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.

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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.

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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:

SAT, 24 JUNE
Berkley’s Club,
258 Broad Street
B1 2HF
https://www.gofundme.com/JourneyToBerklee

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.

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

Facebook: http://facebook.com/rocampbellmusic/
Tumblr: http://romarnacampbellmusic.tumblr.com
Instagram: http://instagram.com/romarnacampbelldrums
YouTube: http://youtube.com/channel/UCPixA9ET_h-OUDShAGYinYA

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Introducing: Shannon-Latoyah Simon

I started playing the classical guitar at the age of 9 and naturally I became interested in the repertoire, which actually isn’t too vast or varied for the instrument. I think my involvement with classical music really grew when I started studying at the Northampton School for Girls (my secondary school), which was also a specialist music college. Classical music was played in nearly all of our classes to improve cognitive function and we were all encouraged to compose pieces, join the after school music ensembles and attend as many concerts and recitals as we could!

For me it’s very important to see more people of colour in the industry. Growing up I found it difficult because there were hardly any people of colour I could look up to as a role model. Due to this I have become involved with the BBCF (Black British Classical Foundation) an organisation that represents and provides opportunities to ethnic minorities within classical music. This year I was able to perform in the BBCF ‘Music inspired by Shakespeare’ concert at St Pauls Church in Covent Garden, which was an amazing experience. I love working with the BBCF because it inspires minority audiences and makes them see the possibilities for themselves and think, “I can do that too!”

I don’t feel as though being a black person in classical music has had any advantages or disadvantages as such. I’ve never been discriminated against of made to feel uncomfortable in any situation. I like to think that any opportunities or achievements I have gained have been down to hard work and determination.

 

 

For more information about Shannon visit www.shannonlsimon.com

Encourage Yourself

 

 

 

 

 

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

– Oscar Wilde

Particularly for student musicians, a common issue is comparing ourselves to our colleagues and peers. Of course, this is not exclusive to musicians and it occurs in all aspects of life. Maintaining focus when lots of other things are happening is difficult. I personally think that it is important to be aware of our surroundings and the people we have in our circle. However, for me, drive and determination should always come from within and not from the actions of others. Inspiration from others is always a good thing but relying on someone else’s actions as a catalyst to create one’s on action is not always effective. It is very easy to become distracted, sidetracked and driven off course especially when someone else in constantly in the subconscious. For me, concentrating on my own progress in life, music, relationships etc is far more important, relevant and useful than tracking someone else’s.

I’m a firm believer that everyone has something unique and different to offer and we should all treasure our individuality. Insecurity is always there but we have must not let it stop us from making progress. I know that I may not be as technically accomplished as other musicians but I don’t wallow in self pity. Whilst I’m working behind closed doors  to improve my weak areas, I champion my strengths. The trouble with being a musician is that we spend hours upon hours practising without recognition because no one sees the hard work we put it in. It’s the iceberg analogy. People only see the top, the success and not all the stress, anxiety and hard work underneath. Sometimes, I think how great it would be if someone were to give an applause at the end of every good practise session.  But alas, the reality is that sometimes we have to give ourselves a pat on the back.
Gone are the days of putting myself down. Inject some positivity into your life. Don’t be a doubting Thomas. Believe in yourself. Encourage yourself.

 

 

I’ve learnt to blow my own trumpet. If I don’t, no-one else will.

 

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Introducing: Caroline Modiba

“It doesn’t really matter what skin colour you are, if you’re talented enough then that’s where you should be”.

I got involved with classical music when I was still in school in South Africa. There were choral music school competitions and the finals took place in winter. And then the opera section was introduced and I thought “why not try my luck”. I made it to the finals and I made an impression to a few people who later introduced me to Sannie Streicher who was a voice coach. I took lessons with her while I was completing my high school diploma. After graduation I decided to study Bcom Management (business course) which had nothing to do with music but then music found me again. I was still taking singing lessons with Lorraine at this time and I heard about auditions for young artists training programme. I went to audition and got accepted in the 3 year training course with the Black Tie Ensemble which was an opera company with their own training programme. After completing the course I was accepted as a member and started earning money through my talent, which was great I thought.

There’s a lot of people of colour in the industry already, especially singers and for me it doesn’t really matter what skin colour you are, if you’re talented enough then that’s where you should be. It would be nice though if we could get more people of colour in the audience. I haven’t had any bad experiences as a black person in the industry and all the good experiences I’ve had I believe had to do with my talent and not my skin colour.

Caroline was one of the soloists in Verdi’s Messa Di Requiem performed by Birmingham Conservatoire. You can listen to her phenomenal voice in concert here and here.

