A skilled conductor and musical director, Sam has worked in theatres across the UK with a variety of people in educational and professional groups. Before arriving at LCoM, he launched and directed his own orchestra and choir – Berko’s Big Band – which encompassed students from nine different schools in and around Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire.
While in Leeds, Sam stepped up to work as a freelancer on larger musical platforms, conducting the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and working at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Sam only graduated from our classical music degree in 2014; he is now MD for The Dowsing Sound Collective in London, and currently MD for ‘Baddies: the Musical’ at the Unicorn theatre. He found time in his busy schedule to talk to us about his experiences at LCoM, and how his study helped develop the work he’s undertaken!
What was your earliest musical experience?
When I went to the theatre with my family to see The Lion King, and I just remember being filled with awe and amazement at the sound and sights of the opening song ‘The Circle of Life’ - I still remember that feeling, when the sun slowly folds down and the elephant walking on stage… I have since sat in the pit many times and it still evokes the same buzz and excitement I had that day aged 6! I also grew up with my Granddad regularly playing the piano at our house - songs like ‘Londonderry Air’ and ‘Danny Boy’ which got me interested in music making.
What encouraged you to study music?
Once I began to learn the piano aged 9, I gradually discovered my passion for music and it soon became clear I was going to pursue music, so for me it’s never been a ‘decision’ to study music - it has felt like the natural path to take.
Who inspired you to have a career in music?
When I was 16 I was involved in a new musical ‘Loserville’ by James Bourne (Busted) with Youth Music Theatre UK. The musical director was Martin Lowe (Mamma Mia, War Horse, Once and so on) - he is genuinely the reason I am working as a musical director now. His energy is like nothing else I have ever seen in anyone; he possesses natural authority coupled with incredible love and warmth which means he is able to make people work hard for him. I was also totally inspired by his musical ability and skill (I have always enjoyed drama so finding a career that uses music and drama together – ie; musical theatre – is so much fun).
Who’s your greatest inspiration?
Working with Martin inspired me to pursue working as an MD. I’m amazed how he shapes music to fit with a script, matching the dramaturgy on the stage, as well as the relationships he created with all members of the company. I am lucky that he continues to support and inspire me.
Was there anything in particular that made you choose Leeds College of Music?
I got such a good feeling when I came for my audition at Leeds College of Music; Carl Vincent and David Fligg showed interest in my other skills aside from piano playing which was very important to me, as I wanted to be on a course that would celebrate collaboration and not just solely practising your instrument for three years, but growing as a musician in general. LCoM to me felt fresh and contemporary and didn’t seem like a ‘building full of pretentious people’, and I liked the feel of the city. I knew in my gut LCoM was the place for me relatively quickly.
What attracted you to the course?
The fact that as well as studying classical piano, I could also improve on my conducting and MD skills, and meet and play with other people on the different courses from production to pop to jazz.
What was your favourite thing about studying and being a musician in Leeds?
The city is neither too big nor too small for a student; it’s big enough to keep you excited and occupied for three years but it’s also small enough for you to walk round relatively easily without getting horribly lost or having to spend ages on a hot stuffy Tube, like in London!
There is lots going on musically, and it was nice to never be far from other musical organisations and universities. I also really liked the fact LCoM is right next door to The West Yorkshire Playhouse and Red Ladder Theatre company – both of which I worked for during my time in Leeds.
What would be your dream collaboration?
I have two slightly different dreams. One would be to MD and conduct The Lion King the musical – I think it’s such an exciting show full of gorgeous music, incredible African vocals and brilliant production elements. The other dream would be to conduct an orchestra (such as The Royal Philharmonic for example) on tour with a band such as Coldplay. During my time at Leeds I came across one of Sting’s albums (‘Symphonicites’) which consists of all of his songs rearranged for a full orchestra. Sting went on tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra all over the world with incredible conductor Steven Mercurio at the helm. The songs were brought back to life in a totally new light, and it would be my dream to do something similar. I reckon Coldplay’s music would sound brilliant when played by an orchestra, with Coldplay the band itself and Chris Martin there too of course.
What has your journey been like since leaving LCoM?
I have been lucky in that I jumped straight into work once I’d graduated. I got a job as musical director for a music development project, Ermine Voices, in Lincoln (community music work in a deprived corner of Lincoln) which is a really rewarding job. I also became musical director for The Dowsing Sound Collective which is a group of singers (about 50) and a band. We rehearse weekly working towards very big and exciting gigs in some of London’s best venues such as the Union Chapel in Islington. We cover songs by artists such as Goldfrapp, Peter Gabriel, Sigur Ros, Two Door Cinema Club, Elbow and so on. It’s a wonderful job working on exciting and challenging vocal arrangements with what has become a lovely Dowsing-family.
I’ve also worked on numerous shows as Assistant MD and MD; most recently I was AMD on ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3⁄4’ at the Curve theatre, ‘Oliver!’ at the Watermill theatre, Newbury, and at the moment I am MD on a brand new musical called ‘Baddies: the Musical’ at the Unicorn theatre by London Bridge. Rehearsals started in October and I’m on keyboards and conducting the show till it closes on Christmas Eve of this year.
How has your study at LCoM aided your career so far?
At LCoM I met some amazing and talented fellow students who have been great contacts and leads for work. I’ve also had some great references from tutors. Thanks to the jobs & opportunities board on SPACE (the LCoM intranet), I was able to get out and work and gain experience. It was also a lot of fun teaching on the ‘Piano for Beginners’ short course at LCoM!
Where would you like to be in five years?
I would like to be Musical Director on an exciting musical in London or New York, conducting the show each day and evening, and bringing joy to as many people as possible through music and the arts.
If you had one piece of advice for a prospective student, what would it be?
ENJOY your time in Leeds and at LCoM - it flies by! Make the most of your time there by practising, working hard, and gaining as much out of the course and contacts in the building, and the city in general.
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