Tom Lawrence on music education and opportunities

"As a child all these opportunities seemed perfectly normal, but I now realise how fortunate I was, and it makes me determined to try and repay some of this good fortune by teaching and creating similar opportunities for the kids in Hull."

Every year, Sound and Music shine a light on the work of the composers who are currently in residence on our talent development programmes. These are our New Voices of 2017.  They are creating new, exciting and innovative music, across disciplines, all over the UK.

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Tom Lawrence is a composer, educator and percussionist based in Yorkshire where he works as a peripatetic music teacher for the Hull Music Service. He is particularly interested in music education and helping young people to engage with contemporary music. He has composed extensively for young musicians as well as teaching composition in both primary and secondary schools and leading collaborative composition projects. He has also co-ordinated composition events for the Hull Music Service including delivering training for primary teachers.

Tom began his studies at Goldsmith's College with Ross Lorraine and Roger Redgate, then completed a Master's degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Malcolm Singer and  a PhD in Composition at Brunel University, working with Peter Wiegold and Richard Barrett among others.

Tom's music has been performed by groups such as the Rout ensemble and the Kreutzer Quartet, as well as youth ensembles such as Hounslow Youth Orchestra and the City of Hull Youth Orchestra. In 2017 he was commissioned by the Hull Music Hub to compose a piece for 650 young musicians to be performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the National Schools Proms.

What was your route into composing?

Like many people I suppose, it started with an inspirational teacher. When I was about 11 or so, at middle school in Oxford, the music teacher Mr. Stannard ran a competition to write a song for the end of year school production. He provided the words and we had to come up with the music. When my version of 'Ronny the Rusty Robot' was chosen, and performed by Mr. Stannard and a small band, it gave me a huge amount of confidence in my abilities. From then on I always regarded composition as something I could do,and wanted to explore further.

Your practice includes educating others in composition – what was your music education like as a child?

I was very lucky to grow up in Oxford and have access to the Oxfordshire County Music Service. I took lessons in school, attended music school on Saturday mornings, and played in orchestras, wind bands, jazz bands percussion ensembles etc. We would go on tour to Europe in the summer, trips to Italy and the Czech Republic are particularly clear in my mind, and we performed at some of the most prestigious venues in this country. The Music Service had a truly formative influence on me both as a musician and a person growing up.

As a child all these opportunities seemed perfectly normal, but I now realise how fortunate I was, and it makes me determined to try and repay some of this good fortune by teaching and creating similar opportunities for the kids in Hull.

You work as a composer, teacher and percussionist in and around Hull – how do you go about introducing children to composition? Any particular techniques?

I think when kids are just starting out on an instrument it is important to engage their creativity. As well as teaching them the basics of technique and notation, I will get them to explore the instrument, find their own sounds. From there it is a short hop to improvisation and the beginnings of composition. Especially in large group teaching sessions I like to use improvised conducting, getting the kids to use all kinds of hand signals and gestures etc. I also like to use game pieces and graphic or image based scores. Anything that gets them thinking about the possibilities of music without putting too many barriers in the way.

What are you looking forward to most about your residency with the British Music Collection and HCMF?

We are going to be working with some scores devised back in the 1960's called Music for Young Players. They were intended as a way to engage with young musicians and introduce them to contemporary music. As an educator I know that schools are crying out for this kind of resource and support in teaching composition and I can't wait to try them out. I'm sure that by working on them with kids and bringing them up to date in a few ways we can produce something with real lasting value for teachers and pupils alike.

Who are you listening to right now?

I have just been involved in some of the PRS Biennial Festival residency projects in Hull, as part of the City of Culture year, and one of the composers who came and did some work in schools was Errollyn Wallen. I loved her piece 'Mighty River' that was performed at the festival and have been listening to some more of her work recently. She is inspirational both as a composer and as a person.

If you could collaborate with any living artist – who would it be?

Django Bates. His music has had a profound influence on me and I think he would be an absolutely fascinating person to work with. I think any collaboration with him would be a massive learning opportunity and also one full of joy and humour.

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You can find out more about Tom on his Soundcloud.

There are 27 New Voices of 2017. Find out more about them here.