Classical Student Stars in Short Film Coming to Sky Arts

By Gemma Cross; Ann Chadwick


Ellis Arey, a third year Classical student at Leeds Conservatoire, is the star of Working Classical Heroes, a new short film coming to Sky Arts.

The copy below is extracted from a longer piece by Ann Chadwick, Cause UK’s resident feature writer and co-director, who writes regularly for The Yorkshire Post. Read the feature in full here.

Ellis says, “I don’t really look like a classical pianist. I certainly don’t talk like one or act like one.”

He explains, “My mum worked different jobs to make sure there was food on the table. We had to leave the oven door open to keep the kitchen warm and warm the house. I really grew up with nothing, although my mum always made us feel we had something.”

At primary school, he heard classical music for the first time as it played during assembly.

“All I really knew of music was what mum played in the car – old school R&B and hip hop – so when I heard classical music, I thought what is this? It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’d ever heard. So, at that point I got into classical music and I fell in love with it.”

As he was from a low-income family, he was eligible for a free instrument lesson at his school and started learning piano at 11.

“My mum that following Christmas saved and got a really basic keyboard from Argos. It was the first instrument I’d ever owned and I practised on that. I stuck with it and worked harder, all through high school. Then when I got my very first job at the local co-op part-time, I could pay for private lessons.”

The music offered escape.

“It was a very unique way of expression. It connected to part of my soul, it’s the only way to describe it. You listen to this music and go into your own world. I remember the minute I heard a Chopin ballad; I was like, this is what I want to do with myself, this is as good as it gets. I must have been 12.”

Meanwhile, his mates on the estate were getting into trouble. “I didn’t really have any friends on my council estate because most of them were doing illegal stuff. Classical music was this wonderful kind of distraction. It was more like an obsession when I discovered it.”

Then came the boxing.

“I got jumped by this group of kids that beat the heck out of me. It made me so insecure – my pride was hurt – and I thought, damn, I don’t want to feel this scared. Boxing would instil confidence in myself. I just wanted to do it so I could know how to fight, and get to be tough. But as I started to get into it, I realised it’s not just learning to fight. I think if I never did it there’s a real high chance I would have got into trouble with the police at some point, but boxing grounded me, and for me it really centres me. Boxing has done more for me in terms of getting me on a good path than anything else has.”

As well as showcase Ellis, Cause UK wanted the film to showcase original music. They had worked closely with the composer and conductor Ben Crick to relaunch the newly reformed Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra to support pandemic-hit northern musicians. Ben was the perfect fit to compose an original piece that Ellis could play for the film.

The team put the treatment together Working Classical Heroes – and won the commission from Sky Arts out of many entries.

The next stage was bringing in their chosen director, a local filmmaker Cause UK had worked with for many years, Katie Greenhalf.

Ellis is in his third year at Leeds Conservatoire. The hope is the film will give him exposure to a wider audience, and even inspire others who might not have thought it was for them to get into classical music – as listeners or musicians.

As Ellis says: “The piano is such a universe of complex emotions, you have 88 keys but there is not one spectrum of colour or emotion that cannot be represented. It’s a gift.”

The Sky Arts broadcast date will be confirmed shortly, with a special screening in Leeds mid-December.

Read the feature in full for free on the Cause UK website

View The Yorkshire Post article (requires subscription)

Find out about studying Classical at Leeds Conservatoire

By Gemma Cross; Ann Chadwick

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