Yeoman of the Month February 2015 – Nick Walkley
I can’t say I ever really expected to be in the privileged position I am today. For most of my upbringing I was a devoted cornet player frustrated with the idea that it would never amount to anything more than a full-time hobby! Now I am a classical trumpet player, with a full-time job in London as Principal Trumpet of the Band of the Welsh Guards. Around this I operate a busy yet rewarding freelance schedule as a teacher, orchestral player, soloist, ensemble leader and occasional music journalist. However, the path to this point has been anything but straight and smooth.
Music is literally in my blood. Brass music has been in my family for at least five generations, mostly at a local community level within brass bands, but my father was the first to take this onto a bigger stage. He is recognised as one of the finest brass band trombone players of his generation and the solo recordings he had made with the Williams Fairey and Sun Life bands in the 1980s/90s were some of my earliest musical inspirations. To leave a similar legacy of my own is still one of my biggest driving forces.
It was my early ambition to follow in my father’s footsteps and become Principal Cornet with the Williams Fairey band. I had that opportunity aged 19, though it wasn’t to last. I had committed to studying for a career in architecture at Manchester University; balancing two such vocations was always a challenge with too many compromises on each side. Various other short-lived stints in other famous bands followed, but that band in Stockport remains very dear to me. It was a first-rate education in brass playing, particularly with having the privilege of sitting next to Brian Taylor who was one of my earliest inspirations. He had been the principal cornet during my dad’s time and a member of the band for over 35 years, and remarkably he remains a key figure in driving the band ever forwards.
Music and architecture never really managed to coexist successfully and eventually one had to give way. After five years at university and two in the architectural profession, music eventually won out and I joined the army as a viable way of starting a career as a cornet player.
After a busy couple of years in London with the Guards, which included the 2012 Olympics and Diamond Jubilee celebrations, I enrolled to study a Masters degree at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) alongside the job. There were Forces musicians who have managed part-time study at similar institutions before me, but perhaps not to this extent; balancing these commitments was a challenge that brought extreme emotional highs and lows. Having not had an orchestral upbringing I was almost starting from scratch with much of the repertoire and had a mountain of catching up to do. To add to the pressure, I was footing most of the costs from my own pocket and failure would result in a heavy personal loss.
After two very intense years of hard work, with the results being posted to the RAM registry noticeboard, I was shocked not to find my name on the list with those who had passed their MA. I checked and rechecked the list continuously as a sense of horror began to take over. I started thinking how I was going to deliver the bad news to those who had been so supportive, and whether I’d be able to rearrange my plans over the summer to accommodate the resubmissions I might need to do. After a few minutes of continuous searching, my worries were relieved by an overwhelming sense of elation when I discovered it listed elsewhere with those awarded Distinction instead.
My involvement with WCOM began in 2013 by being awarded the Brass Ensemble Prize at RAM with my project ‘æðelfrìth’. It is a brass ensemble project based around the standard quintet, regularly augmented with other instruments such as harps, percussion, and any other number of brass players to form other ensembles. It focuses on the relations between Anglo, Nordic and Celtic cultures, drawing on repertoire from those regions. Much of the lighter repertoire we play comes from a folk background, and so there is a kind of modal theme going on which gives the project a distinct sort of ‘flavour’ to it.
I also based my final recital at RAM around a similar concept, drawing on some unusual repertoire from England, Iceland and Norway. Becoming a Yeoman of WCOM has been a key factor in this group taking off, and we are looking forward to some exciting concerts in 2015 as a result of that.
A full up-to-date account of my activities can be found at www.nickwalkley.com which includes information on æðelfrìth, links to some recordings, some self-written teaching resources and a regularly updated blog.