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Music Junior Departments at Conservatoires

(97 Posts)
thekidsmom Thu 03-Feb-11 09:47:27

Does anyone have a DC at a junior department of a music conservatoire?

I'm deliberating hard over whether my DD should join in September or not (she will then be year 11 - so a possibility of 3 years there)

My decision points are around the amount of other stuff she'll necessarily have to give up to fit this in - all of her county music commitments for instance, but also about how much her music will 'crowd out' any other possiblities in her future career.

We are not yet decided on a music career - its between that and science (maybe medicine). We've had some good advice on the hardships of a music career from her teachers, so are up to speed on that, but I'm concerned that once we're on the JD track, there's no getitng off and she'sll just fall into music. And she wont have had the space in her timetable to gain all the work experience/volunteering she'd need to make a convinecing medicine/bio sciences application.

So if anyone has a DC who is at or did go to a JD and then did something different at uni, I'd be very grateful for input.

thekidsmom Sat 21-May-11 12:56:13

Hi unitarian - I'm still reading!

That's exactly what I'd hoped to hear - I do want DD to think about Medicine at Uni so your DD's experience is spot on. We have accepted a place at RCM and are already excited....

Colleger Sat 21-May-11 13:16:02

How old is DD thekidsmom? See you in the corridor in September!

unitarian Sat 21-May-11 15:46:01

thekidsmom - when she goes to RCM she'll be among the Imperial College buildings. A very fine place to study medicine grin

You've made a good decision. What is her first study?

thekidsmom Sat 21-May-11 17:45:47

Hi there - DD is 15. See you there colleger

And yes, Imperial next door to aspire to!

dejaview Wed 25-May-11 22:51:14

Unitarian - that is a salutary tale. My daughter likes gore so maybe medicine is where she is really heading?! Oh and science.

She hopes to try Wells and arranged an audition today. Also at Lincoln Minster which is new but looks good. They are friendly and some weirdly wonderful child musicians seem to go there.

My downer over Purcell has dispersed - she was given a main audition. She seemed horrified when I told her - after the first. As was said tho - performance teaches you the show must go on? Something like that.

So main auditions at Purcell and Chethams. Also checking out Uppingham. Thats about it! However I am applying for bursaries so any experience there would be helpful. The conservatoires seem a little alarming over that..

verlainechasedrimbauds Wed 25-May-11 23:00:28

DD went to Chethams but not until 6th form. Seemed a very happy and supportive school!

Colleger Thu 26-May-11 08:31:43

I do not rate Wells. Having a Dc at a prep attached to an independent school we felt that the music was not any better at Wells than our local independent school which has an exceptionally strong but not specialist music department, and the academics at Wells are not great either. If I were to move my child out of his school to pursue music further it would be to Purcell, Chets etc but definitely not Wells!

dejaview Thu 02-Jun-11 23:57:32

Colleger - thats useful - you have obviously been and looked round Wells.

We have not yet - it is so far away.

We are looking at Uppingham and Lincoln Minster - which my daughter would attend as well as Guildhall.

The interest in those schools is because they do appear to have good music departments and are nearby. However we require a bursary - which is unlikely we have been told by Uppingham but they are still going out of their way to meet us - presumably in case my daughter is a genius!

They do also seem genuinely friendly - unlike Oundle.

My daughter is at a local grammar school which is one of the best ofsted wise and really is very good - but the music is not enough to keep my daughter interested - her instrument lessons actually clash with her timetable quite awkwardly and beyond that she does not fit in very easily (she actually avoids the ensembles despite her love for playing. Although it is a sports academy and she does love sport..)

Also the stress on OTHER subjects constantly distracts her and divides her time. The schools SATS results could very well be at the expense (if there is a choice) of her music. (I imagine some may cope better but thats how it is with her for now.)

Maybe an arts academy would have been better.. for now its looking at other schools but I now do think that Purcell and Chethams are the way to go if the emphasis is very much musical.. rather than loading a conservatoires demands onto a grammar school timetable (though the grammar school actually said they WILL make allowances..)

dejaview Fri 17-Jun-11 02:11:07


Daughter did a 2nd audition at Purcell. 5 present. Its serious stuff! Very nice but utterly music centred focussed place. Asked about PE - no time. The boys play football - we are worried about the girls getting less fit - they said. My daughter plays football! I love the non-uniforms tho. Modern bright feel and very individualistic college feel.

