For the third interview in Encore’s Rising Stars series, we spoke to Mark Taylor about his time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A charismatic and ambitious flautist, Mark grew up in Scotland, has spent a year abroad in Germany, and is now looking stateside for his next adventure.
How did you get into music? Where did it all begin?
I started at my local primary school. We had a woodwind tutor come in for a visit who showed us loads of instruments, and I actually picked the clarinet and started off playing that. I went to High School, one thing led to another, and I ended up playing the flute as well as the clarinet. I also played the saxophone for a bit – I was the jack-of-all-trades, master of none. My classmates will have some hilarious stories about my forays into the oboe world, actually!
I moved to the Music School of Douglas Academy when I was in Milngavie, Scotland, when I was sixteen, and they gave me an ultimatum; I could study either the flute or the clarinet. I thought, I’m alright at the flute, maybe I’ll go for that, and it was the right choice. My flute playing really took off after that – I entered a lot of competitions and had a few music college auditions, all of which went really well, so I’m pleased with my decision.
After all of the auditions are you happy that you ended up at Guildhall?
Yeah, Guildhall was my first choice. Everyone at school knew that this is where I wanted to come. I was offered places at every college I applied for, but Guildhall was the last to give me an offer, so I was really nervous at the time. Guildhall is always where I wanted to be.
Last year, I was lucky enough to study abroad, and spent my Erasmus year at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne. I met Robert Winn who teaches there during my first year at Guildhall, and after he showed an interest in my playing, I told him I’d be interested in studying there. I applied, and in October 2013 I found myself in Germany! I was there until February last year and it was a great experience.
When you were learning, were you playing more as a soloist or as an ensemble player? Which do you prefer?
Guildhall has definitely heightened my love of ensemble playing. When I was younger, I was always doing recitals, solos and concertos. Since starting at College, I’ve had the time to actually learn my instrument as opposed to just doing lots of solo stuff. Recently, I’ve done a little more as a soloist, but I have to be slightly more proactive about it now. It was a lot easier when I was younger.
I now play in a chamber group that Guildhall has been quite keen on. It’s a flute and harp duo called Deuawd (Welsh for ‘duo’) with Gabriella Jones. We started playing together last year and everything has gone really well for us so far. The school have put us forward for a recital in the House of Commons next month, which is incredibly exciting. Playing with a harp allows me to be both a soloist and an ensemble player at the same time, which is really fun.
I’m eager to push it further and see where it goes. I really want to carry on playing with Gabby, so we’ll see what happens…
Being a multi-instrumentalist isn’t cheap. Apart from finances, have you come across other difficulties as a musician?
When you’re trying to meet people, find yourself and grow up, music students at music college have a very different experience to students at University. I think University is a lot more mainstream than Music College is, and you probably grow up faster being at University. At Music College, you’re so focused on your instrument and the place is such a ‘bubble’ environment. That shocked me a bit, I’ve only really started to grow up in the last year!
I’m going to be 22 in a couple of months, but I feel I’ve seen my life pass by me for the last four years. I might be wrong, but I don’t think that happens quite so much at University. It’s quite hard for other people to relate to that outside of Music College. And as you said, the financial aspect is also difficult. We need money for instruments, and instruments cost thousands and thousands of pounds – and that’s before you even think about the cost of repairs! I’ve had a lot of difficulty trying to find a flute good enough, and have had a flute loaned to me for the last 4 years.
Is this it here?
Yeah, this is a hand-made Powell flute, which was my teacher’s. It’s many, many, many years old, but is a fantastic instrument. I haven’t found anything else that I particularly like, so this is the flute that I’m going to buy. Everyone is really happy with it, I’ve tried more expensive ones but they have never sounded quite as good, so I’m sticking with it.
There must be some interesting stories behind it, being so old?
It has been through a few battles! I know that the reason she doesn’t play on it any more (which is kind of worrying in itself…) is that she took it on tour to Budapest – she plays with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – and was trilling from a B to a C, when all of a sudden she heard a clunk. She looked down and saw the tone hole rolling through the violin section! Luckily, she managed to borrow another flute and carry on playing.
In my first year technical exam, one of the straps fell off it when I was waiting to go in the room, and I had to borrow one of the teachers’ flutes to do my exam! It’s maybe not the most reliable instrument, but it makes a good sound.
You’re now in your fourth and final year at Guildhall. What are your highlights? Do you have a favourite performance?
Favourite performance would definitely be my chamber music recital with Gabby. I really just enjoyed that. She’s a good friend and now my flatmate. We’d only just met when I came back from Cologne, so hadn’t known each other for very long. Everything was new and exciting and we both wanted the same thing. We just went in and played the music. We could have perhaps been a little more prepared if we’d met earlier, but it actually came across really well in the end.
A particular highlight for me was arriving at Guildhall for the beginning of my degree. At the time, there was a part of me longing to go home, but I look back on it with very fond memories. I’d wanted to go to Guildhall since I was about sixteen. That’s all I ever thought about. My biggest highlight was going abroad last year. Going on Erasmus to Cologne was just the best experience. I would recommend it to anyone.
How’s your German? Are you fluent now?
Not at all! I can still only ask for a practise room and a cappuccino!
It sounds like you got by then!
Looking ahead, what have you got planned for 2015?
I’m currently applying to do my masters back in Cologne, and also applying to study in America. I hope they don’t both present themselves, as America has always been a big attraction for me. That’s what’s in the pipeline for the next couple of months – doing the auditions and applying for postgrad funding.
After that, I’m looking at applying for orchestral jobs, which is where I’d like to start. Eventually, I hope to move into the solo side of music. I do love performing; I think it’s my forte. I’d be daft not to push that a bit further.
Have you used any online resources as a musician? Do you think there is much out there?
There’s a really good website for flute – it’s a shame they don’t do it for other instruments – which is called Principle Chairs. It has a database of short video master classes on the main flute excerpts come up again and again at auditions. There’s the principle of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, RSNO’s Katherine Bryan, they have some piccolo and baroque flute ones too. It’s really helpful to watch them. It’s not often you get to hear these pieces or excerpts played by your teacher in a lesson, so to hear outstanding flute players play them is great. Some of the videos are half an hour long and cover two lines of music and are very in depth. It’s quite cheap as well.
That resource is really useful for flute players, and it would be good if it was available for other instruments. Apart from that there’s really not much online that puts you out there. It’s all a bit old-fashioned still. Music needs to leap forward, and certainly needs to embrace the modern world, because I don’t think it does at all right now.
Being at a music college must make it fairly easy to find friends to play with and to form ensembles?
Sort of. Everyone kind of does their own thing, and it depends if you’re in the right friendship group. People are busy with other chamber groups, so when you find someone like Gabby who actually wants a flute player and they are really keen to do it, that’s when it really works. You can do anything if the group shares that enthusiasm. You just have to find people who actually want it, and when that happens, the world’s your oyster.