Classical or contemporary, there’s a degree for you, says the Independent

Classical or contemporary, there's a degree for you, says the Independent

Trinity Laban is the focus of an article by the Independent's Amy McLellan, as a leader setting extremely high entry standards for conservatoires.

Article reprinted below with kind permission of the journalist

Two years into a law degree in Edinburgh, talented countertenor Gordon Waterson realised he was spending more time singing than he was poring over the textbooks.

"I asked myself whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing something which, regardless of the financial rewards, would leave me bored stiff," recalls Waterson, 24, of the bold decision to ditch law and apply to leading conservatoire Trinity Laban in London. He was accepted on to a four-year BMus, and says he has "absolutely no regrets".

A BMus at one of the UK's leading conservatoires isn't for the fainthearted. The admissions criteria is steep: academic requirements may be modest, usually just two A-levels, but applicants need at least Grade 8 musical ability - and the majority are far ahead of this, particularly pianists, flautists and sopranos for whom the standards are "spectacularly high". All applicants are auditioned, a process that includes set pieces, sight reading, some improvisation plus an interview. Competition is fierce: at Trinity Laban, for example, nearly 1,000 people audition over four weeks for just 100 places.

"Yes, it's a pressure situation, but they quickly put you at ease," reassures Waterson. "They are not trying to find fault, but to see your potential." That potential includes the discipline and resilience to practice upwards of four hours a day on top of the lessons. Practice hours vary from instrument to instrument: pianists and violinists may be able to put in six or seven hours a day, but brass players will be more limited because of the physical demands, while singers need to protect their voices from overuse.

It's not for everyone, says Claire Mera-Nelson, Trinity Laban's Director of Music. "There are physical and intellectual demands as well as sacrifices - the level of practice impacts everything else in your life, and it's not just for this four years, but for the rest of your working life."

Many go on to do a two-year postgraduate qualification, although jazz students, says Mera-Nelson, are "hard to keep in the building to complete their degrees as they tend to be very successful and are off recording albums and doing gigs".

Those focusing on classical music are encouraged to build a portfolio career, she adds. "They must relentlessly pursue their creative ambitions while also building a portfolio of skills so they can find work."

Almost 99 per cent of Trinity Laban's first degree leavers in 2012 were in employment or further study six months after graduation, ranking it second out of 151 higher education institutions in the UK.

Conservatoires aren't just for those interested in a classical music career. Trinity Laban does a three-year BA in musical theatre - with many graduates going straight into the business having bagged an agent in the third year.

Ends. Article not available online.

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