Not heard yet - a week later. All very late this.

Went to Chethams for 2nd audition today. Very very well organised - really saw inside the school - had lunch - met lots of people. A 6th former showed us round. Excellent well balanced person. Even a proper biology lab. A traditional school feel.

The 6th former told us that when you first get in - they 'break you down' to get rid of bad musical habits - which allows you to develop a 'perfect technique.' Sounds like art college cept there they avoid 'technique' all together. It may be this that was evident at my daughters first audition at Purcell which was very critical (above). They are so music focussed they dispense with the niceties of getting to know you and start the process of re-education at the audition. This is exactly what old art colleges were like - if they were good.

Anyway - got back to find an offer of a place by email. Quick! Big decision now. My daughter loves the place. Boarding seems like a huge step. Also we require MDS support and how long that will last now - who knows?

Guildhall have also offered an independent bursary - and that seems like such a good college. Purcell actually suggested she should attend both.

Total commitment! Luckily my daughter seems up for it.

And they do fencing too at Chethams!

Colleger Fri 17-Jun-11 07:51:26

I think this is a difficult decision because of locations really. Chets seems to be the better, "nicer", school that is more balanced and most people I know who look round prefer it to Purcell. My other concern about Purcell is that nearly everyone goes to JD Conservatoires which means there is virtually no down time. I wonder why they are at JD's as the school should be enough.

But Purcell is close to London and I assume any special events that go on in London the Purcell may be invited to over any other school.

DS teacher went to Chets and then the RCM and she said Chets was amazing and she can spot a Chets pupil because they are down to earth, fairly chilled and always up for a social occasion. She says they almost break the mold of the geeky, monosyllabic, pressured musician.

The lack of sport would really, really worry me.

So do you have an offer from both or just Chets at the moment? If you do I would choose Chets and this info is coming from a mum that sent her DS to the most prestigious choir school in the country (and potentially world) with a feeling that it may have issues. The prestige can make us make bad choices. He's now with a choir who no one has heard of and getting a better musical education. Most importantly he is in an environment which is nurturing, relaxed and balanced.

dejaview Thu 23-Jun-11 01:03:02

hi colleger,

Thats really useful. She did NOT get into Purcell. She had been warned at the pre-audition to leave it till she had been at junior conservatoire a year.

And yes chets seemed nicer and rounder. But is so far away! It certainly has a reputation! but in fact my daughter will not get the tuition unless she goes there. Most of her lessons to date have been free. Or inexpensive.

Purcell seems very squeaky clean and intense and professional. More about skill than potential? Very nice new buildings..

Boarding is a huge step. She is excited. I know she will be upset at some point. I know she will thrive.

It seemed like a lovely place. I guess one can be a parent who allows a child what they want even if it effectively excludes the family! - and learn to support her in that choice - as a parent. I hope.

It does puzzle me what the difference is between these schools really. And I quite liked the idea of doing Purcell and a junior conservatoire. Chets do not do that it seems.

Still exploring.. a more local choir school + Guildhall - just to see.. but yes chets seemed really lovely and warm inside as well as focussed and its entrance and tour procedures REALLY well organised. I was even interviewd by the headmistress - a wonderful person..

I hope my entries arent blogs as such.. did find comments on other forums very useful but often out of date. This was our experience..

o and because Purcell suggested we applied to RCM we did. And frankly that junior conservatoire is FABULOUS! so friendly and warm.. and great. My daughter really wanted to go there and would have gone to Purcell just to do that!

unitarian Thu 23-Jun-11 01:40:07

Some of DD's contemporaries at junior conservatoire were there as an alternative to a full time music school, having already been attending the latter. Some were suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury, had had to take time off from music as a result and were easing back in by joining the Saturday junior conservatoire.

