Name: Taylor Cheeseman
Location: United Kingdom
Trinity qualification: Rock & Pop Grades 2,4 and 6
For 15-year-old Taylor, the joy of Trinity Rock & Pop comes from the freedom it affords him to perform in front of people. Despite his outwardly shy and modest demeanour, it’s apparent that he is a natural performer. This is further exemplified by his choice of songs for his Grade 6 exam, which included Disney’s smash hit ‘Let it go’ and Adele’s languid but deceptively powerful ballad ‘Skyfall’.
‘It’s just really nice to perform in front of someone and get that feedback.’ says Taylor.
It is perhaps little surprise that Taylor is so adept at the performing arts. His grandmother ran the local dance school until she retired, and his mum was a singer and performer too, so it is very much in his blood.
Taylor says that completing his Trinity Rock & Pop exams was about understanding where he was at as a performer, and pushing his ability:
“I wanted to see what level I was at with my singing and challenge myself to see how far I could get.”
Taylor’s most recent exam was taken in the height of the Covid epidemic, and he therefore went with a Digital Grade exam option. In doing a digital exam, Taylor found it was easier for him to prepare for, as psychologically he didn’t have the same nerves previously experienced of being in front of an examiner.
However, Taylor did find that when doing the recording, he found it to be much more challenging to engage with the examiner, as he wasn’t able to get that immediate feedback from them being in front of him.
‘I feel I could perform more in front of an actual examiner.’ says Taylor.
But the fear over whether the performance would be diminished on camera soon passed once Taylor had started his recording. Despite the freedom to do multiple takes, Taylor didn’t feel they were necessary. Laughing, with a degree of modesty, he explained that the whole video submission was done in one take.
‘I feel like we were happy with that.’ he confirms.
The ability to look back at recordings has proven a useful tool for Taylor. The recordings have enabled him to pick out aspects of his performance – both vocal and stage presence – that he might want to refine or develop. He places a lot of emphasis on the need to improve both, stating that ‘you can sing really well, but if you just stand there it can become quite boring.’
The physicality of a performance isn’t just for the audience’s benefit either. Taylor expressed that moving around, and owning the stage makes him feel like a better performer, and able to really belt out the songs he’s performing.
Despite not suffering from performance nerves himself, Taylor can imagine that a Digital Grade can be helpful for those who get anxious performing in front of somebody else:
‘In front of an examiner you might be scared of messing up, or doing something wrong, but in front of a camera, it’s less scary.’
Taylor acknowledges that within a digital recording there can be a fear that your skills might not come across in the same way. When an examiner is in front of you, Taylor feels it is perhaps easier to get the technical aspects of your performance heard, while performing on camera requires you to compensate, ‘belting out and projecting’ the notes much more to try and create the same impact.
As a performer Taylor also believes you are required to think much more about your stage presence in a digital exam recording. When an examiner is in front of you, Taylor posits that the examiner is likely to be focusing solely on you as the performer, while on video they could also be taking in your performance setting too. Similarly, Taylor feels that the loss of a face-to-face examiner means you can’t adjust your performance on the fly based on visual feedback, so you have to have much more confidence in your own ability.
The music exams really helped Taylor with his confidence. Introspectively, he acknowledged that he isn’t naturally a confident person.
‘On a stage, I can really be myself, but outside of music I’m really not a confident person, but that’s something I wanted to develop over time.’
It certainly seems the case that studying Trinity Rock & Pop has had a marked impact on his ability to speak to strangers, with Taylor recognising how he grew into his own:
‘The exams really helped me become my own person and really project who I am in my performance.’
Yet, despite his newfound confidence, Taylor remains refreshingly modest, with his teacher having to jump in to really emphasise the gravitas of his achievements – likely the first of many to come in his career.
Having only really listened to pop music before, Taylor credits the diversification of his listening habits to his Trinity Rock & Pop studies. He now really enjoys genres like jazz, hip-hop and musical theatre, and specifically name checks Stevie Wonder.
‘Why didn’t I listen to this before?!’ he exclaims!
This has also extended to the songs he enjoys performing, now being far more willing to experiment with new types of music rather than rigidly sticking to a tried and tested format.
Through his Trinity Rock & Pop qualifications, Taylor has had several great opportunities open up to him. His vocal talent has seen him invited to perform in a number of concerts – both inside and outside of school. As the highest scoring student in the school for that year, Taylor also received a fully funded trip to London’s West End to watch ‘Wicked’ and ‘The Lion King’ - and given that Taylor has been cast as Simba in the school’s own production of the show, it’s likely to be a very rewarding experience.
For Taylor, it’s not enough to just be proficient at your chosen instrument. As he emphasised repeatedly, to really excel in the exam (and generally within the performing arts) you have to think about your performance holistically – taking into consideration both the aesthetic and your presence in addition to any technical ability.
‘It’s not just the instrument or vocals that you’re providing, it’s also your presence.’
He also stressed the importance of both practising and experimenting. He feels it's important to always be playing outside of your comfort zone and be looking to other genres and inspirations to enrich your own knowledge and to see where you could take your practice next.
For Taylor, his priority is to continue developing his technical understanding of music and boosting his confidence both inside and outside of music. With just a year left until his GCSEs, he is already thinking further down his academic journey and plans to go to college to study music. Beyond that, he doesn’t have a definitive plan, but can say with absolute certainty that music will play a big part in his future.
‘If not a singer then maybe something in the acting business – musical theatre maybe? I just want a career in music.’