2018 RPS Instrument Purchase Grant | Tuba
Hello, my name is William Whitehouse. I am a 19-year old musician from Mansfield-Nottinghamshire, currently studying BMus at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Originally from Guildford, Surrey, I moved with my parents to Mansfield around the age of 7. I went straight into a new school and didn’t make many friends right away. I remember very distinctly on a Wednesday afternoon, our class was transferred into a much larger room where there was a collection of 20-30 tenor horns and trombones. They began to hand them out and said that we could take one home with us to practice on during the week. This was the point at which my musical career would begin.
I was given a tenor horn but didn’t really take it seriously. I didn’t do a lot of practice and made little progress – though I did carry on right through to year 8.
With GCSEs looming in the horizon I was thinking of giving up playing. I explained to my music teacher that I had other commitments and no longer valued taking time to carry on with it. He pleaded with me to keep at it; I was a regular participant in all the extracurricular activities in the music department, and he saw potential in me. He came up with an idea to swap instruments to keep my interests alive. One day after school I came in to discuss this with him; he opened up a dusty cupboard, and there lied a plethora of old brass instrument. My eyes instantly shot at the biggest and oldest looking thing in there. This just so happened to be an old German ½ size Eb “Tuba”. My teacher said he would take it home that night, clean and polish it, then bring it back in the morning. True to his word, it arrived back at school. The instrument was there – gleaming.
A few months of hard work had passed and it was time to take my Grade 4. My peripatetic teacher said my instrument wasn’t good enough for me to play on and that the council didn’t have any instruments I could use; I ought to wait until they had some before considering doing any grade examinations. Me being me, I went straight home and asked my mother to book the exam, but she saw how much it would cost and instantly dismissed the idea. I agreed to raise some money by doing jobs around the house and by this she was finally persuaded.
From then on I felt motivated to do my very best leading up to the examination date. I practised as much as possible, lugging my instrument from home to school every single day. I would arrive at school at half 6 in the morning – the cleaners let me in – and stay in the music department until it was time for class. I did this for 4 years until I left school. Sometimes I’d go on after school until 6pm, or until the site managers locking the building kicked me out!
I soon got a ‘better’ instrument, but it didn’t really seem that different. The intonation in the lower register was still very bad, but I made do. I used this instrument in all of my grade exams; I excelled in them all and surprised myself. I did Grades 4-7 in the space of 3 years, receiving distinctions, and shortly after achieved Grade 8 merit. At the age of 15 I joined a local brass band. I sat with two other Eb bass players and noticed my instrument looked a little different to theirs. Their tubas had a lot more piping around the valves and sounded much more in tune.
I went home that night and did some research on my computer. I saw that there were different types of systems – ‘compensated’ and ‘non-compensated’ – and it was a compensated instrument I needed in order to progress any further. I dug deeper and saw that instruments of this quality cost more that £7,000! I didn’t even bother asking my parents for money, there was no way they would have been able to afford it. My mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was receiving chemotherapy so she was unable to work, and shortly after my father had a very bad heart attack could not work either. I went to school and arranged a meeting with my teacher to ask whether the school could purchase an instrument for me. My music teacher was more than enthusiastic about it; but when she raised this with the more senior, they said no. There wasn’t enough funding. One member of staff actually laughed at the idea.
When I was 16 I passed my audition for the Junior Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Here it was just as I’d expected: all of the tuba players had compensated instruments, and I didn’t. I was weary, but still determined. Every Saturday, for 2 years, I travelled to Birmingham for tuba lessons and orchestra rehearsals, leaving at 6am and arriving at 8.30. I gained a lot of experience and confidence from my time at the Conservatoire, so much that I decided to audition for a Bachelor’s Degree and continue my studies there. It was a successful audition, but knew I needed a better instrument going forward.
Aged 17 I saw an ad on Facebook for a tuba position in the local police band; I enquired and went to a rehearsal. Entering the band room I saw that they had a compensated Eb tuba. I asked whether it was currently being used and they said no. This was around the time I was leaving school; my lessons would soon be over and consequently the instrument I was borrowing from the council would need to be returned. Although I was not able to attend the police band regularly, they were more than kind in lending this instrument to me nonetheless. I’ve played on it ever since, all the way through my first year of study, up to this very day.
A year on I am close to reaching my financial goal. Thanks to the Royal Philharmonic Society, I will soon be purchasing my very own tuba! I am delighted and feel extremely privileged to receive the grant. Despite all the troubles along the way, I’ve persevered and remained patient. And it has all been worth it.
Graham Johnson, pianist: awarded RPS Honorary Membership in 2010 for his 'unstinting championship of Song'.
DID YOU KNOW?
Richard Wagner was musical director of the 1855 Philharmonic Society Season and conducted all eight concerts.