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The Graduate Interviews: The Collection

Welcome back to the Graduate Interviews! This week I've gotten together three truly inspiring musicians, all of whom I've had the good fortune to work alongside with during my studies. Now they've entered the big wide world of real life, I've caught up with them all and asked them to share their experiences and their advice in order to help those of us who might need a bit of a boost in the right direction.

Christopher Quentin, conductor and Royal College of Music Graduate 2019:

After two years at the RCM, facing the so-called “real world” was tough. Here are my top 10 tips for musicians on the go:

1. Hack your sleep, diet and exercise.

2. Become King (or queen, or prince, or fairy, or unicorn) of the almighty calendar.

3. Say yes to gigs that you find interesting, say no to things that you find boring.

4. Say no before you say yes. Not the other way around.

5. If you have to say no, decline the gig in a way that adds value to your network.

6. If you have to negotiate a fee, be the first person to name an actual number.

7. Go to concerts and rehearsals early. Even if you aren’t performing.

8. Go have coffee during the coffee break. It will do wonders!

9. Go to the pub after the concert. Even if you didn’t perform.

10. Schedule 1 day off per week (or 4 days off per month), and find a

hobby for those days :)

Christopher will be conducting the JÆREN SYMFONIORKESTER in Sirevåg, Norway on Sunday 24 November. You can follow Christopher’s work at and on Facebook and Instagram @conductorchristopher.

Iona Allan, violinist and Royal College of Music Graduate 2019:

I don’t deal well with free time. I’m the kind of person who needs to be busy in order to be productive. So, the thought of no longer being tied to an institution with people telling me what to do, where to be and giving me 100 things to practise was terrifying. At the end of summer, I did the first of my auditions (during my studies I only did one professional audition so this was quite scary). I didn’t really know what to expect or how it would go but I just tried to not put any pressure on myself. I think it’s really important that you don’t go into an audition thinking “I need this job” or “If I don’t get this, I’ll never get a job”. There will always be another audition around the corner so why stress about this one? It was one of the most relaxed auditions I’ve ever done. I surprised myself and ended up being offered a trial with the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had several amazing opportunities since graduating, including a tour to Saudi Arabia with the London Contemporary Orchestra! However, it hasn’t all been easy. I’ve had to make some difficult decisions about what takes priority for me. I’ve also had to consider, do I want to keep going for jobs that are outside of London, or do I want to try to build up a freelance career here? Now that I’m travelling a lot to Belfast for my trial, these are serious considerations I have to make. There are many violin jobs in the UK and Europe but very few are in London. However, I think what’s most important is that I’m doing what makes me happy which is playing.

My top tip (which actually came in the form of advice from my mum!) is, always go for Plan A. Don’t waste time on Plan B. We often feel like we have to have some kind of backup plan (Plan B) in place in case what we really want fails, but by putting time into that Plan B, we end up not giving our all to Plan A, thus increasing the risk of it falling through. Have courage and take the risks to achieve your goals.

You can see Iona play next at the Purcell Room with Wond'rous Machine. You can also keep up to date with Iona on her Instagram @ionaviln.

Kai-Hei Chor, cellist and Royal College of Music Graduate 2019:

Hello! My name is Kai-Hei Chor, a cellist from Hong Kong. After my training in Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Royal College of Music, I am currently working in the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, one of the most active professional contemporary music groups in Asia, as a core member. Besides this, I also perform solo recitals and chamber concerts regularly in different places.

As a member of a contemporary music ensemble, I would say the biggest challenge for me is how to handle a huge amount of tricky music within a really short span; meanwhile preparing your ‘traditional repertoire’ for solo recitals as well as teaching pupils. Not long ago I had five concerts in two weeks with completely different repertoires ranging from Grieg Sonata to premiere of new works; from contemporary opera to improvisation and jazz. A disciplined practise routine really helped. Marking the score clearly was also a life saver for me to practise efficiently. You can never miss mental practising out to prevent your hands from getting heavier.

See Kai-Hei next in New York with HKNME performing the chamber opera 'Mila' on December 7th. Visit his website for more details!


Christopher sadly passed away in June 2020. He was loved and respected by so many including myself. He had a huge capacity for love and joy, willing everyone to be the best that they could be. He truly loved nothing more than seeing his colleagues succeed. He is greatly missed.

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