MARK ARMSTRONG AWARDED FELLOWSHIP BY ROYAL COLLEGE OF MUSIC!
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Mark went on to study at Oxford University and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. Re-appointed as the Artistic and Music Director for NYJO in 2012, Mark was previously a proud member of the NYJO’s trumpet section! This week, we sat down – virtually – with Mark to talk about lockdown, his career and being honoured by the Royal College of Music.
How did it feel to receive such a renowned award by the Royal College of Music, and what does the fellowship mean to you?
It was really great to have jazz education and performance acknowledged in this way at the RCM. I’ve been teaching there for over fifteen years and in that time we’ve built up a much more visible programme of jazz activity, both academic and performance based.
Having this award helps to reinforce the message that jazz is respected for having just as much emotion, variety, depth, energy artistic nuance and technical underpinning as classical music. It’s great to have further support for jazz at the RCM and personally to feel that my contribution as a performer, composer, arranger and educator has contributed to this.
From being part of the trumpet section in the band to becoming the Artistic & Music Director, how has NYJO helped shape your career throughout the years?
I’ve learnt a huge amount about teaching, arranging, composing and playing in NYJO – and continue to do so! It’s taught me a lot about people as well. Running the rehearsals and workshops has really given me in-depth experience of what the music means to young people of all ages and levels of ability. From very young beginners at primary school to the fantastic musicians, I feel really privileged to work with all of the young talent involved in the JO and JX bands.
Playing in the NYJO trumpet section really set me up for a varied career. Playing in West End shows, recording sessions, other big band and smaller jazz groups has connected me with some fantastic players who remain friends and colleagues to this day. The high-profile concerts like the Proms that I have directed with NYJO have been really intense, but memorable experiences, that will stay with me forever.
Do you miss performing live? How have you been recreating that feeling of playing with others?
Of course! It’s a terrible situation for all live performers right now. I don’t think it’s possible to recreate the feeling so I’m looking forward to having a chance to play live again when the situation changes. In the meantime I’m doing some practise and it’s good to have a chance to look at technical issues that get forgotten when you’re busy playing as well as learn a few more tunes. Luckily, I like practising the trumpet – it’s always been a puzzle that I feel I haven’t solved, so I’m gradually chipping away at various aspects of my playing. I’ll be doing more recording in the coming weeks and will make sure I’m as ‘match fit’ as I can be for when we can all get back out there again!
Mark with parents Mike & Pat Armstrong (left) and wife Eli (right) (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Your household is very musical, are you scheduling different play times, or practising your instruments together?
My three children – Lucy, Henry and Rosie – and my wife Eli, all play a variety of instruments as well as sing. It’s been a lot of fun filming mini-concerts and sending them out to grandparents and friends. They are all having lessons online and with the NYJO London Virtual Academy sessions on Saturdays. It makes for a busy morning! I don’t often get time to listen to them all practise, and it’s been really nice to have more family moments like this.
What is something that you are all doing during lockdown that you didn’t use to before?
There’s been family yoga/workout/sport action in the garden – especially with my youngest Lucy who’s got into the habit of waking me up for the ’Seven Minute Workout’! It’s also really nice to sit down together for more family meals. This has always been a good focus for us but now it’s happening every day. I love cooking so it’s fun to plan some menus!
The Royal College of Music is one of the world’s great conservatoires, training gifted musicians from all over the world for international careers as performers, conductors and composers. If you’d like to find out more about the RCM, you can visit them here.