“Music is at the heart of who I am” An interview with RWCMD, Student Musician Sophie Hallam

Hi Sophie, great to meet you. You are currently studying Music Performance (Flute) at RWCMD, Cardiff, can you give our readers some background information on your career to date?  

Hi Guy, it’s lovely to meet you too! I have been playing the flute for 13 years, previously studying with Berkshire Music Trust, (a registered charity who support everyone to have access to music education regardless of their background) …or Berkshire Maestros as it was known back then! Throughout my time with them I played in numerous ensembles, the most senior being Berkshire Youth Symphony Orchestra, Newbury Concert Band and Newbury Flute Choir.

Since joining the RWCMD in 2020, I have been part of the RWCMD Symphony Orchestra and also formed the Eira Quintet and the Corriera Trio with other members of the college. 

So, what got you interested in the arts? 

I have always been interested in the arts as a whole, singing was one of my hobbies from the moment I could get words out of my mouth! It was actually my mum who got me interested in playing the flute, as she had her old one in the house and let me have a try when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with it straight away and have never looked back since. 

What importance does music have in your life and how have you combined the life of a student musician and opportunities to perform live in your professional career?  

Music is at the heart of who I am. There is not much I do without having music of some description either playing in the background, or playing it myself. It is something that I use to help regulate my mental health, as I believe music can be so empowering regardless of whether you are the listener or performer. The college provide us with many opportunities to sign up to perform, both inside the college and out in the community, so it is all about finding a balance and being disciplined and realistic with how much you can take on alongside the mandatory work that comes with the degree. Alongside this, I often go to schools or learning centres with my ensembles to do community workshops, which is something I hope to continue doing throughout my professional career. 

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama is a Conservatoire, some of our readers may be unfamiliar with this term, how does this differ to study at a University?

That is a great question! Studying at a conservatoire is a lot more performance based than studying Music at a university. We have two solo performance recitals per year (one short, one long), a technical exam specific to our instrument, an orchestral excerpts exam and an ensemble recital. There is still some written assignments each year, however these aren’t as heavily weighted. 

Along with the members of The Eira Quintet you are part of one of the RWCMD, Woolcott Residencies, these provide students with the tools, support and mentoring needed to set themselves up as creative businesses working in a collaborative, entrepreneurial manner. They are an innovative training programme designed to support RWCMD students working within the community, and to give local people a sense of ownership of the arts. Your Residency is based at St Johns Church adjacent to The Hayes, Cardiff. How did you come to be involved in this project and what are your ambitions for its delivery? 

 The opportunity to become the artists in residence at the church was advertised to the students at college, so we applied and were lucky enough to be offered the position! We have a few different plans for concerts to deliver at the church, including one hopefully collaborating with the choir, as well as workshop ideas for local schools and members of the community. We were also honoured to perform as part of the St David’s Day service and hope to be involved in more of the church’s events across the residency. 

As part of the Woolcott Residency, each ensemble will be encouraged to curate and nurture their own relationship with a venue, delivering regular educational workshops, concerts and participatory sessions for at least a year. You will be performing in the Church in the near future, how do you approach performing in a church and what has the response been so far? 

 Yes, we are really looking forward to this performing, we have some really fun music lined up! Performing in a church definitely brings some challenges due to the boomy acoustic, so we have to make sure we over do any detail in the music for it to come across. Also, as the venue is a sacred place, we always make sure to have conversations with the church clergy to make sure they are happy with the music we perform and the way we use the space. So far we have had a very positive response from both the clergy and the members of the community towards our performances, as well as from the Mayor of Cardiff and staff from the Cardiff and Vale Music Service. 

You also recently performed in The Old Library as part of Pamela Howards, Welcome to Wales Exhibition. The exhibition had a theme of retracing the stories of immigrants who’ve travelled through and to Cardiff. As young musicians how can you reflect contemporary society?  

I think our work at the exhibition reflects the positive direction that society is going in in recognising the struggles that have happened in our history and working on preventing them from happening again. We are very fortunate to have the luxury of studying at RWCMD, so I think it is fantastic that these stories are being given the setting to be shared both with us as students and the wider community. We always strive to include a diverse range of composers in our repertoire to reflect how society is moving in this direction. 

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why? 

If you had asked me this question a couple of years ago then I would have said music education without a doubt, as I believe that it is so important both for a child’s development but also for the future of the arts as a whole. However, in light of recent events I would now choose to fund professional orchestras and venues as they are now the organisations that are struggling with a lack of funding. 

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales? 

I find the Welsh Government’s attitude to music education very inspiring! They see the importance of music in schools and have put a plan in place to allow children of all ages to participate in musical activities and/or learn an instrument without any limitations of cost. I think this is exactly what the future of the arts needs and it brings a lot of hope into the sector. 

What was the last really great arts event that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

I may be biased, but I recently went to the “Opera Double Bill” at the Sherman Theatre. This was a performance of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Resphigi’s La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco by RWCMD’s David Seligman Opera School. As far as I know, everything from the set design to the musicians on and off stage was done by college students, and it was all to such a high standard. I enjoyed it so much that I went every night! 

If you are interested in study at RWCMD you can find out more about future Open Days here

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