Tutor at RNCM, JRNCM & Chetham’s School of Music
Andrea Vogler studied percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music and enjoys a varied
career as a performer and educator. She has worked with a wide range of ensembles from Black Dyke Brass Band to Royal Northern Sinfonia and the Hallé Orchestra; collaborated with artists as diverse as Noisy Toys Robotic Orchestra and performance poet Louise Wallwein (MBE); and toured the world performing in everything from contemporary chamber opera in New York to the Lewis Capaldi Symphony Orchestra in Liverpool. Andrea is on the teaching staff at the RNCM, Junior RNCM, and Chetham’s School of Music, is the Director of RNCM Young Percussion, and is the recipient of an RNCM Teaching and Learning Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in teaching and learning. Her students feature regularly in the finals of major competitions including BBC Young Musician of the Year, and many have been awarded major scholarships to study at top UK Conservatoires. From 2017-2020 Andrea was the lead consultant heading the team that created the new ABRSM Percussion Syllabus.
Why did you take up percussion and how old were you?
I was 14. I played flute in my local Music Centre wind band on a Saturday, but I didn’t really enjoy it because the other flute players weren’t very friendly and there were lots of ledger lines in the music. I noticed the percussionists having a great time at the back with cups of tea and sweets during the rehearsals and decided that is where I wanted to be.
Who was your first teacher and where did you start?
Tim Saxby was my first teacher and I started learning percussion through my local music service in Kent.
What instruments/resources did you have?
I had a little Premier practice pad and a pair of Rodgers 7A drumsticks. I practiced on the local music centre's Sonor xylophone (I remember it used to lean dangerously to one side) and my school had a pair of hand-tuned Premier timpani which I was allowed to use for 10 minutes a day at break time.
Do you have any advice for young percussionists during this stage of education?
We have the biggest and most exciting family of instruments to explore and you can access so much information now at the tap of a screen. Be curious, proactive and discerning in your learning.
Don’t do junk practice. Approach each practice session with a purpose - ask yourself what you want to achieve. For example it might be learning a certain section of music, improving dexterity, working on dynamic detail, exploring musical shapes, or simply playing through an old favourite for the fun of it.
I think of grade exams as the trunk of a tree and the whole wonderful world of percussion as the branches and leaves. If you just focus on passing exams your trunk will grow quite quickly but you will end up with a spindly tree with weak roots that won’t thrive. If you take the time to grow strong roots and foundations then build up, stopping to explore and develop different branches along the way, you will end up with a strong, well-rounded and healthy tree.
With your knowledge and experience now, what performance opportunities would you suggest for young percussionists to engage with?
Get a broad base of experience and aim high. I know lots of people have said this already in your interviews, but you really should seize every opportunity you can to play, and get experience performing in as many different styles and genres as possible. Talk to your teacher and look for county and national level ensembles to apply for. Even if you don’t get in first time you never know who has noticed you, and they will see how much you have improved the next time you play for them. Explore what your local conservatoire/specialist music school has to offer. Many have performing, workshop and masterclass opportunities like RNCM Young Percussion which are non-competitive and free to access.
At what point did you decide this was the profession for you?
In my lower 6th it was either Music College or studying Cybernetics at Brunel University. I went on a ‘Women in Engineering’ weekend at Brunel. We spent the whole weekend designing a robot that could sort black and white ping pong balls, and everyone was in bed by 9pm. A few weeks later I went on a Kent County Youth Orchestra residential course. We played Walton Belshazzar’s Feast and Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and we certainly didn’t go to bed at 9pm. It was very clear to me where I would rather be.
After school, where did you continue your studies and who did you learn with?
I studied for 5 years at RNCM with Ian Wright (timpani) Paul Patrick (orchestral percussion) Liz Gilliver (tuned percussion) and Dave Hassell (kit and world music). Their combined knowledge and skill as teachers gave me such a good grounding in all areas of playing and I am very grateful for this versatility, particularly in today’s job market. I learned so much from them about music and the music profession, and I hear myself quoting them all the time in my teaching.
Why did you decide this pathway?
