Carmen McLean 2

Course Studied: BA (Hons) Music (Classical)

Year of Graduation: 2019

Top Career Achievements:

  • Recently playing a rooftop gig at Headrow House. There were fairly lights everywhere and because we were just coming out of lockdown, I felt we had all been starved of live music for so long - so it was very special
  • I played Shostakovich's 10th Symphony with Leeds Sinfonia last year at St Edmund's Church in Roundhay. Any violinist can tell you that Shostakovich wrote some incredibly challenging repertoire, and this really felt like climbing a mountain
  • Performing Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony with the CBSO Youth Orchestra aged 18, to a sold-out Birmingham Symphony Hall. This experience really confirmed to me that I wanted to be a performer when I was older

An extremely versatile musician who was able to maximise the opportunities presented to her whilst studying at the conservatoire, Carmen is a singer-songwriter and violinist.

A graduate from our BA (Hons) Music (Classical) degree programme, Carmen has performed with the likes of the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, had her music featured on BBC Music Introducing in West Yorkshire and recently started writing for the music magazine - Buzzkill.

Here, Carmen discusses her time in Leeds and the opportunities that this presented. 

What was your earliest musical experience?

I had grown up listening to music in the car - Joni Mitchell, Amy Winehouse and the Waterboys to name a few. So when they gave us the opportunity to learn an instrument at school, I took up the violin straight away. I never thought I’d end up here, with a music degree and trying to find my place within the music industry. I always thought the violin was such a beautiful and powerful instrument - I am so thankful that 8 year old me decided to play it!

What attracted you to studying in Leeds and what do you think of the musical community here?

I loved the atmosphere of Leeds Conservatoire when I came to visit for the Open Day. The building and facilities are amazing, and the city itself is very vibrant and busy. There is a gig every night! I loved the collaborative nature, and the studios looked great. As a songwriter as well as a violinist, I’m so glad that I studied at a conservatoire which allowed me to nurture my songwriting as well - musicians rarely fit one box and style.

Could you briefly tell us a little bit about your career to date?

I have worked as a private violin teacher for the past few years, and have played with a number of great orchestras including Wharfedale String Orchestra, Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra and Leeds Sinfonia. I volunteered at Leeds Junior Conservatoire as a tutor, which helped me develop my teaching skills and allowed me to meet and work with some amazing musicians. I am also a singer/songwriter, and have been writing for years. Within the past year, I formed a backing band, and have released a few singles, which are available on major streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been played on BBC Music Introducing in West Yorkshire. I was also added to Spotify's 'Your Coffee Break' playlist with nearly 500,000 followers! I have learned so much about promotion, and now sit as part of a focus group for an LGBT+ Podcast created by Come Play With Me. I also volunteer with Leeds Mind as a telephone befriender, talking to people aged 50+ who are struggling with feelings of isolation.

How did studying for a degree at Leeds Conservatoire prepare you for your current career?

I feel like there’s only so much you can be taught about life after graduation - most of it you just have to experience and do your best. That being said, the musicians and industry contacts I made at Leeds Conservatoire have helped me immensely. Learning about working in the creative industries was great, and modules such as ‘Community Music’ gave me solid foundations for becoming a music teacher.

Tell us about your most memorable experience during your time at Leeds Conservatoire

In my first year at Leeds Conservatoire, I played with the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, which was scary but amazing, as I had never played Jazz before. We played some compositions by Ed Jones, who is an incredible sax tutor at the conservatoire - and it was some of the most beautiful music I had ever played. It really taught me to say yes to things which seemed intimidating, because that is what helps us learn and grow as musicians. I also played in the Leeds Conservatoire Gala Concert in 2017. I have never played a stage so cool! It was amazing, and playing to a sold-out venue was such a thrill. I also toured in Amsterdam, Belgium and Cologne with the LCSU Camerata which was a great experience.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get their 'foot in the door' in the industry you're in?

My biggest advice for any musician is to say yes to everything that you can, until you can’t. Take every opportunity that comes your way, even if it seems scary or intimidating. Some of my best musical experiences have come from me going for things that I think I’m not good enough for. If you’re not ready, it won’t happen - but you don’t know until you try! Also, don’t feel like you have to define yourself as one type of musician. You can work in different industries and develop a wide range of skills, you don’t just have to become a ‘classical musician’ or a ‘pop musician’ - these are all interchangeable and there is no limit to your learning and capabilities.

What's coming up next for you in terms of projects, releases or tours?

I am currently working on my next single, which may lead to an EP. Gigs are on hold for the time being. However, I’m keeping myself busy by reading about and watching masterclasses on music promotion to prepare myself for the release. As soon as possible, I plan to play in orchestras again, and I’m currently working with a guitarist to create a duo for functions and events. I have also just started writing for a music magazine called ‘Buzzkill’, which I’m so excited for as I love writing and am interested in music journalism. I am taking things as they come - I have set myself no expectations or goals, I just want to work hard and become the best musician that I can be.

Who encouraged you to study music?

My friends have always been so supportive of me as a musician, even if that means skipping out on being sociable to go to a practice room, or stay home and write. I have friends who come to all my gigs and concerts, who share my social media content, and even those small things mean so much, and are so important.

Follow Carmen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Check out her Spotify page here

Learn more about our BA (Hons) Music (Classical) degree programme here

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