One of the many things that impressed me about the teacher DD had at the Saturday school was that the teacher raised the RSI issue very early on and was always mindful of it.

unitarian Thu 23-Jun-11 09:44:48

I'm sorry to have sounded negative just above.
RSI can become a problem for enthusistic and talented youngsters wherever they study because they are the likely to be hard-working and maybe even obsessive.
Also, at a specialist music school or a junior conservatoire they are more likely to encounter teachers who will understand this.
It was only after 8 years of lessons with local teachers that it was even mentioned to DD. It seems odd to have to say to a DC that maybe he/she should practise a bit less!

Congratulations on the successful audition for Chets. There is some rivalry between Chets pupils and the JRNCM ones but they have some teachers in common.

Colleger Thu 23-Jun-11 11:36:54

I can't remember how old your daughter is dejaview but if she is not about to go into the sixth form then I would let her trial out the RCM for a year to see how she finds it/progresses and if it is clear that she wants something more you could then consider Chets/Purcell again. If she is going into the sixth form then I would bite the bullet and send her to Chets now. The RCM is phenomenal but it is only a Saturday!

dejaview Fri 24-Jun-11 20:59:59

hi colleger - unitarian and all

first is dd - dear daughter? - sorry don't do forums much! Its probably something utterly different but il use it because its easier. (Pardon my stupidity.)

so DD is doing a boarding trial next week at Chets. She has also got into RCM juniors today. She also! looked round Lincoln Minster and auditioned. Its a choir school. That place is truly phenomenal. And the head of music Mr Prentice is great. He accompanied my daughter - (whoops dd) - never had that before but of course how suitable! The headmaster is quite a guy and the staff are so lovely. If DD is not utterly confused then she deserves to be successful. I am (confused that is - not the other..)

I am a single parent and the other parent is simply absent (totally) so I am unsure where that leaves me in respect to any MDS application which quite worries me. There is only divorced/separated (with legal form) and deceased as options!

When I bought my DD's new mouthpiece just before she entered a competition (not really NOT advisable!) I DID ask the guy - at Woodwind and Reed in Cambridge - all about rsi. Having bought a wooden clarinet my daughter was getting pains - so he sold us a neck strap and also recommended a device that balances the instrument. It is something that concerns me. I do think its VERY important myself and will keep asking - thanks for reminding me.

Oh DD is 12. Doing grade 7 and has been playing 2 and a half years. She started piano 4 months ago too.

Colleger Fri 24-Jun-11 22:22:12

The MDS scheme is very generous and I'm sure they take relationship circumstances into account.

Have you been to many choir schools? Unless Lincoln is on your doorstep there are far better schools in my opinion. If your place at Chets is basically free then I would grab it with both hands. If you are really unsure then do the RCM for a year.

One thing to consider is that the RCM and Chets will pull DD's technique apart and she may not make any grade progress for a couple of years. Now this could be detrimental if you want to audition at another school. However the choir schools will not dissect any faults and this is not good in the longterm. If you can get the funding then I would say go for Chets. If not then I would suggest the RCM and try for an immediate scholarship at schools known for their musical strength - Uppingham, Dean Close, King's Canterbury, St Edmunds Canterbury etc

dejaview Sat 25-Jun-11 00:28:27

hi Colleger,

It is just the boarding (for me!) that is hard to accept. There is the worry of an over intense competitive/musical life - and lack of sport - which DD also loves. However she responds VERY well to advice and by example from better musicians. She rarely meets them. They get 3 hours! tuition each week on first instrument at Chets.

The choir school was emphasising FUN and being NORMAL today - I did jokingly stop them at that point! My daughter has had so little tuition Chethams would be good.

It is free (for now) but I cannot say I entirely agree with that or indeed with expensive cultivation - its a huge subject. A minefield. In fact - knowing little about music education yet loving avante-garde music I do worry exactly where say aesthetics - another minefield comes into it. I would hate her to go to a school where they played John Rutter for example! Which is obviously a ridiculous thing to say but being trained as an artist (and tutoring at art colleges for some time once upon a time) - the visual art I saw today said to me clearly - this is a no-no; this attitude should not be being taught. Its a clear aesthetic overview. I do not have that with music and wondered even if it existed at the junior stage. Lots of theoretical debates to be had I guess.

