

For me, applying to AYM was one of the best things I ever did to further my musical development. The financial help which they provided was absolutely key in helping me to buy my violin. What was even better is that they kept in touch with me and have helped me in furthering my personal development as a mentor in their recent mentoring programme:  Talent to Talent. I feel so fortunate to have been involved with such a wonderful organisation run by phenomenal people.

My experience as an award winner

It was actually my sister who drew my attention to AYM. At the time, I was 16 and looking to buy a new violin. At the time, the violin I owned was a Stentor Conservatoire model which was a good instrument for a committed student of maybe grade 4 or 5 standard. For me, I had simply outgrown the instrument – musically speaking. I was working at grade 8 standard at the time. I wasn’t able to achieve all that I wanted to and frankly, it was holding my playing back. The year before, I’d had a taste of what it was like to play on a great instrument – I was playing on a Benjamin Banks violin that had been bequeathed to the Nottingham Youth Orchestra and I was leading the intermediate orchestra at the time. Fortunately, I was able to play that violin for the time that I was the leader but after that year I had to give the violin back as I moved on to the senior orchestra. Going back to the Stentor… it just felt wrong. I knew I had to get a better violin.  So I went and tried various violins from different violin workshops and stores in the East Midlands. I finally found “the one” the only problem was the price tag and I knew that it would be impossible for my mum to buy. I didn’t want to give up on buying a new instrument and I didn’t have to…

Enter AYM

I applied to AYM twice and fortunately they gave me a substantial sum of money to go towards the purchase of my new violin. Their contribution meant that I secured the violin with the dealer. It took me over two years to finally make the full payment for the violin but I did it.  It was a very uplifting experience knowing that there was a charitable organisation that was willing to support someone like me who needed an new instrument but didn’t have the funds. It meant that I didn’t have to give up on any of my aspirations or settle for an inferior instrument. My violin really elevated my playing and boosted my confidence as a musician. Having a new instrument truly help me along to develop my skills and grow. I didn’t have to try as hard on my new instrument as I did on my old violin.

Mentoring on the Talent to Talent programme

AYM is amazing at keeping in contact with their award winners to see how they’ve progressed. They reached out to past awards winners now alumni to give them an opportunity to take part as mentors in Talent to Talent. A completely new project, Talent to Talent was peer-led mentoring from AYM alumni to current award winners. The programme was actually three-tiered so I was an alumna who was mentoring a current award winner who then went on to mentor a furthering talent student. The alumni included musicians who were at music college; some at the end of BMus going into masters or work; some like me at the start of a degree and some who were actually working and living as freelance musicians. The award-winners were as it suggests –  current or recent recipients of an award from AYM. The furthering talent students were young musicians at the beginnings of their musical  journeys and had been identified as those with emerging potential and high aptitude learners. The whole point was to get 45 young musicians at different musical stages to encourage, mentor and support each other. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to gain training and experience in something that would benefit me and someone else.

One of the mains reasons why I applied to be a mentor in the project is because I wish I had a mentor when I was younger. I came from a background of not really knowing much about going in to music or even the dos and don’ts of applying to a music school etc. I really would’ve benefitted from an older more experienced musician who could offer me advice and encouragement. With Talent to Talent, peer-led mentoring was really effective because it meant that being closer in age we could be easily relatable and we were the bridge between being a student and their teacher. Also, I believe that I share similar views to AYM  on encouraging and supporting young musicians and I wanted to give back even the smallest portion of support to someone else in the same way that AYM has supported me.

The process was unique and unlike anything I’d ever done or heard of before. In retrospect, it seems a little obvious that musicians should be receiving regular mentoring but thanks to AYM, they’ve pioneered a fantastic project.  For me it was great to meet more like-minded musicians who were in different stages. We had a training day which included safe-guarding and all the important practical information about working with young people. We had excellent people who provided the training  and advice on  mentoring, so we learned from the best! The training day was vital because it really caused us to think and understand the difference between mentoring and teaching.  What was great was that my mentee was a cellist so I wasn’t tempted to try and talk about technical issues like bowing and fingerings!

