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Music Saved My Life... Now I Want To Pass It On!

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I'm reflecting on my own musical journey (it's taken some hazardous twists over the years), hoping to define exactly how I arrived here in one piece.

Where did the bullish fight for survival derive from, when, as an impressionable teenager, my home life cataclysmically exploded into a vortex of uncertainty and friction. What essential ingredients ignited my love of music and the arts in the first place? With a handful of artsy qualifications, and limited academic weight to underpin my talent as an oboist, did my O-level music really matter?

The 'love of music' seed was sown in the womb, as a result of the mishmash of timbres I could hear from my siblings' music-making. Later, it became clear I was going to have to endure regular fisty-cuff's for a turn on the piano, creating a desperate, yet commendable, lust to practice at every possible moment. Countless outings, performing with bands and orchestras, alongside my father, brothers and sisters, fuelled my passion and growing confidence. These happy times set the scene for a challenging, but not impossible, passage, undertaken by many young musicians hoping to achieve a place at music college.

Just as my skills as an oboist reached a pinnacle, and I was offered a place at a rather posh school due to my musical promise, my eldest brother committed suicide, my mother lost her mind (schizophrenia combined with a broken heart), and the whole family fell apart. Any meagre savings scrimped together for upgrading instruments and education were now reallocated to the expenses that come with divorce (including furnishing my dad's new hovel).

Looking back, yes, my first musical sparks were gifted by an artistically-eccentric family, but, undoubtedly, it was the endless support, encouragement, and patience received from conductors, teachers, and choirmasters who mentored me, as I rode the unpredictable waves that come with being a mixed-up teenager, with new-found hormones, and from a broken home, that kept me on the right path, albeit stumbling at times. When they weren't around, and I felt insecure about my future, I had my music. Playing it, discovering it, and listening to it, kept the wolves at bay.

My first taste of music outside my hometown of Liverpool was an invitation to take part in a music exchange to Moers, Germany. Thinking this would be something a bit special I embraced the trip with gusto. My German counterpart, who had no intention of exploring classical orchestral repertoire, introduced me to bottled beer and boys that rode motorbikes on footpaths, rather haphazardly. On her return visit to England I introduced her to my boyfriend, a gentle, unassuming chap who thought I was a star. She set fire to our bathroom (a chain smoker at age 13) and corrupted my boyfriend to the point of no return. After such a successful introduction to music on an international scale, I was delighted to visit The Aberdeen International Music Festival, as an oboist with the Merseyside Youth Orchestra, a couple of years later. This expedition included befriending a troup of Israeli dancers, meeting oboists that were seriously better than I was (such as Eugene Field) and performing with a scruffy violinist who had amazing charisma (none other than Nigel Kennedy).

The international opportunities that orchestral playing presented me with gave both the chance to see outside of my little topsy-turvy world, and a taste of other peoples not so topsy-turvy worlds. Had there been an international competition available to me at that time, particularly one that included a grand prize of a scholarship to a school, I would have jumped at the chance to partake.
Without music, and the joy it gave me to be part of anything connected with it, I would have floundered. I had nothing else to bank on.

The Whitgift International Music Competition is unique, the first established by a school to award educational scholarships, alongside outstanding performance opportunities with the UK's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Winners will also be encouraged to take advantage of the brand new state-of-the-art boarding house opening this year, affording them every opportunity to be involved in a broad and diverse curriculum, teamed with outstanding pastoral care.

Are you asking yourself why Whitgift might consider itself to be a better option than one of the many UK specialist music schools? When competition winners arrive at Whitgift, they will partake in an exceptional, all-round education which is second-to-none. Together with a good deal of hard work on the part of the pupil, an education here will ensure that they have many other options, if, for whatever reason, a career in music becomes untenable. What a fantastic insurance policy!

With more than one third of pupils awarded scholarships and bursary-assisted places at Whitgift, I am proud to be part of this community and what it stands for. The pupil body is a wonderful melting pot of boys from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, making it a very special place to work in. I am looking forward to welcoming young musicians into the competition and sincerely hope that the result will be a life changing experience for a deserving young boy.

Music definitely saved my life, and I feel privileged to be able to pass on this gift to others around the world.

Rosanna Whitfield is Director of Music Development at Whitgift Independent School for boys, in London, United Kingdom.