Michaela 6

Photo Credit: maskofstorrow

Course Studied: BA (Hons) Music (Classical)

Year of Graduation: 2018

Top Career Achievements:

Michaela is an award-winning international classical pianist and coach. She has performed recitals across the UK and internationally.

Some of her notable engagements have included performances for the Leeds Piano Trail as part of the Leeds Piano Festival, The Turner Prize and The Hepworth Wakefield.

Michaela is currently studying under Dr. Bryan Wallick in Colorado, USA, for which she was awarded a full scholarship.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, she gained social media attention through her initiative Song Request Fridays, in which she invited her online followers to request pieces of music for her to perform. It subsequently received sponsorship by Suffolk Pianos and Sherwood Phoenix.

Here, Michaela discusses her journey since leaving Leeds Conservatoire and comments on how she has developed her online presence over the last year.

What has your career been like since graduating from Leeds Conservatoire?

Its been largely self-promoted. Since being at Leeds Conservatoire, Ive really learnt how to develop my own online presence. Ive built my own website and its something Im super proud of. After graduating, I was initially searching for concerts to participate in, but more recently, as my online presence has grown, Ive been invited to perform at a number of events.

Ive done a lot of singing and piano teaching. I wasnt a singer whilst at Leeds Conservatoire but Ive realised its something I really adore - opera in particular is something that I really love.

Ive travelled a lot, exploring a number of countries, including Australia, Europe, and the USA, and receiving a full scholarship to study at Colorado State University (CSU). Since being here, I’ve booked several concerts for the Winter season, become Vice-President for CSU Musicology Club, and started a Social Media & Marketing internship at OP/TECH USA.

How did you go from self-taught pianist, to studying at conservatoire level?

I just did it. I follow my heart and mind. That’s vague, but there was nothing that I wanted to do more than study music. 

Growing up in Suffolk, there wasnt much in the way of arts funding, which is why I decided to teach myself the piano.

In terms of my decision to study at conservatoire level, I wanted to improve at piano and surround myself with musicians. That was something I felt was severely lacking throughout my childhood.

Michaela 5

What’s the most important thing you learned during your time at Leeds Conservatoire?

Self-organisation and motivation: understanding how you work is a crucial part of everything you do. Working with great teachers, and surrounding yourself with good people is extremely important. Im an extrovert, so being able to network with other musicians was extremely important.

Additionally, I became fascinated with the study of music and cognition, which has led me to producing my current research that analyses the physical embodiment of music in Dr. Jonathan Howard Katz’s Ipseites.

When learning a new piece of music, what is your approach?

I will play it through - i.e. sight-read it all at once. I will then take it apart section by section, using a metronome to make sure that everything is in time. I then might break up the hands a little bit, but I never play anything full speed until it is satisfactory. Basically, I take apart the puzzle and figure out what the piece is all about before putting it back together again.

Listening is extremely important, and can often teach you more than looking at the notes themselves. Watching other musicians for inspiration is also key – we can often feel something that is musical. You can essentially mimic it in your head. Go watch people. Go listen to people. Use YouTube as a resource to watch other musicians. If you find a performer who really speaks to you… it will speak to you.

What is the music scene like in Colorado?

It’s not dissimilar to Leeds. There’s a wide variety of music here – ballet, country, folk, singer-songwriters… the country scene is probably the most unique! Coloradans are incredibly creative.

A lot of the music out here feels like the mountains, which sounds weird, however, theres a real emphasis on earthy music. Many composers have been inspired by the natural wonders here  - I’m in the same boat! You can drive for a couple of hours and youll be surrounded by magical, gorgeous landscapes. It’s truly beautiful.

You gained a lot of social media traction for your weekly ‘Song Request Friday’ videos during the COVID lockdown in March 2020 – what made you start creating these videos?

I really enjoyed lockdown… perhaps I was one of the only ones who did! I was teaching online whilst living with my family.

One day, I thought to ask my Instagram followers what they wanted to hear me play on piano. I ended up getting lots of requests and positive comments, so I continued with it and made it a weekly thing. I felt a sense of obligation to bring that to people each week. It helped further my love for music whilst developing my musical ear. I felt able to share music with others without pressure.

I received requests for compositions by Liszt and Chopin alongside more popular songs – there was some really challenging but interesting stuff. Id configure these by ear and avoid using sheet music where possible to put my own interpretation on things.

As a result of this, I landed interviews with local press and I was able to collaborate with music businesses, such as Sherwood Phoenix. It really enhanced my social media presence and solidified my purpose as musician - sharing music!

What has been your favourite achievement so far?

I would say performing at my graduation ceremony at Leeds Town Hall. That gave me a boost that has solidified my confidence. Theres always that internal monologue as a musician that youre not good enoughbut looking at that experience and getting to play at Leeds Town Hall on the same piano that I had seen Lang Lang perform on a couple of years beforehand was incredible.

Id also say being able to share music. Its the reactions I get from people after performing – that connection is such a privilege to have, with your audience and your students is the best personal connection ever. The community I have been able to build through music, and bringing people happiness with it, has been my greatest achievement.

Do you have any future plans or goals?

Play a piano concerto with a full orchestra. Preferably Ravel’s Concerto in G, first. I love that one!

Create an album – it’ll be a mix of solo piano tracks and vocals.

Do a TED talk!  

Do a PhD and become a Doctor (in Philosophy or Musicology).

I also want to create research on how many transferable skills that musicians have – theres not much in the way of careers advice surrounding this, and its an area Id love to support musicians with. Theres a great podcast by Nico de Villiers, What Would Mozart Do?’ which often features musicians who discuss how they have transferred the skills that music has taught them into other fields of work.

And finally - keep growing every single day, as a musician, and as a person.

Michaela Allen Piano

Do you have any advice for musicians thinking about studying at Leeds Conservatoire?

Expect the unexpected from yourself in the sense that youre going to adapt, grow and discover new interests. Youll find things out about yourself that are wonderful. You deserve more than to box yourself into one category – go outside of your comfort zone or genre that you are trained within.

At Leeds Conservatoire you have all these different musicians and creatives around you – network, socialise, learn about other people so that you can learn more about yourself. Inspiration is everywhere… seize that opportunity.

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