For me, the beauty of mentoring was in the fact that it was definitely a two-way process and even though I was the adult in the situation, I learned an awful lot from my mentee and I also learned a lot about myself.  Sometimes, I didn’t always have the answers but that was ok. I just had to do some more research and broaden my knowledge in order to help my mentee and we could even learn together. Mentoring definitely benefitted me in numerous ways including: helping someone else in their musical journey; developing people skills and emotional intelligence skills; taking time out of my schedule to help someone else. The programme ended with a final group day at Richmix in London where we all composed our own performances to illustrate the mentoring process and journey. There, we also had the chance to interview and be audience to a performance by singer-songwriter-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson.

Finally, I was invited to make a speech to the AYM Angels at Clementi House in Notting Hill on 26th April.

The house was amazing and transported me back to 18th century, as if Clementi himself were still living there. The AYM Angels are the phenomenal people who donate and support AYM. I’m so grateful to have been a part of such a lovely evening. It was a rare opportunity for me to meet and talk to people who truly enjoy helping and supporting young musicians. I came away feeling really high in spirits about the future of classical music and it’s young musicians. Speaking to the AYM Angels also gave me so much confidence with public speaking and sharing my enthusiasm with others.


I can’t say thank you enough to Hester, Hannah and the rest of the amazing team at AYM for their fantastic work.

If you are a young musician, parent/carer of one or you simply know of a young musician please check out AYM and be sure to make use of their services if you’re eligible.









The Black Faces of Classical Music

I’ll be writing and sharing a series of articles discussing the presence of black composers and artists in the western classical music world. I’ll be drawing attention to black artists of today and discussing the influence of classical music on black people and vice versa. There will also be contributions  featured from students, teachers and eminent artists sharing their experiences as people of Afro-Caribbean heritage being successful in the industry.

The further I delved into classical music and immersed myself in it, the more I realised that there weren’t many artists who look like myself i.e. of African/Caribbean descent. So I decided to explore…

I’m sure many  people have heard of Scott Joplin but how about other black composer/performers such as Joseph Bologne (Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges),  Joseph Antonio Emidy and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor?

The Black Faces of Classical Music Explained

Read about my black female inspiration for International Women’s Day 2017

Check out the links below to discover young black artists.
Introducing: Caroline Modiba
Introducing: Shannon Latoya Simon
Introducing: Lufuno Ndou

Here is Julian Joseph’s interpretation of Coleridge-Taylor’s “Deep River” No.10 from 24 Negro Melodies Op.59.

Behind the Bridge – Writing for D’Addario

So, back in December, I was approached by D’Addario to be a writer for their blog Behind the Bridge. I was absolutely astonished, considering that I had only set up my blog in January. Despite D’Addario being based in New York and me the other side of the Atlantic, we’ve managed to make it work. I’ve been corresponding with their lovely orchestral string social media specialist Sabrina and she’s given me such great information about the company. I believe at present  I’m their youngest and first international writer so this partnership is huge for me!


Sabrina has made me feel very welcome and I’m so excited about this little partnership…well it’s a big deal for me. Behind the Bridge (as the name suggests is geared towards bowed string players but the blog posts are great for anyone to read from enthusiast to expert . My first blog post went live from New York today!!! Check it out here.



Thanks to Tom Bacon & Sabrina Brengel at D’Addario.




Introducing: Lufuno Ndou


The first time I became involved in classical music was in primary school. Only a few of the children were given the opportunity to play violin, a few others the recorder. I remember very little about playing the violin at this time, other than playing my violin17888646_10210120982955219_2003672998_n to family when we visited South Africa and seeing the number of children playing instruments fall as we got to end of primary school. I didn’t play the violin much when I started secondary school but having had the play it always kept me connected to classical music. As a singer, and also as a dancer and actor – as someone whose appearance may often be a factor to my performance – seeing people of colour in the industry is so important to me.17901755_10210120982995220_1578615655_o

The first time I saw Caroline Modiba, South African soprano, perform in Birmingham Conservatoire, I cried so much. It was a little bit embarrassing. But I saw her and I finally believed for the first time since beginning my studies in Birmingham Conservatoire that I could actually be good. I saw her and thought ‘I could be like that.’ Even just knowing that Maureen Braithwaite is teaching in the Conservatoire is incredibly encouraging.

