Q&A: Roger Argente8:00, 20th February 2018
The bass trombonist and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama’s new head of brass speaks to Katy Wright
Where did your interest in music education begin?
I grew up in Neath, which is just outside Swansea, where there was a fantastic school music service, and the area music service was great too. It was all free, with a really high standard of peripatetic teaching. I’d be at youth orchestra on Friday night and at youth band on Saturday morning, and every holiday I’d be off to a residential course. It was a wonderful way to grow up!
I thought everywhere was like that, but I learned that it wasn’t when I began my studies at the Royal Northern College of Music. It turned out that there were pockets of this provision around the country, but not everywhere. Now there are even fewer opportunities for young musicians because of budget cuts, which means that accessing music provision is becoming harder and harder for certain areas of society.
The culture, education and social skills which come from music are so important, so I try to teach my students to stand up for their art. We’re going through difficult times, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up. We just have to be more focused to ensure we still have young people playing music in years to come.
Tell me about your work in education to date.
I was head of brass at Trinity Laban for about 20 years, and I’ve been in the RPO – and involved in its outreach work – for more than 25 years. The RPO has got lots of great residencies all around the country. I’ve always found it very rewarding and important going to areas where there is a lack of live musical opportunities. We always attract wonderful audiences where we go; people really care about you coming, perhaps because you’re only there three or four times a year. We always ensure we spend a lot of time going out into the audience, talking and engaging with them before, during and after. That’s part of my agenda for my new role at the Royal Welsh. It’s more important than ever to take music into local communities. I love to go out and get stuck in with my trombone in hand. I don’t like being stuck too much behind a desk!
How has the conservatoire sector changed?
When I started at the Royal Northern, I just wanted to be an orchestral player, so I received the training to be an orchestral musician. Of course, there were other things on offer at that time, but that’s what I did. There are things I had to learn the hard way, and music education was one of those: in the early days I would be doing outreach work with animateurs and workshop leaders, and they would be using these words we didn’t know. Conservatoires have had to move with the times: now the students leave with a music career portfolio, and outreach work is embedded into their training.
How have intakes changed?
Traditionally, conservatoire study focused on instrument and performance skills, and only took in a narrow intake of young performers. Today a wider range of prospective students are looking for courses that reflect modern life as a professional performer to help them develop a broader portfolio of entrepreneurial skills. The challenge for the Royal Welsh is to continue to evolve and develop courses to reflect the ever-changing social and artistic climate, and to equip students for life as professional musical communicators.
What are your plans for new role?
I see my role as a chance to support what the conservatoire is currently doing so well, and to take it to the next level. It’s an opportunity for me to harness my passion for music education and is a great opportunity for me to return to where I grew up and make a real difference there. I’m really looking forward to expanding our outreach and recruitment within Wales and the south-west of England, reaching out and further improving the college’s accessibility and diversity.
Cardiff is one of my favourite cities, and the conservatoire building is wonderfully situated for students to take advantage of everything it has to offer. It’s got a really vibrant music scene, not just classical and opera, but there’s also a fantastic brass band tradition and a thriving indie scene.
I really enjoyed my time at Trinity, but I needed a new challenge, and it was time to come home to Wales. My door will be open to anyone who has suggestions of what to do – I can’t wait to get stuck in!