Photograph of Nicole Wilson holding a violin
This month Nicole Wilson, Artistic Director of Virtuoso International Music Academy, tells of the life-changing music courses she attended as a teen, and how she tries to recreate the experience for the next generation.  
 
Nicole, who is also violin professor at the Royal Academy of Music, London, a freelance leader and Chair of European String Teachers Association (UK) reflects on the value of the arts for young people. 
 
To learn more about the Virtuoso International Music Academy’s next course, visit https://www.virtuosointernationalmusicacademy.com/ 
 
Stay in touch with the Virtuoso International Music Academy on Social Media: 
 
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I distinctly remember the autumn of 1987 when, as a passionate teenager, I drew a prison cell-style countdown on my bedroom wall, heralding my escape from my mundane life to my next residential music course. These courses were a lifeline for me as a geeky violin playing ‘nerd’ who struggled to fit in with the cool crowd at my local comprehensive. Being on the receiving end of verbal and sometimes even physical abuse for being different was tough. But I knew that there was that bright light at the end of the tunnel every holiday, where I’d be with so many of ‘my people’ united by a common love of the orchestral world and the glorious characters in it. It was all the inspiration I needed to keep going. 
Indeed my tribe, who I bonded with so deeply at these music courses, are still my friends today. No other point in my childhood is as vivid from such a distance as those years playing the giants of the symphonic repertoire, from Strauss’s monumental Alpine Symphony to Stravinsky’s magical, adrenaline-infused Firebird. 
I embarked on my first music course in Warwickshire, at the tender age of 8. Tagging along with my elder brother, I had absolutely no idea what to expect but as soon as we arrived, I felt the hum of excitement and anticipation as the other children, veterans of the course, hugged each other and squealed with delight as they were reunited with friends they hadn’t seen all year. This was such a welcoming, friendly place and when we started the first orchestra rehearsal it felt as though my whole life had been building to this moment. 
 
As Mr Russell, the conductor of the orchestra, jumped up onto the rostrum I was immediately captivated by his twinkling, kind eyes and mischievous air. I knew, from the minute he raised his baton above his head like a sword, that I was going to love it! I’m happy to say that I have never since been as lost in an orchestra rehearsal as I was that day, but despite that, I felt exhilarated and so gleeful to be there! I have been chasing this legal high ever since – this powerful, emotional rollercoaster of a beast which is so much greater than the sum of its parts. 
 
Nicole in 1987, on the way to a course with the National Youth Orchestra 
In my career I have been lucky enough to be part of the orchestral powerhouse that is the London Symphony Orchestra, and I’ve even been allowed at the helm, leading orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as a guest. But finally I decided that I really wanted to recreate the wonderful world that Mr Russell created all those years ago in Warwickshire, for the next generation of nerds like me. Nothing beats that ‘child in a sweet shop’ feeling of designing the most exciting, incredible and fun week of music and friendship-making you can imagine. 
 
What I wasn’t expecting was that I would still feel that thrill again over 40 years later. I see so many children arriving at my courses, crippled with anxiety, tentatively raising their bows to the string amid a sea of instruments, a look of terror in their eyes, and I live for the moment when they realise they’re part of this great sound. They and their new friends are all cogs in this magnificent wheel. I watch them grow in confidence and technical skill as the week progresses. They find their own tribe of friends, searching them out in the dining hall, on the playing fields and the boarding houses. Their terrified silence turns to boisterous confidence and by the time the end of course concert comes around, the parents hardly recognise the terrified child they left with us a mere week ago. 
We all know music improves a child’s ability to learn, but the most important benefit in my opinion is the confidence and happiness it brings to their lives in what can be a confusing and overwhelming time of life. Governments insist on the benefit of learning STEM subjects but often misunderstand the soft power of the arts. This escape to a world where a child, who may be a square peg in a round hole at school, can find their own space and value in the world is key to their wellbeing and progress in all walks of life. 
 
I’ve directed three different courses now, the most recent launching just a month ago, and each time I get that crazy pre-course anticipation. Who will come? Will it change their lives like it did mine? I hope so. Let the countdown begin… 
 
To learn more about the Virtuoso International Music Academy’s next course, visit https://www.virtuosointernationalmusicacademy.com/ 
 
Stay in touch with the Virtuoso International Music Academy on Social Media: 
 
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