10 Years On: A Catch Up With Trinity Laban’s First Junior Conducting Fellow

Tom Hammond was the first recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Junior Fellowship in Conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire (2006-08). Ten years on, Graduate Intern (Press & PR) Robyn met with Tom to hear his thoughts on his training, the music profession, and his career.

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Tom is enjoying success as an orchestral conductor, music educator, record producer and festival founder, and yet couldn’t be further from the Lofty Maestro caricature I was anticipating.  As we chat over Styrofoam cups of coffee in the King Charles’ Court café, he explains how, despite his achievements, he doesn’t subscribe to the Cult of Personality that trails certain individuals in the conducting profession. Instead, Tom believes his job is simply to serve the music.

‘It’s a horrible cliché but it’s true!’ he justifies, ‘The greatest conductors are the ones who actually take a step back.’ One such great is, of course, the late Sir Charles Mackerras, who selected Tom for Trinity Laban’s inaugural Junior Fellowship in Conducting. ‘There he was in his eighties,’ Tom recalls with admiration, ‘but still thinking “every single time I come to something I’m going to approach it like it’s the first time and it’s going to be fresh.”’

Tom expresses how much he learned from his fellowship at Trinity Laban, and clearly enjoyed a wonderful relationship with his mentor – he even had the honour of being the first call Mackerras ever made on a mobile phone, an anecdote Tom shares with a fond chuckle – but Tom didn’t always know how prestigious an opportunity working with Mackerras was. ‘To my shame, I didn’t really know that much about him before…I probably would’ve been incredibly nervous if I had known enough about the incredible breadth of his achievements.’

Perhaps this naivety was due to growing up in the midlands in a place where ‘there wasn’t a huge amount of music going on’. But, as the proverbial black sheep in his non-musical family, Tom went on to study trombone at the Royal Academy of Music. He had an interest in the conducting world throughout his playing career, and only in his early thirties did he hear about the Mackerras fellowship and chose to pursue conducting professionally.

Plagued by ‘terrible imposter syndrome’, Tom worried that he didn’t have a good enough ear to be a conductor, so used the fellowship to improve his skills. Simon Young, Trinity Laban’s Head of Performance Studies at the time, helped him ‘uncover something about myself that I thought I was missing. And now I’m doing CD producing which involves listening to tiny inflections of intonation or ensemble.’

I ask how his producing experience compares to conducting. ‘You’ve got this little barrier when you’re conducting – you have to be driving the car not watching the scenery. It’s amazing what you will hear when you don’t have the distraction of waving your arms.’ Another difference is that he’s not fussy about repertoire as a producer, something that he is zealous about as a conductor, ‘I don’t think anyone should conduct a piece of music they’re not personally convinced is amazing.’

 

Tom is clearly bonkers for classical music, his eyes shining with childlike delight as he discusses his work. One project he is particularly proud of is the Hertfordshire Festival of Music that he launched in 2015 with composer James Francis Brown. Tom insists that he wasn’t looking to start a high-level classical music festival, but with its picturesque location, cultural history, and core loyal music audience, Hertford seemed too perfect to resist. Originally just a one-day event, it has expanded into an entire week for 2018 and has been backed by local politicians, authority, and individuals. ‘What we want to grow is a really major addition to the music calendar every year and a place where we can nurture new music, home-grown talent, community events, and feature a living composer every year. We’ve got huge ambitions.’

Given Tom’s disapproval of the “boys club” of the music profession, I noted that it was funny that he was, by his own admission, playing the same game, having called on his professional contacts when putting together the festival programme. When I queried how he got such big names, such as Tasmin Little and Dame Emma Kirkby, involved, he deadpanned: ‘Pay them.’ Modestly he continued, ‘I’m lucky to work with some fantastic people.’ But one doubts it is simply luck. ‘We got to know these artists personally and hopefully they like us and see what our vision is. We also offer them quite a lot of flexibility. Each year we work with that principal artist figure and say “let’s develop a theme together”’.

This same generosity abounds when he speaks of his fellow musicians. In fact he speaks so highly of internationally-renowned pianist Stephen Hough – who will be the Featured Artist and Composer of the 2018 festival, and who Tom has previously worked with performing Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 – he sounds like he’s in the deep throes of a bromance: ‘He’s a lovely guy…he can be incredibly easy-going without losing any of the gravitas… in the performance he will bring something extra which is exciting…and he’s genuine as well…and a dry and infectious sense of humour.’

And Tom talks just as animatedly about his ongoing roles with the Palestine Youth Orchestra, Ingenium Academy, and the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia, sounding almost like a proud dad. It is evident that he relishes working with people, whether it’s seasoned pros or aspiring young musicians, and feels strongly about music education and young musicians’ engagement with classical music, wholeheartedly supporting the ethos of music as a tool to foster human connections.

This seems especially important today when, as Tom puts it, ‘Classical Music word is no longer a pastime in which many participate.’ He points to the sector’s necessary and increasing reliance on private funding, and the financial risks associated with pursuing a career in classical music, as reasons why ‘those without resources are excluded.’

To help counteract this, Tom believes that music professionals ‘need to better understand where their audience comes from and find ever increasing ways to feel linked to those they perform to’. It is something that is already part of the ethos at Trinity Laban, which Tom finds deeply encouraging.

We end our chat feeling like we’ve put the world to rights, and I, with tongue firmly in cheek, enquire what his goals are when he grows up. He offers a candid response, ‘frankly just being able to continue to conduct the repertoire that I love until I fall over, I’d be very pleased.’ Wouldn’t we all.

 

To find out more about what Tom is up to visit: http://www.tom-hammond.org.uk/ and www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk

If you’re interested in studying at Trinity Laban, you can find out more at: https://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/study

 

Written by Robyn Donnelly, Graduate Intern (Press & PR)

Careers in Music Leading: 5 reasons to come along to Press Play

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Thinking about the next steps after you complete your music studies? Starting out and looking for some guidance?

Here are 5 reasons why you need to come along to Press Play…

  1. Get your foot in the door

One of the best ways to get started is to put yourself out there, whether that be through volunteering or shadowing, a social media presence, making and nurturing connections with employers or meeting people who are already established music leaders. Everyone has to start off somewhere and those in the business coming along to Press Play have their own journeys and experiences to share with you.

Animate & The Band / LPO & Trinity Laban

  1. Find out what employers want

Do you really know what they’re looking for? Our visiting organisations and professionals are coming along to Press Play so that you can ask them your questions. Find out what they look for in potential employees and what they think makes a stand out candidate. They can also advise on further development routes such as postgraduate study, trainee schemes and one-off training days.

  1. Know all of your options

Having an open mind and the willingness to explore a variety of work routes will get you far. There are so many rewarding possibilities available to musicians in education, teaching, community settings or arts organisations and being open to trying something new can introduce you to amazing careers that you perhaps never knew about!

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  1. Turn your ideas into reality

You don’t need to be a contestant on The Apprentice *sigh of relief* to get your project idea off the ground! It’s all about having the drive to make things happen. Press Play provides you with the opportunity to seek advice from experienced producers and find out about the practicalities and logistics of producing your own participatory music project.

  1. Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Being prepared to step out of your comfort zone is a hugely valuable way to learn. By coming along to Press Play, you can discover new and exciting career paths for you to follow and discover exactly what you need to do to get started. So whether you are in your first or last year of studies, recently graduated or just starting out, now is a great time to think about your future and get ahead on your career.

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27 OCT 2017 10.00 – 17.00h

Laban Building, SE8 3DZ

Light lunch and refreshments provided

£15 for Trinity Laban students | £20 for other students | £45 for standard admission

Find out more and book your place here.