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Birmingham Conservatoire

Sunday’s stunning concert was particularly significant not only for the conservatoire but also for the Birmingham music scene. The Adrian Boult Hall has been a prominent concert venue for the last 30 years and this farewell concert was the last before its demolition to make way for developments in Birmingham’s city centre.

If you missed the original broadcast on BBC Radio 3, don’t worry, it’s still available! Click here. The full concert  is also available to listen to on youtube. I had the absolute pleasure of working with one of the finest conductors in the business: Barry Wordsworth. His positive, uplifting and encouraging attitude along with his infectiously warm personality made rehearsing a breeze and an unforgettable concert.

After the resounding success of the “Requiem for a Concert Hall” concert and a brilliant review, I began to think about Birmingham Conservatoire as an institution and how it is viewed by those in the music sphere.

Birmingham Conservatoire was founded in 1886 as the Birmingham School of Music – yes 130 years ago. This really surprised me as the conservatoire is actually only 4 years younger than the prestigious RCM (founded (1882).

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This status says it all.

 

Having been a sixth former at a specialist music school, I have to say that there seemed to be a particular emphasis on students studying music in London. When I was auditioning for conservatoires, there wasn’t much conversation about Birmingham Conservatoire or many other music colleges outside of London. I almost felt like there was a pressure to gain a place in London just to prove my worth. For me, I had a pretty realistic idea of where I wanted to study so I didn’t actually audition to RCM or RAM. Initially, it turned out that I was the only person in my year that was going to study in Birmingham whilst the majority of the year gained places in London. Similarly to the Facebook post above, comments by others made me feel like I was joining a less prestigious and sub-standard conservatoire compared to others. I feel like people were only impressed about my place at Birmingham Conservatoire when I casually mentioned that I’d been offered an unconditional  place and a substantial scholarship. This is sad because it is a great achievement alone to be entering into a conservatoire seeing as there are only 9 in the UK!

There is an attitude floating around that the only reputable conservatoires are in London. This is simply INCORRECT. Don’t get me wrong, the music colleges there are brilliant. After my BMus course,  I would love to do a postgraduate degree there but studying music in London is not the be all and end all.

Since joining in September, I have found the conservatoire to be a vibrant and friendly  atmosphere overflowing with exceptional talent from all departments. Particularly with this concert, there was a strong sense of camaraderie and solidarity amongst the students. The academic teaching in addition to the music teaching is outstanding and there is support coming from every corner. Just recently, I was taken aback at the talent at the Junior Conservatoire and the high level of teaching it provides. Also, our principal Julian Lloyd Webber has been friendly, approachable and generally present and very involved throughout the year (which has been his first year as well as mine). Birmingham Conservatoire was definitely the right place for me to be and I truly believe that I would not have made the same progress at any other institution. Furthermore, I’m happy to say that in September 2016, there will be 6 Purcellians at the Birmingham Conservatoire (all with scholarships) so I think attitudes and perceptions are changing for the better. I’m positive that the new building (opening in 2017) will be an influence factor in bringing many more young musicians to consider studying at Birmingham as their first choice rather than 2nd or 3rd.

Don’t forget there a number of notable alumni  (to name a few):

  • Mike Seal
  • Laura Mvula
  • Richard Van Allan
  • Rhydian Roberts
  • Mark Gasser

To anyone who does not have an informed opinion about the college, please listen to the concert – it is a perfect reflection of the high standard of music-making that is achieved at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The recent concert has definitely confirmed the fact  I am very proud to be a student there.

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*Cover photos of concert by Greg Milner Photography

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Rosin: The Quest Continues

Extraordinarily, in the almost 9 years that I’ve been playing the violin, I’d say that I’ve had more than 10 rosins. Considering that it take a long time for them to run out, my track record shouldn’t be that high! Over the years they’ve just magically disappeared (I lost them) or I’ve accidentally smashed them and therefore had to buy another.

For those of you that don’t know, Rosin is the sticky stuff bowed string players rub on their bows to cause the string to vibrate through friction. Without rosin, there is no sound and no sound means no music – so finding a good rosin that works for you is crucial.

My rosin experience began with a standard “student” rosin that came with my first violin. These rosins do the job however they’re usually very sticky and generate a ridiculous amount of dust. These types of rosin often create a gritty, scratchy tone which is not helpful, especially for the beginner student. Please stay away from rosin that comes complimentary  – they’re usually of poor quality. I’ve been duped into buying some really crappy rosin and it just isn’t worth the money or the heartbreak of it being rubbish.I’ve bought the rosin so you don’t have to.

