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Here you can read about the journeys of our two ambassadors, Lauren and Carys, from studying at school to auditioning and making the transition to music conservatoire and beyond. Learn first hand from their experiences as they prepare for the next stage in their musical pathways!


Lauren Bye - Spring 2021


Making the Decision to apply to Conservatoire!


I always knew music was important to me, but I didn't know how integral it would be to my life. I began by learning drum kit from an early age but did not start learning tuned percussion until rather late.  I was the only percussionist at school and therefore was not aware of the opportunities that young percussionists could have.  


The National Scout and Guide Symphony Orchestra was my first insight into a music College as we performed at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  This was my first ‘Out of County’ week I had been on and it sparked my love of playing music all day, everyday.  I began thinking about music as a career and not just as a hobby. I then applied for the National Youth Percussion Orchestra. This intense week not only pushed me as a percussionist but as a musician as a whole, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to play in ensembles of percussionists. The tutors at NYPO included Pat King, Owen Gunnell, Toby Kearney and Percworks’ own Will and Kizzy, who alongside teaching new techniques and skills, gave insight into life at a conservatoire and as a musician. This confirmed that playing percussion and being with musicians everyday and the next step was to look for my degree training. 

How did you choose where to apply?


To help me choose where to apply I read through many prospectus’ and followed the conservatoires on social media. The open days (both virtual and in person) helped get a feel for the conservatoires, facilities, and courses and I also spoke to tutors and students who were always willing to answer any questions and share their experiences.

  • Due to my experience at NYPO I really wanted to audition at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. This was mainly because I knew the way the amazing tutors taught. In addition to Cardiff being a lovely city the inclusivity and friendliness of the RWCMD when I visited was incredible. 

  • As Royal Birmingham Conservatoire was the first place I had visited (performed in) I wanted to play there again and was aware of their amazing facilities. Birmingham is also a bustling city and there are fantastic, supportive tutors at the conservatoire. 

  • I also decided to apply to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as I knew people there who were loving the course both percussionist and other courses. The opportunities Guildhall offered due to being in London were amazing. However I was initially uncertain about being in the busy city and not knowing the tutors as well as those at the other conservatoires.


Preparing for the Audition!

Following NYPO in August I decided to apply that year without very much experience and was unsuccessful. However this didn’t put me off and after the initial disappointment I decided to apply again this year. 


With the feedback I received from my first auditions I focused on ways to improve my playing. I selected my pieces and after buying a marimba I practised for hours everyday (that was one advantage of lockdown). Other students may not need to practise this much but I definitely wanted to give myself the best chance possible and prove to myself and the tutors what I could do in a year. I also asked the conservatoire tutors for some lessons. I recorded my pieces and the tutors called me with constructive criticism and advice. The tutors also recommended rudiments and scales sheets to make my learning different and more interesting. In addition to this and to improve my overall musicality I also began singing lessons.


For my first auditions I chose to wear concert dress which on reflection may have been too formal. However I felt I looked smart and was used to performing in this. For my online auditions I dressed slightly more casually. I also practiced in the shoes I was going to wear so I knew I was comfortable and had the correct posture and stance.  


The Auditions Themselves.


By auditioning twice, I am fortunate to experience both in person and online auditions. Whilst I preferred the face to face auditions, preparing for the virtual auditions helped me enormously by practicing recording and critiquing my performance.


In the practise time just before the auditions I felt it was best to warm up my hands by doing a few scales and rudiments. Secondly, I ran through the first few bars of the pieces and also some of the more ‘trickier’ bars to feel more confident and get that final feel for the piece before I went in. 


Most Conservatoires let you decide which order you play your pieces in. I chose to play my strongest piece first to boost my confidence. In the interview that follows you are mainly asked about your experience, what you want to gain from the conservatoire and your future goals. 


The auditions are what you make of them and confidence is key (easier said than done in an audition!) If I were to give one piece of advice it would be not to compare yourself to anyone else, everyone is unique and I believe Conservatoires look for different things. 


Deciding which to choose!


After not receiving any places last year I was really pleased when my hard work and determination paid off and I received offers and scholarship awards from all three conservatoires this year.  However, this made it more difficult to make my final decision as to where to study. I thought I always knew where I would study, but it was actually one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I had to really think about my future and where would be the best place for me, resulting in many sleepless nights and a very long pro’s and con’s list!


The tutors know that students are often offered more than one place and all were very supportive. Some conservatoires offered a group lesson to all the successful applicants, whilst others offered calls to speak with them or other tutors directly which enabled the opportunity for me to ask further questions. I found talking with other percussionists who had already been through the process was also really helpful.  Will and Kizzy also understood the dilemma I was in and were really supportive by listening and letting me talk about how I felt about each Conservatoire.  


I have therefore decided because of the course, location and opportunities in London that for the next 4 years I will be studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 

Carys Underwood - Spring 2021


to attend RBC’s open day before lockdown which gave me a brilliant opportunity to get a feel of the college and talk to some of the students about their time there. I was also able to attend Cardiff University’s open day as a plan B in case I was unable to get into conservatoire. However, due to COVID, I couldn’t attend RWCMD and RNCM’s open day’s but was able to go to their online versions which were also very informative however I was unable to get a feel of the college itself. 

Preparing for the Audition!

Before recording my auditions, I had to apply for the colleges; this meant writing my personal statement. Again, because of COVID, my school weren’t able to help me much on my personal statement so I found as many videos online as I could and attended some online classes that other universities were providing and eventually, after many drafts I had completed it. After the personal statement was completed the rest was fairly easy, I just had to fill in a lot of information which I did in small sections as there was so much. Preparing for my auditions was a stressful experience, made especially so because of the lockdown meaning that I couldn’t have face to face lessons. In fact, before recording my auditions, I only had about 3 lessons in person. I was extremely fortunate that the NYPO course was able to go ahead online at the end of last summer, a few weeks before I needed to make my auditions. This meant that I was able to get plenty of advice from professionals, students who had gone through the process and even people who sit on the audition panels. Every evening during the course we had to record the pieces we’d been working on that day so that we could go over them with the tutors the next day, giving me plenty of practise at recording myself playing. Another thing I found useful before recording was emailing the colleges with any questions I had which they were more than happy to answer.

The Auditions Themselves.

Recording my auditions was an interesting experience to say the least. Before actually pressing record I took the instruments that I was playing to different rooms in my house to find the acoustic that worked best with the instrument. Unfortunately I couldn’t move the timps so instead I filled the room with pillows and blankets to dampen the sound so it was clearer. Moving rooms while recording was quite funny as I had to keep moving the cats out of the way and the panel would get a little tour of my house. It took me a few tries to get a take that I was happy with and submitted them. Some of the colleges required me to record a speaking segment where I answered some questions like why I wanted to go to that college and about my experiences in music so far. After all of this I had to do the interviews which I found quite enjoyable. The panels were really nice and made me feel as comfortable and relaxed as I could in that situation. The interviews took around 20 minutes each and I was asked some questions and given some sight- reading. All in all it was a good experience which has prepared me for auditions that I will have to do in the future.

Making the Decision to apply to Conservatoire!


The decision to go to conservatoire started when I was in NCO, after having the chance to play with some amazing musicians. Having a very musical family meant that I was often taken to concerts in Cardiff as it was the nearest place that we could go to watch orchestras perform. It also meant that they would take me to many master classes and workshops in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and so by the time I left NCO I couldn’t imagine myself studying anywhere else.

How did you choose where to apply?

By the time it came to making my applications, some other conservatoires caught my eye and I decided to apply to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Northern College of Music as well as RWCMD. Luckily, I was able

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