Former Student Wins 'Young Business Owner of the Year'

By Dav Williams


Emma Illingworth

Recent winner at The British Business Awards, Emma Illingworth’s passion for music is palpable. Her recently established business Emma’s Music Tuition prides itself on offering an accessible and affordable service that allows anyone to learn music.

A sufferer of Crohn’s Disease, Emma used a potentially personal setback to propel herself into giving back and building a community around music, for those who would have otherwise been unable to access provision.  

We caught up with Emma to find out more about her award-winning business and vision for making music accessible to all.

How did your time at the conservatoire prepare you for a career in the wider industry?

The main lesson I learnt from my time here was that musicians can actually succeed. Such confidence was instilled in me from the beginning and that belief allowed me to dare to branch out to start a full-time career within the music industry. Aside from that, there is so much more to a career in music than first meets the eye. I always thought if you could play an instrument then you’d be fine but from the legal aspects of things to the finances - I had no idea about how that all worked. The conservatoire taught me how to tackle those parts head-on.

What were the key lessons you learnt during your time spent studying in Leeds? 

Nothing comes easy. You can have all the talent in the world, but without drive and self-confidence there is no way you can withstand the pressures of the music industry. It is a hard career choice - we constantly face the pressures of being viewed as people who play for a hobby and are often under-appreciated. You have to have strong will and the ability to stand back up when people knock you down. 

How does Emma’s Music Tuition differ to other music schools/private music tutors?

My ethos is accessibility. If you browse the internet for music tutors, prices are extortionate. As a musician, I understand this; a lot of time and energy goes into learning and teaching music. As a person, I also understand why it isn’t great. When I was learning, my mum couldn’t afford a £20+ half an hour session each week as well as the hobbies my sisters took part in. It wasn’t a reasonable expense for us and there was just no way that we could be certain at the start that it was a worthy investment.

All kids go through phases and music could simply have been one for me, along with dancing, drama and all the other activities I got bored of. Fortunately, an old man at a small music shop was able to teach me for £3 every Saturday morning… £3! Thanks to him and the low cost of my lessons, I fell in love with music and I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I want other children to have the experience of learning music in an accessible and enjoyable environment. There isn’t enough funding for the arts anymore and it does mean that a sector of society miss out. I never turn anyone away, no matter what age, ability or disability. 

When did your passion for teaching begin?

From a VERY early age. I used to line my teddy bears and Barbies up on my bed and teach them daily. When I began learning saxophone, I went to a Young Music Leader Training Course and had the chance to lead some sessions with children aged between 3-5. It was the best experience ever because I felt like an actual teacher and taught them a simple 4/4 beat. I knew instantly that my career would entail teaching in some form.

In addition, in 2015 I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Durban, South Africa, with the Leeds Youth Jazz Rock Orchestra and led small groups in singing and playing. When I came back, I felt so honoured to have been able to share my love for music with so many and never wanted that feeling to go away. 

What prompted you to become self-employed and start a business?

There were a few contributing factors and not all of them positive. I had to leave the conservatoire at the beginning of my second year of my degree due to ill-health. I suffer from Crohn’s Disease and was very poorly. When I left, I didn’t play for a while and became isolated. I worked in a cafe and although it was fun and a good experience, I missed music. Towards the end of February/March 2019, my Crohn’s began to flare up again and I struggled working 4 days a week, constantly on my feet, stressed and unhappy and I thought “What if I could actually do music, just by myself?” I took myself to the job centre, I told them I wanted to try and start a business and they encouraged me greatly. The rest is history.

What does your award win mean to you?

Everything! The fact that I have become an award-winning business owner… just wow. It means I can share my story and inspire others to follow their dreams. 

How rewarding do you find your career? What are the highlights?

I couldn't begin to even put a figure to how rewarding my career is. Every day I see the smiles of children who find joy in music. I share my passion with so many and watch them grow into budding musicians. I think my most notable highlight, however, was teaching a young boy who suffers with dyslexia. He couldn’t identify the difference between black and white and had been told he couldn’t learn music; we worked on it and created a coloured system and he went away from the lesson having played his favourite piece. He was so happy and I can’t describe how fulfilled that makes me. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to run their own music tuition business?

Be prepared and don’t rush into things. Do your research and map out the competition - you don’t want to be standing on someone else’s toes. Find your niche. Also, remember that there are so many different parts to running a business so make sure you have the insurance, legal checks and the business grounding that you need. Finally, let it be a passion. Don’t let it become a chore - do it because you want to. 

Could you tell us a little bit more about your future plans for development of Emma’s Music Tuition? 

My dream is to expand and hire more teachers so that I can share music even further. I am completely booked up now so that even if I wanted to, there’d be no way I could teach more children/people. I’d also love to have my own premises solely dedicated to my music business.

Whatever the future holds, as long as it grows and is full of music I will be happy.


Similarly to Emma’s vision and in a bid to approve the accessibility of the conservatoire, Leeds Conservatoire has removed its audition fees for all courses to prospective students from all backgrounds. The conservatoire has taken the lead in removing all of its audition fees to ensure that talented musicians and performers are not precluded from attending an audition due to their financial position. In addition, the conservatoire is offering to refund travel expenses for applicants from low-income households, in order to reduce financial barriers within the application process. 

To find out more about Emma’s Music Tuition, visit her website

Alternatively, discover more about studying on our BA (Hons) Music (Classical) programme

View the complete shortlist and winners at The British Business Awards 2019

Find out more about what our successful graduates have been up to in our Alumni Profiles

Are you a Leeds Conservatoire graduate? Reconnect with us here

By Dav Williams

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