BBC Young Musician
Sophie Westbrooke won the Woodwind category final of BBC Young Musician 2014, and was one of the three competitors selected for the final, broadcast from the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.
Looking back to September, when I first decided to enter BBC Young Musician, it seems worlds away. I never, ever, in a million years would have thought I would get to the final. I genuinely didn't even think I'd make it through the first round. It was just so out of reach - the kind of thing you think 'imagine if...' but stop yourself to come back to reality. Yet somehow it actually happened. And it still hasn't sunk in.
BBC Young Musician is like no other competition in the country, and certainly not like anything I've ever done before. I was apprehensive about entering at first, as I knew how high the standard was and didn't feel I was ready, but my teacher and my good friend Charlotte Barbour-Condini, 2012 competition finalist, reassured me that no matter how far I got in the competition it would be a great experience. I work better when I have a goal to focus on, so this seemed a perfect opportunity to force me to really think about my programmes and my performance. I learnt something new and gained confidence in each round, and had to raise my game another level as the challenges became more and more testing. It was a steep learning curve for me and pretty much took over my life for almost a full school year, but it was completely and utterly worth it. I was very lucky throughout the competition to have the support of some very experienced people who served as calming influences. My teacher Barbara [Law, at the Junior Royal Academy of Music] and Charlotte played key roles in guiding me through everything, as having been through it all before, they understood the ups and downs of the competition. Crucial to my success in the competition, I feel, was my decision from an early stage to exploit my love of the collaborative element of music to my advantage. In this way I wanted to show a versatility which I hoped would be unique.
I was lucky to have worked with four amazing musicians throughout the competition who were so friendly, encouraging and comforting that I hardly felt nervous on stage with them.
In the second round my accompanists were Sam Tsang (guitar) and Daniel King-Smith (piano) and in the Category Finals and Semi Finals I was accompanied by David Gordon (harpsichord) and Carl Herring (guitar). In rehearsals we were able to bounce ideas off each other and develop a cohesive, effective programme with such ease that I had every confidence that I would able showcase everything I needed to in the time allowed, This in turn made it easier for me to relax and focus on performing to the best of my ability.
I never saw the whole event as a competition: I was never in it to win it, so to speak, and I genuinely expected each round to be my last.
This meant I was able to relax and that I could give each performance everything I had, without worrying if it was good enough to beat the other contestants. I viewed it as a fantastic opportunity to play music I loved in amazing venues and improve my musicianship as much as possible. The other contestants, especially in the final, were really friendly and as we were going through exactly the same thing, we never ran out of things to talk about. I admire them greatly as musicians and as people and feel lucky to have met them.
I know that the competition has taught me so much, and I feel like I have matured dramatically as a performer and a musician. As a result I now feel ready to take on more challenges in the future. It was the most daunting and yet the most rewarding experience of my life, and although I know I made countless mistakes along the way I wouldn't change it for the world. So thank you to everyone involved in helping me through this, for giving me the experience of a lifetime.
Sophie Westbrooke, Lower Sixth