I knew I wanted to study at music college rather than university. I chose RNCM because I grew up living very close to London and wanted to spread my wings further afield. It is definitely one of the best decisions I ever made.
What was your first ever professional engagement, what was it like and how did you get it?
With the Halle playing Peterloo Overture for the Royal Gala opening concert at the (then) new Bridgewater Hall. It was terrifying and amazing in equal measures. I was in my third year at college and this was in the days before official Professional Experience schemes. Your teachers recommended you for work, and the first I knew was
when I got a phone call from Dave Hext asking me if I was free to play.
What happened next?
I freelanced regularly with the Halle and started to pick up work with other orchestras in the area and further afield. Quite often the phone would ring and a new fixer would say “I got your name from so-and-so, are you free to work on the following dates…” One lovely more experienced freelance player passed my name on for so much work I nicknamed her my 'fairy gig-mother’. By the time I left college I was working regularly with the Halle, Northern Sinfonia (now RNS), Performing Arts Orchestra, Northern Chamber Orchestra and Buxton Opera, and depping with English National Ballet and West End shows when their tours came up north. At this point I was also touring as a solo recitalist for the Countess of Munster Musical Trust (who had very kindly funded my postgraduate studies) the National Federation of Music Societies and Live Music Now, so I was learning a lot of music and spending a lot of time on the road. Friends who had left college before me warned that the first year or so wasn’t too bad because different orchestras would ‘get you in’ to see how you played, but after that you were no longer the new kid on the block and you might have some quieter patches. By this point in addition to the orchestral and recital playing I was working a day a week as a percussion teacher and delivering outreach concerts and workshops with my percussion duo. I found that because of the variety of work I was involved with even if one door closed another opened, and I have always kept busy.
You have performed with many orchestras/ensembles, artists and theatre productions, what do you enjoy about the ‘portfolio career’ of a percussionist?
I love the variety of music I get to play and the fact that I can draw on all the different skills I learned at college. No two working weeks are ever the same, and even during the recent lockdowns there have been new challenges and projects to work on. If you had told me in February this year that I would be spending days at a time in my home studio recording sound effects for podcasts, leading remote workshops, laying down multiple percussion tracks for a variety of different ensembles, and teaching via Zoom I would have laughed at you. Let’s just say I have learned a lot about computers, mics and cameras in the last 8 months!
When and why did you start teaching?
I started teaching in my third year at RNCM. It was at Trafford Youth Orchestra every Friday evening. Although it was great to develop new skills and earn money to fund my studies I do remember thinking at the time how much damage it was doing to my social life, because Friday was always the biggest student night out.
You are a Professor at the Royal Northern College of Music, what's this like?
It is a real honour to be invited to teach alongside musicians and teachers I have so much respect for. I teach percussion at both RNCM and JRNCM and really enjoy the challenge and responsibility of working with such talented students from an early age right through to graduation. There is always a real buzz and a sense of family and community in both the Senior and Junior departments. It is lovely to see students going forwards with confidence into their chosen careers, musical or otherwise.
Are there any challenges?
The RNCM is very supportive of staff professional development. I have just finished a 3 year collaborative research project with RNCM’s Head of Education, John Habron. Our research paper “Soft Hands: A percussion teacher’s professional development journey” is due to be published early next year. This has been a wonderful opportunity but also a big challenge for me to look at my own learning and the way I teach from different
You teach at the Specialist Music School, Chetham's, what's this like?
Chetham's is fab! Paul Patrick and Dave Hext have built a really strong department with a reputation for producing excellent players. I am delighted to have been invited to join the team to further develop the solo percussion and chamber music side of the course.
You are also actively involved in outreach projects such as Manchester Camerata's 'Music in Mind'; and Live Music Now, what do you enjoy about this side of your work and how does it differ from teaching?