When I took my ballet exam, I was told we had to have our hair in a bun. My natural hair was too short to tie up so I had my hair braided a few days before, just so I could put it in a bun for the exam. In all my short time of being on stage, that was the only situation where my being black was brought to attention. In classical music, especially as a sing
er, I haven’t yet been deeply affected in a negative way. I think the Conservatoire’s accepting atmosphere has helped. But I haven’t had any particularly positive moments that that were due to me being black either. What I mostly worry about is how I’ll be affected when I’m in the real world, trying to get roles and work.
Like when I see agencies are casting roles and the descriptions will say something like “fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes.” Seeing open auditions for princess parties is another time when I have felt particularly black – there are only so many Disney princesses I could play! 17909527_10210120982915218_266639503_n
There are already so few shows and roles written for people of colour, and with that in mind I wonder if there is a limit to my success. On the other hand, I want to think that’ll I’ll be able to change how things are, or maybe I’ll be able to encourage young people to be more involved in classical music.

For more information go to her website and be sure to follow Lufuno’s instagram: @lufuyes


Musical Realms: Composition & Music Technology

Back in January, I was invited by Joshua Dowling to watch a concert
showcasing the works of composers at the Birmingham Conservatoire. It took place at the church of St. Martin in the Bullring which is situated in the heart of Birmingham’s city centre. The idea of music bring people together was evident. This lunchtime concert was very much a community concert; the audience included the general public as well as fellow students and members of the church.

Joshua Dowling, composer and music technology student had two of his pieces performed in the concert.


Joshua Dowling

A choral scholar at Bromley Parish church from age 7, Joshua grew up in London before coming to study in Birmingham. In addition to singing he played oboe with Bromley Youth Symphony Orchestra. Being half American, Josh often spent summers in Pennsylvania – to this, he attributes his interest in 20th century music of the Americas – central America i.e. Mexican music, Canadian folk, Steve Reich and minimalist music. Aside from music, Josh’s other interests include running (members of his running club even attended the concert). Despite formally studying on the music technology course at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Josh definitely sees himself as a composer. Studying the two, Josh doesn’t see any barriers between them and is keen on exploring multi-faceted music and using music as a means of communication. As a child, Joshua said that he was always wanting to do different things – doing both music technology and composition, in addition to always wanting to fuse different musical elements together is only a natural manifestation of this.

January’s lunchtime concert proved a real labour of love for Joshua. It is was in this concert that he truly explored and demonstrated different areas of work i.e. exploring writing for larger ensembles in his piece titled “Danaus” (this was conducted by composer Chris Creswell). Josh is eager to explore polystylism, intertextuality as part of his creative portfolio.

The Pillar of Cloud’ is an electroacoustic realisation of a four part SATB choral piece ‘Lead Kindly Light’ composed by Joshua Dowling for the season of Epiphany. The words for Lead Kindly Light were written by Cardinal John Henry Newman when he became ill in 1833 while visiting Sicily. He was desperate to return home to England but no boat was available for three weeks. While waiting, Newman visited various churches but according to his writings, attended no services. Once on a vessel heading back to England, Newman saw a light from a nearby harbour and was prompted to write a poem, titled ‘The Pillar of Cloud’ expressing his desire for guidance in a difficult time. The choral setting  was performed by Lily Allen Dodd, Lufuno Ndou, John Eclou and Joshua Dowling. The electroacoustic realisation followed.
Danaus is a piece for chamber ensemble which embodies the life and migration cycle of the species of butterfly more widely known as Monarchs. Between September and November, northwestern Monarch populations migrate annually from southern Canada to central Mexico. They remain in their overwintering sites until March before returning to Canada in June or July. Five generations of Monarch are present on this journey at any one time. This piece draws inspiration from works by notable composers of the 20th century Americas including Canadian folk music and the use of minimalist procedures. 

In addition to Joshua Dowling’s pieces, the concert included The King Quintet, a newly formed ensemble this academic year. They performed Haydn’s Quintet No. 2 and a new piece especially commissioned for the ensemble – ‘Viva’, composed and conducted by BMus 1 composition student Georgia Denham.

Composer and pianist Hannah Liu also performed her composition “Wondering”.

Move on, or stay? What do you think? There is always a voice in your heart, but still unsure…wondering. Hannah Liu plays one of her own compositions for piano – Wandering.