Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?
One of my earliest memories of falling in love with classical music was when I use to visit my grandparents’ house at the weekends. They had the film Fantasia and I use to sit there for hours transfixed by the music and the animations (I still find the Night on Bald Mountain video a bit terrifying to this day!). I use to also sit and play their piano from a very young age until my grandad organised for me to have lessons at the age of 5. I continued taking lessons through school, and it wasn’t until I met the fantastic Valentina Seferinova at A-level at South Downs College that I really ramped up my practising, putting in the hours so that I could be good enough to get into music college to study for a music degree.
What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?
When I started my degree at the RNCM it was a shock to go from being a big fish in a small pond, to a very small fish in an enormous ocean! I quickly realised the amount of work I needed to put in and it took me a good 2 years to get to a place where I began to felt comfortable with my own playing.
What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?
Playing the piano can be solitary so I’ve relished the opportunities I’ve had to make music with others. When I started secondary school I joined a steel band which opened up my eyes to a whole new world of music from the Caribbean. The social element of this band was fantastic and I have built strong friendships form that time with friends I still see today. During my time at the RNCM, my principal study tutor was also head of chamber music, and introduced me to some brilliant musicians at the college. I enjoyed collaborating with them in duo and trio settings and also had the honour of winning the Christopher Rowlands Chamber Music Prize in my final year. Organising rehearsals can be tricky, especially when musicians typically have many other jobs/commitments going on, but sites like doodle.com can help work out when everyone is free.
Which works/performances are you most proud of?
My final recital at the RNCM was worth 50% of my whole degree (due to doing an exchange year in Helsinki). This was a 1-hour public recital from memory including music by Bach-Busoni, Rachmaninoff and Bach. I was really nervous but luckily I managed to pull it off relatively unscathed!
Another musical achievement I am really proud of is organising a Eurovision themed singing competition for the primary school I am working in. Each class had to choose a song that had been performed at Eurovision and learn the words and dance moves for the competition. The children loved it and it was a great way to get the children singing and listening to music in a way which they hadn’t done before.
Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?
Rachmaninoff saw me through my teen years and got me really hooked on classical music! I remember hearing his 3rd piano concerto for the first time and becoming immediately obsessed! I also really like Bach’s keyboard works, particularly his two books of preludes and fugues.
Which works do you think you perform best?
I really like performing Bach. I love sitting down and experimenting with different ways to phrase and articulate his music.
What are your most memorable concert experiences?
When I was in a steel band, I loved performing at Notting Hill Carnival’s Panorama steel band competition. There were thousands of people in the audience and the atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. My most memorable concert was watching Frankie Valli perform at the O2 a few years ago. The fact that he can still nail all of those high notes and perform with such energy to an enormous venue is incredible!
What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?
Go for it, but remember that it’s highly competitive and you really need to put in the hours, dedication and focus to make a career out of it. Make sure you gain as many skills related to music as possible (sight-reading, jazz, improvisation, singing and teaching) so you can have a portfolio career. You’ll likely end up doing something in music that you didn’t intend on doing so don’t be ‘snobby’ about taking on work that you feel is below your level of training (especially when you’re starting out)!
A career in music takes a long time to build; 90% of the work I have been given (performing/teaching) has been through the relationships I have built within the industry over the years.
Finally, don’t neglect the business side of being a musician. You need to know how to market yourself, negotiate contracts, manage your own finances and be able to deal with a whole host of different people and their unique personalities in a professional and likeable manner.
How would you define success as a musician?
I would say that as long as you’re making music, and that makes you happy, then you’re successful. If you want to share that with other people then that’s also great, and if you can make money on top of that then even better! Personally, I have had great pleasure in bringing classical music to young people. I have recently introduced a music curriculum at my school based on the principles of Kodály, which is highly systematic, practical and engaging. Seeing the impact this approach has had on their level of engagement with music has been an absolute joy and something I am keen to expand on across the city of Portsmouth in the future.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Discovering new music! I love it when I’m listening through albums and artists and I come across a song/piece of music that really gets to me. Recent discoveries have been the artist ‘YEBBA’ and the music from the musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’.
Here is a link to a recording of me trying to play some Liszt.
Jack Davies is a primary school teacher and music leader at Berewood Primary School in Waterlooville, and has worked as a music specialist working for Portsmouth Music Service. He has a private teaching studio, the Solent Music School, in Portchester. He enjoys going to live concerts and musicals, running and attempting overly ambitious DIY projects.