Sophia Smith, former Henley College student, is now Director of Music at a school in London. She is pictured below at the recording of 'The Voice', where she featured in the band for Jermaine Jackman on the live final. Read her interview to find out about how music became her passion.
Q1: Please tell us who you are, where you come from and what you are doing now.
I am Sophia-Marie Smith I was brought up in Wallingford and am now a director of music at a high achieving school in London.
Q2: When did you come to The Henley College and what did you study here?
I attended The Henley College from 2011-2013 I studied a music performance diploma, music A-level and music technology. In my first year I also studied photography but pulled out in my second year so I could focus on the subjects I knew I wanted to pursue.
Q3: What was your first impression of The Henley College?
I came to an open day with my dad, after seeing the music department facilities I fell in love. Coming from a secondary school with mediocre music technology, teaching and equipment, I saw the department and knew this would give me so much more than a secondary school ever could. I was one of those students who never really tried in school, got average marks but when it came to music I loved it, so for me music was always my only option. I attended the college for my interview and music paper theory test and to my excitement swiftly found out I had secured my place.
Q4: Why did you choose to come here? What helped make up your mind?
To my luck, my school didn’t have enough people signed up to run even just the Music A-level course in 2011. Feeling slightly overwhelmed by the fact I’d have to move schools and start somewhere new for the first time I was feeling panicked to say the least.
At this point my musician friend who had attended the college was singing their praises so I checked out the website and organised an open day visit. After meeting the teachers, seeing the facilities and other students who were at the open day felt like I had made the right decision. It was now looking like this option was far better than the comfort of my own sixth form anyway. The first time I got to take control of my own learning, choosing what options I wanted to do rather than the options I could choose from. This is something I now preach at my primary school every day to help them become more independent learners.
Q5: What is your best memory of your time at The Henley College and why?
Without a doubt my 2 favourite moments at Henley College are the two productions I was a part of. Rebecca Poole visited our school to do a joint concert in the Kenton Theatre in Henley. This was one of my first opportunities to perform in a professional big band set up, playing alongside regular musicians. Rebecca was an ex-student herself, so this was even more encouraging to all of us chosen to be in the band.
By this point, a few rehearsals had helped with my confidence and I was so excited to showcase this in the concert.
The event was sold out with all my friends and family supporting me in the audience. We did solo, ensemble and big band pieces together with Rebecca and her band. The trumpet player Stuart Henderson was one of the first I had played alongside at this standard. His comments of being impressed by my ability really spurred me on to practice and to persevere. Later on over the next 5 years I started to do work for a function band where I played alongside Stuart again which was a surreal experience. The college definitely makes the cross over period from child to adult an inspiring one.
The other memory I have which I’m extremely nostalgic about is our performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in the Caversham church. I played trumpet in the pit band, which was my first time doing this! It was like a real professional gig, and having gigged for a while now can honestly say at points more professional than many I have done. We rehearsed weekly with the musical theatre, tech and dance students. Both Golbys were in charge of the production and were a pleasure to be taught by!
Q6: Did you always want to do what you are doing now?
Since I was 4 I was taught piano, at the age of 9 I begged my dad for another instrument. After letting me have a go on his cornet after about 10 minutes I had learnt my c major scale and dad agreed to get me trumpet lessons. It wasn’t until I was in college when I realised that what I loved to do was quickly becoming my career. I don’t think I had really thought about it before college I just went through the motions of GCSEs and rehearsals with several brass bands, regular peripatetic lessons every week and concerts.
Q7: What has influenced your decisions about the subjects you have studied and the career path you have made?
Obviously having been lucky enough to have lessons from very young, music became my happy place. A lot of the time I felt being dyslexic that it was something which I found a lot easier than academic subjects. I would easily say I read music quicker than reading a book. My father was extremely encouraging of my playing and took me to lots of different band rehearsals, these bands became my social life and I met so many brilliant musicians.
Q8: What are your ambitions for the future?
To continue to be happy within my job and life in London. I feel like the luckiest person to have found a job so fulfilling, being a music teacher is so much fun and I love the continual progress you make as a teacher and how no weeks are the same.
I’m going to enter my school orchestra and choir in performance and competition opportunities this year, and have lots of goals in terms of my music department and their success. I would love to work within a private school environment and have my own brass department as right now we don’t have any brass at my school.
Q9: What do you think The Henley College did for you – aside from the qualifications you gained?
I think that life at college, the relationships with peers and teachers gave me the confidence that I lacked. It gave me independence and freedom, I may not have had the best attendance at times but sometimes you need to make decisions about what’s right for you in that moment. I.e Needing to practice for a concert or gig taking priority over photography coursework. It just gave me the opportunity to be in charge of my own learning.
Q10: If you had one piece of advice for a 15-16 year old thinking about their future, what would it be?
Your mental health is so much more important than your career, enjoy your education and the learning journey rather than the end goal of a grade or qualification. Take the subjects you enjoy and make the most of all the social events at college and university as they will become your fondest memories.