Sadly RCM I think have run out of money at this late point - but the idea would have been to attend the choir school and RCM. I did approach Uppingham and got a kind invite for lunch! (and audition) but missed the appointment - and in any case funding was limited. A head of a charitable trust also told me not to consider it because the rich children in such an environment would make my DD's life a misery! The staff seemed extremely friendly.

Every day in this trek has amazed me!

But to recap the aim is to get the musical input my daughter requires while she has a parent who can afford very little. However this journey has led me to the question when is more - too much! That sums it up!

I was hoping she might rush at grade 7 now - because despite the irrelevance of grades - that certificate can be useful! Especially if two years glide by. They do pull technique apart - it started at the audition and the 6th former who showed us round had not taken any grades at Chets. However they praised DD's emboucher (RCM said it needed work!?)

Oh and also tinnitus worries me! - apart from rsi. Sitting under a brass section for hours can be very dangerous. I hope these days that is taken seriously.

confidence Sat 25-Jun-11 01:21:06

Dejaview, the clarinets normally sit in front and to the right of the brass section, not "under" them. shock. I'd want some serious danger money to be sat on by a smelly-arsed trombone section all day...

Some observations, from a musician and music teacher with some knowledge of the institutions you mention, and a parent likely to be in a similar situation soon with an extremely motivated musical daughter:

1. It's very difficult this whole business of how much pushing or immersion is the right amount. The problem is there are two factors involved that don't necessarily tally up: what's right for the child's development, and what's required by the demands of the profession.

If a child loves music but doesn't show the promise or motivation for considering a career in it to be worthwhile, then it's a lot easier. But if your DD is seriously thinking about being a professional musician, you have to be realistic about the level of competition involved. She needs to get out there and get every possible bit of intensive skill development and experience for the simple reason of being able to compete with all the OTHER kids who are doing so. She could relax and footle along her grades and audition for music college when she's 18, but then she'll be competing against all the kids who did the things that she didn't do. She may well still get in, but then even that doesn't really mean anything, compared to the much bigger issue of getting into an orchestra or somehow making a career.

2. Well impressed that she's doing grade 7 after such a short time. On the face of it that suggest some pretty serious ability and application. OTOH, the clarinet is an instrument that talented kids often pick up very quickly. It's also probably the most widely played of the woodwind, so the competition is even fiercer than for oboe or bassoon (although probably much on a par with the flute).

3. I wouldn't worry too much about the aesthetic/creative side of things. All the places you're talking about will have a variety of things going on and switched on people working in them. The composition departments are more likely to foster avant garde experimentation than anything Rutteresque, since music colleges in the main never noticed that the 1970s ended. And to be honest, the main priority over the next few years will, and should, be her playing technique. She needs to go hell for leather getting that to the point where she has a chance of using it professionally, and then she can think about which ways of doing that engage her musical soul more than others.

4. Wherever the journey takes you, good luck!

unitarian Sat 25-Jun-11 02:33:36

Endorsing what confidence said really.

Over the past few years we have come to know some amazing young musicians. I'm full of admiration for them and will follow their careers with interest.

But I am heartily glad my DD chose not to pursue a music career. She was on a high when she did the second round of the BBC competition last year and had the opportunity to meet one of the leading instrument makers and chair of the flute society shortly after. The first thing he said to her was that most of the students currently in music colleges would never play their instruments professionally - though he was careful to find out first what she had actually applied for on her UCAS form. He was not being crushing, just realistic.

DD gets immense enjoyment from her music and we have made a lot of sacrifices to enable her to reach that standard. We don't regret that for a moment and have never felt it was a 'waste' that she chose a different profession. Relief, if anything!

For her the route we took was the best one - normal day school with junior conservatoire tacked on in the last three years, as well as weekly sessions with the local music centre. She knew all along she wanted to study medicine but if she had been as dead set on a career in music we might have chosen a different route and I can appreciate your dilemma.

Also, DD was a bit different from dejavue's because DD didn't show immense early promise. She was good but not jaw-droppingly so. It wasn't until she auditioned for junior conservatoire that it became clear that she had real ability but lacked technique. Meanwhile her friend had showed very early promise, had shot ahead in terms of grades and had exactly the same opportunities. Interestingly they both achieved grade 8 distinction in the same term so DD was a late developer and the early developer slowed down.

