Neil's Story

Name: Neil
Location: UK
Examiner panel: Classical & Jazz

Neil is a French Horn player and Classical & Jazz examiner from London, who has performed around the world. He talked to us about musical career, his passion for music education and his work as an examiner.

Neil told us about his first experiences playing an instrument.

“I'm lucky enough to be from a generation where music education, lessons and access to instruments were free at school. I think I might have started on the recorder at about 9 and it has spiralled from there.”

“Where I grew up, they had a great county music set up, and there are these well-established pathways for going to youth orchestras and brass bands and I just followed this path.”

Professional background

Neil went on to study for his BMus at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. During his final year there, he was the first British player to win the prestigious International Paxman Horn Competition.

“I loved it – I had a fantastic four years there and walked out with a degree. I also managed in my 4th year to get my first playing job with the UK’s premier brass quintet, Fine Arts Brass Ensemble.”

Over the next 10 years or so, Neil performed with many of the UK’s finest orchestras and chamber groups, including the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English National Opera, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, The Hallé, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra.

“The orchestras and groups I've worked with are giving concerts and recordings and performances at the very highest level – it's an absolute privilege to be able to do that.”

He also played on many film and tv soundtracks, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and Dr Who, to name just a few.

A turning point

At one point, Neil almost went down a different route entirely, until an unexpected phone call changed his plans.

“After 10 years of touring, I took stock – I wasn't sure if actually I wanted to carry on with music. It was amazing travelling around the world but absolutely exhausting at the same time.”

“I actually got accepted to become a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service, and I was supposed to go in and sign the contract when I had a phone call from the BBC National Orchestra Wales offering me a job – 15 years later and I'm still with them.”

Teaching and examining

Neil told us about how he also became involved in music education.

“I remember thinking I have all this experience that I've already accumulated within music that I’d like to offer the next generation. If I can pass on that enthusiasm to younger musicians, then I think I probably should.”

“As a teacher, you obviously have this quite personal and close relationship with the students – I know individuals who have absolutely poured their heart and soul out in their performance. From a listening point of view, I get incredibly emotional about that, because you know the hardships that they've had to overcome to get to that point.”

In 2019, Neil joined Trinity College London’s examining panel. We asked him what appealed to him about Trinity’s exams in particular.

“What really interests me about Trinity is this holistic approach to the exams – the whole ethos really appealed to me specifically”.

“Regardless of the outcome, if the candidate could walk out of the exam smiling and saying I  enjoyed that and I'm going to do it again, I think we're doing a really good service.”

“Regardless of the outcome, if the candidate can walk out of the exam smiling and saying I enjoyed that and I'm going to do it again, I think we're doing a really good service.”

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