Interview with orchestral musician Simon Tong

We catch up with Simon Tong, a professional orchestral musician with a wide breadth of performance and teaching experience. 

Interview with orchestral musician Simon Tong

Hi Simon, can you tell us a bit about your music career to date?

As with many orchestral musicians, I have a busy freelance career balancing orchestral playing, chamber music, and teaching. Trumpet players are lucky that our instrument is so versatile and we can play in many different types of ensembles and bridge many styles. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling and have played alongside some fantastic musicians over the past years

What are the highlights of your career to date?

A few years ago I was performing with the singer Meilyr Jones at the Green Man festival in Wales. Being on the main stage at a huge music festival when there’s only 6 of you is terrifying but it gives you an amazing buzz! 

What are the challenges you face in your career?

A regular challenge is being asked to take on work at very short notice without enough time to feel as though you have prepared enough. Also, usually you have long periods around the new year and summer with not much work, luckily the January ‘drought’ is just after the Christmas boom so it does average out.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career?  How did you overcome it?

Everyone goes through times when they don’t get offered any work and it can happen quite suddenly. Most players have something to fall back on to help pay the bills, and for me, that's teaching. The biggest challenge I have faced has been to keep motivated during these times and continue practicing, even if I’m not working towards anything in particular. Its tough mentally to pick up your instrument and practice something just because you need to continue being a good player for when the phone rings unexpectedly. You just have to stick at it and keep yourself ready. You also have to realise that work doesn’t just come and find you, you have to get out there and network. This is something I’m still improving at myself, so I wouldn’t say I’ve completely overcome the challenge, but I know what I should be doing.

Have you achieved any music qualifications? 

I was lucky enough to be given a full scholarship to study music at the Royal Academy of Music when I was 18. It was a sign to me that music is the career I should pursue and I’ve never looked back. I’ve now got an undergraduate and postgraduate degree, as well as a teaching diploma.

In what ways do you think they aided your career?

Music degrees are a funny thing to talk about when it comes to getting you work. As a creative discipline, music is very subjective and sometimes when applying for work, they won't give you any direct benefit over anyone else. When auditioning for orchestral jobs in Europe it's very common for orchestras to invite everyone who applies to audition (regardless of experience) and ask the candidates to draw lots and play behind a screen. This can mean a seasoned and experienced player having a bad day will not progress to a second round, while other less experienced players can get forward and end up winning the job. I think the benefit of my music education was learning how to play and being taught by great musicians, not necessarily the piece of paper I was awarded at the end.

You ’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 14-year-old  you.  What do you say?

If you’re sounding good in the practice room, you’re probably practicing the wrong things. Work on what you can't play yet, not what you know you can.

Do you have any advice for other young people interested in doing your kind of work?

Some of the highest profile jobs in the trumpet playing world have recently gone to younger players in London. If you work hard, anything is possible!

Where can people find out more about you?

I would never encourage anyone to look up what I’m doing specifically. Just get out there and listen to music, no matter what you’re into. Keep music live!

Check out this interview with Tenor player Thomas Cameron

Author

Nici West

Nici West Voice Team

Nici is the Editor for Arts Award on Voice. She loves all things books, theatre, music, art, visiting other countries, anything creative, and sometimes attempts to make YouTube videos. Alongside editing for Arts Award on Voice she writes and edits through her own pursuits.You can occasionally find her running marathons dressed as a black dog.

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