Exam grades do get put on a back burner when technique starts to get picked apart. This was a slight irritation because, despite the blurb which says 'grade 8 or a teacher's recommendation', DD found it impossible to get into county orchestra without grade 8 even though a prestigious teacher was endorsing her application. I'm pretty sure that this is so the organisers don't come under pressure from disappointed parents if they pick someone who hasn't actually got a piece of paper.

Having said all that, flute is probably one of the most over-subscribed instruments in terms of opportunities. It's a cut-throat business even at school level!

dejaview Sat 25-Jun-11 03:48:04

confidence - that is a vivid distinction. How to put it to a 12 year old - thats the next problem. Maybe just seeing a school that clicks - hopefully.

She did ask at both chets and lincoln - can you dissect here (in the lab - not the orchestra pit) - and the idea of dissecting a full rat offered at lincoln really made her eyes light up!

Where did I read the bassoon is an endangered instrument? - maybe a good career move?

unitarian - your daughter still plays? or is medicine too full on?

dejaview Sat 25-Jun-11 04:00:28

oh with regard to aptitudes and achievements - DD was very excited that Chets asked to test her for perfect pitch which they said she had it. She is very excited. Possibly because it has the word perfect in it. Not sure what it is and wiki does not help.

Those that dont have it say its a bad thing. Typical!

I applied for a job in a dye laboratory once and they tested me for colour sensitivity - with ten colour cards. They asked if they could carry on and showed me a huge number (100?) and then said well we have never had anyone with 100% perfect colour vision. My only claim to fame (or perfection.)

unitarian Sat 25-Jun-11 10:55:53

dejaview - Yes she still plays. Even whilst doing school exam revision she found that she studied better if she took time off to practise. It clears her mind.
She chose which universities to apply to according to whether or not there was an orchestra. Her first choice offered a music scholarship which she won so now she gets free lessons at RCM - and plays in 2 orchestras!
Most of her medic friends have other interests/areas of excellence. It seems that med schools like to pick students who have another side to them.

Whatever your daughter chooses to do, all that music tuition will still have been worthwhile. It is character-forming and I think it will give my DD a life-long pleasure, as well as an 'instant' social life wherever she lives.

I don't think a specialist music school would have suited her (though she would have liked the lack of sport) grin but, as I said, she didn't show exceptional talent until she was well entrenched in a secondary school she liked so it was never really an option.

Saturday music school gave her maturity, self-confidence and countless other benefits which we had not expected when she started there, including a personal statement to die for! I do recommend it. Most of her contemporaries are now at music college. DD and one other are at med school.

thekidsmom Sat 25-Jun-11 14:22:20

Hi deja - I'm the OP - I check back every now and then to see what's being said!

You clearly have a big decision to make, and I can see its not easy.

Just one thought at this stage - do you live in a county with good music provision? We are extermely fortunate to live in a county which has weekly orchestras (for grades 6 and up usually) for symphony, wind, jazz, brass, percussion and several choirs - all at very reasonable fees (£50 per term, no matter how many groups you play in). In addition to a JD they may give your daughter what you're looking for, if you choose the non-boarding route.

There are also several competitive choirs around - we regularly see one oursleves - which offer tours, training and international competitions, and which have good sponsorship so costs to performers are kept low.

And I'm sure its been mentioned up thread but dont overlook the national youth orchestra and the opportunities there.

So lots of options which arent boarding if it proves too much for you to contemplate your DD going away.

confidence Sat 25-Jun-11 23:03:45

Deja, "perfect pitch" is the ability to tell what a note is when played or (in more advanced form) to sing it when asked, without a reference note.

Most people with any musical training, if you play them say middle C on the piano and tell them what it is, and then play the G above it but don't tell them what it is, could name the G. They've learnt the sound of the interval between two notes five steps apart in the scale. This is called "relative pitch". It's how even non-musicians know how to sing a tune, or when a note in a tune they know is wrong.