My first experience of outreach was participating in a Ballet Rambert project while I was at school. The excitement of working with professional musicians and dancers really inspired me and stayed with me. Then as a student at RNCM I was offered the opportunity to assist on a Royal Liverpool Philharmonic outreach project with Graham Fitkin. From there things snowballed and outreach projects have always been a very enjoyable part of my work. I love the sense of collaborating to create something new, combining composition and
performing. It it brilliant to see people take ownership of the music they have created, and I enjoy knowing I could be the person that plants a little seed of inspiration - you never know where you are on someone’s journey. My work with Music in Mind is really special and I could take a whole interview on that topic alone! In essence it is all about music as a language and means of communication for people living with dementia. Some of my most powerful musical experiences have happened as part of this amazing, award winning project. I strongly recommend anyone who is interested takes a look at Manchester Camerata’s website to find out more.
You were also the Lead Consultant for the ABRSM's new percussion syllabus, can you tell us more about this?
Balancing the requirements of the exam board with our team’s vision for a syllabus that met the demands of 21st Century percussion performance was both fascinating and challenging. There was a big team involved at different stages in the process, and there were some great ideas in place before I came on board. My core team included Cameron Sinclair, Ian Forgrieve, Jayne Obradovic, and Ian Wright with support from several other experienced teachers across the UK. There are so many different elements and parameters that go into creating a new syllabus. Everything from range of dynamics, range of notes, rudiments, time signatures, key signatures, timpani tuning, speed of hand movements, moving between drums, multi- percussion notation, duration of pieces etc. all has to be discussed and agreed at every level before you start thinking about repertoire. Together we restructured the whole syllabus and commissioned over 80 new pieces across a range of styles. I am particularly proud of the addition of multi-percussion pieces and pieces with percussion accompaniments. I hope students and teachers enjoy the variety and flexibility of the new syllabus.
You also composed new pieces for this syllabus, how and when did you start composing?
I started composing when I was at school and continued studying with Anthony Gilbert at RNCM on my undergraduate course. These days I don’t have as much time as I would like to write, but I have started working on a book of beginner percussion pieces during lockdown which will be ready for publication next year.
What is your career highlight so far?
This is a really tough question! I have been so fortunate to build a career doing what I love that it’s really hard to pick one thing. Here are my top ten gigs:
1.RNS Bartok Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste - I could have picked so many different Royal Northern Sinfonia gigs from over the years to go in this slot but I’m a big fan of Bartok’s music and have always loved the RNS string sound. This particular gig made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up because it was so special.
2. Music in Mind Dementia Voices - working on an award winning theatre piece with a team of professional actors, a performance poet and chamber ensemble composing music with people living with dementia.
3. Scrooge at London Palladium - my first actual West End chair. I remember the adrenaline as the curtain went up on my first show, and the sense of history backstage at the Palladium.
4. Beethoven 9 tour with RNS in Hong Kong. Fab music, fab tour location and fab team of players.
5. Manchester Camerata - composing and recording a wake up call for NASA which was beamed up to the International Space Station.
6. Lewis Capaldi with Manchester Camerata - festival gig in Liverpool, the sound of 12,000 people singing along was epic.
7. Panto season with Paul O'Grady - really fantastic band. So much fun playing in a section with Elliott Henshaw on kit. Paul O'Grady's ad-libbing had the band in tears of laughter every night.
8. Countess of Munster Solo Recital at Royal Hospital London - it was such a privilege to be invited to play here for the Chelsea Pensioners.
9. BBC Philharmonic televised prom Varese Arcana at Royal Albert Hall. I been to see so many proms gigs there as a teenager, this was the first one I played in.
10. Apartment House Opera - living and working in New York on a contemporary opera installation off Broadway. The audience were lying on mats at my feet watching me in overhead mirrors and the conductor was 20 metres away set in a concrete block.
What is the best thing about being a musician?
The music and the people.
What would your 'Top Three Tips' be for a young percussionist thinking about a career in music?
1. Keep practising
2. Keep listening (on every level: to music, your teachers, your sound, the musicians you are playing with…)
3. Say yes to new opportunities, you never know where they might lead!
If you would like to find out more about Andrea, check out the following links:
RNCM https://www.rncm.ac.uk/study-here/what-you-can-study/schools-of-study/school-of-wind-brass-and percussion/percussion/
Chetham's - https://chethamsschoolofmusic.com/study/music/percussion/
ABRSM - www.gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/percussion-exams/
Manchester Camerata 'Music in Mind' - manchestercamerata.co.uk/community/