Rosin in general is very affordable so it is easy to buy a better quality one instead. Throughout the years, I have bought an array of different rosins and just experimented with them. I’ve used the whole spectrum: light, dark, hard and soft. I’ve read that lighter rosins are recommended for upper stringed instruments because they tend to be harder and more dense. Personally, the rosins that I have liked and gravitated towards have been  dark so now I usually only buy dark. Saying that, I recently have been using the Gustave Bernardel rosin which is lighter in colour and I’ve been loving it. This rosin has good grip and focus on the string and most importantly it helps me create a really clear and smooth tone.

Here are a few opinions on rosins I have used:

  • Hidersine 3V Rosin  – around £3-5 – Amber. I’d say this a good rosin for the beginner. Also, this rosin is packaged in a tin which I found almost impossible to open.
  • AB Rosin – £2.50 – £5 – Dark. This is a brilliant, reliable rosin. It has good grip, doesn’t create very much dust (the dust is very fine and light)  and helps create good tone production. This rosin is for anyone from beginner to the most advanced player. If I can’t get hold of my usual Pirastro rosin, I’d opt for this one.
  • Kolstein Ultra Formulation Supreme Rosin – around £12. I haven’t used this much but it does have good grip. I’m not sure it is worth £12 but to be honest I bought it because of the gold packaging!
  • Pirastro Oliv – £8-12-  Dark. This rosin is another excellent rosin, similar to the AB. It has good grip and has a fine dust deposit. I think I lost this one pretty early on so I want to buy it again.
  • Pirastro Schwarz – Black. This is my holy grail rosin. I love it! It has everything that I look for in rosin*. The best thing is it is only £4! Click here.
  • Pirastro Goldflex- £8-16. – Light. This rosin features real gold dust to enable the
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    Pirastro Goldflex

    smooth grip. To be honest, I was attracted to the gold aspect rather than the capabilities of the rosin itself. Again, I think I lost this one on orchestra tour in Belgium so I did’t get to use it for very long.

*In rosin, I personally look for one that helps with smooth tone production, good grip but not too much and low dust creation.

You’ve probably noticed in the my list above that Pirastro is a recurring theme. Pirastro is a brand that offers a large variety of rosin of excellent quality and good price point. It is my go-to brand for rosin. There are so many rosins to choose from so if you’re unsure about which one to go with, I highly recommend Pirastro.

I’m still experimenting with rosin and I’m planning on road testing 3 more: Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Gold rosin; Pirastro Oli/Evah Pirazzi and Jade L’Opéra rosin.

 My violin teacher suggested the idea of mixing rosins (i.e. applying a few rather than just the one). I know that some luthiers use powdered rosin which is often a mixture of many different rosins. This is something that I’m currently exploring.

Finding a good rosin is a very personal aspect of string playing. For some, it’s very simple whereas for me it has been a real quest and I’m sure it’ll continue into my professional career.

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I personally buy my rosins from the following sites. They offer a variety of excellent rosins for the lowest prices online so check them out:

For more rosin reading:

http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/choosing-right-rosin-instrument/

BMus 1

The transition from sixth former to fully-fledged,  self-sufficient adult wasn’t a difficult one for me. Purcell was a great school for giving sixth formers a good amount of independence. I found that boarding school was the best preparation for university/conservatoire life because I was living away from home at 16. So for me, the living independently aspect was absolutely fine – sorted.

Year 1 at music college/ university definitely started out as a lot of fun but I soon began to realise that my care-free days at Purcell are long over.  Having gone through the rigmarole of applying of student finance and the enrolment process, I really did realise that being a full time student was something that I’d have to do for myself. Suddenly I found that I was the one that had to fill out all the forms and sort myself out. Doing the important stuff like registering at a new doctor’s surgery didn’t even cross my mind. Going from school student status  to suddenly being a ‘responsible adult’ at 18 is a tricky transition.

I had already decided in my head that I wanted to approach being a full time student differently to being in compulsory education. It’s different in that there is no one there to push you and ultimately, the incentive and motivation to do things must come from oneself. So, from day 1, I knew that I just wanted to dedicate as much time as I could to improving my skills as a violinist – specifically working on performance anxiety and technical issues that were significantly holding up my development. And in order to do that, it was a matter of prioritising. I prioritised my personal development over the more social aspects of student life. I can honestly say that I made the right decision for me hence being  MIA for the last few months. Committing myself to making a conscious effort to work on myself and the things that are important to me paid off.

May 25th was my final recital which marked the end of my first year at Birmingham Conservatoire. I played a really great, varied programme: Brahms: Scherzo from the F-A-E sonata, Bach: Sonata No.1 for solo violin (Adagio and Presto) and Sarasate: Romanza Andaluza. I enjoyed my repertoire despite there being a few difficulties. All I can say is that  a year ago, I faced considerable challenges both musically and personally and I have achieved most things that I set out to.

Bring on BMus 2 in September 2016 🙂