The difference with the person with perfect pitch is that if they get up in the morning having heard no music that day, or even the past few days, and you don't give them any known reference note but just play the G out of the blue, they can tell you it's a G. It's a completely different kind of hearing and learning: they know the "chroma" or sound quality of each pitch as a thing in itself.

Actually perfect pitch is a misnomer. The better term is "absolute pitch" because this describes the difference between hearing a single note absolutely, and judging the connection between two notes relatively. I dislike the term perfect pitch because it leads people to think that it's one end of a continuum, which it isn't. In actual fact, the absolute pitch of people who have it is no more "perfect" than well trained relative pitch. People with absolute pitch still make errors, and they vary in their degree of tolerance of slightly out of tune notes before they no longer recognise them as the same note.

Unlike relative pitch, perfect pitch can't be learnt as an adult. There are various schools of thought about whether it is genetic, whether it emerges out of early musical training, or whether it can be taught but only in a "critical period" of early childhood. Actually I'm intrigued by your DD having it as one of the most agreed factors is that the vast majority of people with it had music lessons before the age of about 7, and I gather she didn't start till well after that.

It's sometimes said that it has various disadvantages like making it hard to transpose or sing in a choir that is slightly out from A440. I think these are overdone to be honest. I've know plenty of singers with absolute pitch who have no trouble at all "switching it off" or moving between absolute and relative strategies as required. I think the truth is just that you still need relative pitch training. Absolute pitch doesn't replace the deeper musical understanding that comes with relative pitch - and it's the lack of that understanding that hampers some musicians, not the presence of absolute pitch.

On the positive side, I've noticed it seems to massively increase the speed with which people can internalise and memorise music, which may have something to do with your DD's rapid progress. It's very useful for things like advanced score reading and anything requiring an instant connection between sound and symbol. The majority of famous conductors seem to have it, for example.

dejaview Sat 02-Jul-11 01:33:47


A trial week boarding was successful. I also met her teachers and was astonished how intense and focussed they are - almost constantly analysing my daughters responses and referring her back to exercises etc (she had several lessons.) She also loved the other children. I had imagined her main teacher who was also present at her auditions would be a matronly older musician but she was actually very beautiful and young and elegant - and DD then told me how at her audition this person had eyeliner in a swirl round her eyes - and high heels - so this obviously impressed her! (And I have to point out it would have impressed her equally if it had been a guy wearing the heels.)

Frankly the place seems astonishing - and given I now live as an ex-artist?having left Sussex far too long ago in a rather cultureless backwater I finally realised my daughter had ESCAPED! so it all seemed rather liberating. Me next.

Just in case its useful I should point out my daughter had free lessons 20 mins a week at primary from age 10 and had done her 5 grades in 18 months with merits. (They asked her why at Chethams she had not got distinctions and have asked her to re-stage her exam next lesson! She was 1-2 or 3 points off each time!) She plays with feeling and good tone (they said) but is not a recognisable genius on any level lol - no-one in fact ever remarked on her during school. She won one small competition - and it was clear she had won. And did attend excellent local county orchestras (full of visibly talented musicians). But my point is that I get the impression the whole thing is very subtle at these schools and colleges. Maybe its simply energy and enthusiasm? Visible focus. Not 'talent.' Some applicants must simply be amazing. I think my DD is simply earnest, and works hard. As a performer she is rather bashful.

She met people at the choir school who had known excellent grade 8 musicians who had applied to Chethams and not got past the 1st audition. I imagine if a child WANTS to enjoy music SO MUCH this is the place and it IS visible to the school who they are. Grades are irrelevant.

Its a shame not to go to the RCM finally - I would have loved to hang out there some weekends! lol and I do feel on some level an interest I have shared with my DD has now become an almost private affair with her teachers - but it will be wonderful to follow her progress.

Other classes at Chets like science have 14 to a class and sound like great fun too - but DD was alarmed how low the SATS scores are compared to her High School at the other private school she looked into. Chets has a good record for exams and the art class is excellent.

The whole place seems like a very close relaxed caring community. Thanks for all the advice and I hope our experiences are of use to others. Oh and DD pointed out that few students are 'rich.' She asked!

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