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What does music mean to you? In conversation with Nigel Hooper

Close up of a student singing into a mic, lit in red wash.
  • Written byNigel Hooper, Course Director for Level 4 Creative Enterprise and Level 4 Performance at West Suffolk College
  • Published date 05 October 2021
Close up of a student singing into a mic, lit in red wash.

The music industry is a fickle business or so many of us believe and have encountered – we are aware of this. What tantamounts to generating a living income from what is a passion we know can be a challenging and difficult process.

‘Why don’t you get a normal job?’ was a phrase I used to hear on many occasions – until of course a realisation set in that actually for many of us this is what we consider to BE normal.

Not everyone pursues a career in music for the prospect of glory, fame or adulation. Most of us do it because we enjoy it, it’s fun, it's creatively inspiring, it makes us feel good and in many ways, it’s how we communicate to others.

So, what does music mean to you?

For many of us, the creation and presentation of music is the freedom to be playful. It encapsulates an emotive moment in time that others can relate to… it creates feelings, stimulates, and drives us to work out our thoughts and processes. As all creative art processes do, it forms part of a journey, not just for those that create it or are involved in it, but for those lucky enough to connect to it.

Opportunities to support new generations of music creators and performers were few and far between in my early years as a bedroom guitarist. The music curriculum offered at my school was a little limiting and focused on less contemporary ideals. There was no freedom to express my own journey and development.

a student with long hair wearing a star wars t shirt plays the guitar. The stage is lit in green light.

In 2021 we live in a more globally inclusive, connected and creatively aware environment. Music education is now far more diverse with an array of opportunities for new generations to discover and to become involved in. Technological advancements allow for more access to multimedia-related products and services and an awareness of the need for the development of creative skills and responsive educational requirements.

The difficulties of recent events such as the pandemic, which saw the cancellation of live venues and a change in how music performance was delivered and perceived, impacted heavily on many self-employed musicians and technicians. All this alongside Brexit limitations has brought a period of uncertainty in an industry that has a history of being at the forefront of innovation in the areas of music performance and production.

So, it is with great relief and admiration that as an educator I work alongside and deliver UAL awarding body qualifications.

UAL Awarding body music performance and production qualifications have been developed to be adaptable, flexible and reflective of industry needs. Working with current industry practices and ideals, these qualifications focus not only on the development of skills and knowledge but on nurturing interest and growth.

Having the opportunity to journey through various levels of development and to be in a position to be allowed to help, support and guide young people in formulating their chosen career path in performance or production is an honour.

When you get to see the progress of future music professionals through different levels of achievement up to a Level 4 in Performance then it becomes more than just a qualification, it’s a way of life.

Being allowed to follow an independent journey where you are guided through the hurdles of the industry and to explore ideas in practice with critical discussions, further reinforces a real-life essence of performance and its various endeavors and opportunities.

Two students sat on stools singing into mic's on a stage lit in a purple hue

The UAL Level 4 qualification in Performance, in particular, allows for creative thinking and provides opportunities for growth and specialisation – all with the support and guidance of experienced practitioners. The added bonus of ‘real-world’ scenarios and commissions through the cross-fertilisation of different creative practices such as art, movement, film, dance and drama enrich and sustain interest in the creative industries.

Connections and understanding are so valuable, and I have found this by proudly watching former students continue their journey with success.

Escaping to my bedroom in my early teens and playing my guitar for hours on end wasn’t all about perfecting my technique and robotically duplicating how others did it… it was an escape into my own world… it helped me to figure out my thoughts, ideas and passions and it gave me an opportunity to begin a journey that has taken me across the world, physically and digitally, meeting and collaborating with some amazing people and contributing to a global community that shares the same vision.

Would I have chosen a different path? I don’t think so. Music creation and performance will always be part of my soul, but helpful and responsive support together with educational opportunities that allow for this, have always been and always will be needed to encourage future generations that their well-being, happiness, confidence and mental health are valuable to the choices they make.

Being called a musician, performer or producer isn’t just a label it’s a life choice and one that students studying at Level 4 and beyond into industry or further study should be proud to call themselves.

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”

David Bowie (1997)

I think I’ve made up my mind.

A student playing guitar is back lit with a blue light, smoke envelops him to create an atmosphere.

Listen to music from Level 4 Music Performance students at West Suffolk College.