Brenda Smith was great at combining the Suzuki method with a traditional way of learning the violin. She enthused a lot of students and the school became a really musical place

18th March 2005 at 00:00
I have always been lucky to have had violin teachers whom I connected with personally. Brenda Smith was my first, at Wellington school in Ayrshire.

She had been trained in the Suzuki method of violin teaching. Instead of hampering your progress at such a young age by putting all the focus on learning to read music, a lot of it is based on learning by ear: the teacher might play four notes and you have to copy them. It's a very successful method for beginners.

Brenda was great at combining it with a traditional way of learning. She made it into a personal teaching method. She enthused a lot of students at that school and it became a really musical place. When any teacher is enthusiastic about what they are teaching, it rubs off on the students.

I cried all the way through my first lesson. I was quite shy and the whole thing scared me slightly. But I got to know the teacher and took to it quite quickly. When I was about six I played "Away in a Manger" in the school nativity play. It's funny the memories you have from that time. I remember the dress I wore and being very excited about being an angel. What Brenda and my Mum remember is how I played, whereas for me it was almost as if what I was doing was subconscious, my concentration was so high.

Until I was six I was practising about 10 minutes every day and then from the age of seven it went up to three hours a day. I was so into the violin it was a very natural thing for me to do. I don't remember ever feeling it was a bore. It does feel as if I have been playing it all my life, but it doesn't feel as though the violin has been my whole life.

When I went to the Yehudi Menuhin school my mum said: "If it doesn't work out you can always come home and go to a normal school." I remember arriving, driving into the courtyard, hearing all these people practising, and being amazed and inspired by the atmosphere of the place.

Natasha Boyarskaya was my violin teacher there. She was a great teacher, from the Russian school, which has produced a lot of wonderful violinists.

She was very serious about the violin and I responded well to that. You have about four hours a week of lessons and you spend a lot of time practising by yourself. Natasha was a resident teacher, so she was there most of the time. If I needed to ask her a question or for some advice or help with anything, she had time for me. She made moving away from home much easier.

I left school when I was 14 and did my GCSEs privately. I hadn't banked on doing so many concerts that year, so there were a lot of cancelled lessons.

But my tutors were very supportive and even came to some of the concerts. I passed five GCSEs: music, maths, French and two in English.

For the past two years my teacher has been Maciej Rakowski. As far as our personalities go we get on incredibly well. He has the perfect combination of letting me develop myself musically and letting me explore my musical ideas. He is very knowledgeable about different composers and styles. A lot of what I have to learn now is to do with the classical music repertoire.

There is a massive amount I have not even touched. Maciej has done most of them in his lifetime.

The more I find out about music the more I realise there is for me to learn. Classical music is one of those incredibly diverse, complex subjects and I am just at the beginning of my career. I have always been very happy learning. It makes me sad when I hear people moaning about having to practise or learn something, because when you have teachers that are inspiring, learning is such a positive thing.

The story so far

1987 Born West Kilbride, Scotland

1992 Begins violin lessons at Wellington school, Ayrshire

1996 Becomes youngest person to lead an orchestra in Scotland

1997 Studies at Yehudi Menuhin school in Cobham, Surrey

1999 Performs at Lord Menuhin's memorial service in Westminster Abbey

2003 Performs at Glastonbury

2004 Wins BBC Young Musician of the Year

2005 Signs pound;1 million deal with Deutsche Grammophon

March 18-20 2005 Appearing at Classicalive at Olympia, London: www.classicalive.co.uk. Begins national tour of schools in support of Sargent Cancer Care for Children's Practice-a-thon

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