Xhosa Cole, BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2018, tells his story of how the Music Service set him on a career path towards becoming a professional musician
“I have been extremely lucky to grow up in Birmingham.
It is a beautiful city with a richly diverse mix of cultures from across the globe and amazing opportunities at every turn. I owe a great deal to several community arts organisations, as it is through their generosity and support over the past 15 years that I have been able to grow, develop and enter the life of a professional musician.
One of those was Birmingham’s Music Service (now part of Services For Education). Through them, I was able to have free instrumental tuition, free instrument loans and access to free coached ensembles ranging from their Big Band through to their Symphony Orchestra. They equipped me with all the tuition and tools that I needed throughout my ten-years with them completely free of charge.
My first experience was through Handsworth Area Ensemble, led by the amazing flautist and music educator Cormac Loane. From there I started having free saxophone tuition from Andrew Isherwood at my secondary school.
I later went on to play baritone saxophone in the Birmingham Schools’ Wind Orchestra led by Adrian Taylor – where I discovered a real love for large ensemble playing.
I used to cycle to Wind Orchestra with that baritone on my back (I still wonder how a 16-year-old got away with that). But I soon discovered that the flautists not only had a much lighter load to carry but also weren’t subject to sitting right in front of the trumpets, which could sometimes be a bit of an earful!
After a year of hard work, I got my flute playing to a standard that could keep up with the amazing Wind Orchestra flute section and volunteered to play piccolo.
My aspiration was to make it to Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra and tackle a mainstream orchestral repertoire.
A vacancy for a flautist in the Orchestra arose and I was fortunate to be offered the chair. I felt out of my depth; playing the works of Shostakovich, Ravel and Rachmaninov to name but a few was a real undertaking for any youth orchestra.
I fell in love with this music – with the majesty of the sound, especially that feeling of being slap bang in the middle of the orchestra.
We went on tour to Germany – my favourite trip abroad. To be playing this music and hanging out in Europe with friends was a real dream (I should say that my costs were supported by the amazing Friends of Birmingham Schools Ensembles; thank you so much).
The Music Service has opened so many doors and given me some of the best moments of my life.
It is hugely important for the welfare of our city
In times where arts and the education are feeling great strain, the Music Service’s role has become even more important. Music education can be a life changer and a lifesaver; it can level the playing field and provide the skills needed to tackle challenges and demanding work.
I am now studying at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on the Jazz Course – and I recently won The Parliamentary Jazz Award for ‘Best Newcomer’ – organised by the All-Party Jazz Appreciation Group in Westminster.”