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Renowned pianist to share joy of music with young islanders

Renowned pianist to share joy of music with young islanders

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Renowned pianist to share joy of music with young islanders

Wednesday 26 January 2022


A renowned pianist has taken on a leading role in a local charity which provides music lessons in local schools, as well as live music and performance opportunities to young musicians.

Considered as one of the finest Scottish pianists of her generation, Dr Toni James is a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and founding member of Neave Trio.

Her first professional concert came when she was just 14 in Iceland. Three years later, she was a keyboard finalist in the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year Competition. She went on to win several prizes and performed just as well in her studies.

Pictured: The Eastman School of Music where Toni received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

She was the youngest ever Scottish pianist to receive a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance with First Class Honours from the Royal Conservatoire, aged just 20. In 2015, she received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, with the school’s highest honours in performance, the 2012 Max Landow Scholarship, as well as the Baskin Scholarship Award for outstanding doctoral degree recital.

Over the last 10 years, Toni has also been teaching. After starting the Eastman School of Music, she was appointed Professor in 2015 at the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University in 2015, which awarded her the Exceptional Service Award in recognition of her educational leadership within undergraduate and postgraduate music programmes.

In 2020, Toni was invited to join the faculty of the Music Department at the University of Liverpool to lead the academic standards. In addition to delivering the classical performance and pedagogy curricula, she produced the first Women in Music Conference.

​She has co-founded the Tannahill Arts and Heritage, an organisation working towards equitable access to arts and culture for all, delivering Paisley's annual arts festival and providing platforms for developing and underrepresented artists.

In October 2021, she was appointed as the Development and Operations Manager for Music in Action.

“People often ask me how you go from academia to work in the third sector, and I often say, one of the things I want for my students is to have an experience as close to what professional musicians have, that involves work in the community, creating your own ensembles, learning how to promote yourself,” she explained.

“I realised the best way to do this was to be working in an organisation context as well as producing events. At this point in my career, I wanted a role that would maximise my skills.”

As part of her new role, Toni will lead the programming of the Jersey Chamber Orchestra and the Liberation International Music Festival, as well as Music in Action's education outreach programmes and community initiatives.

“One of the reasons I find this role stimulating is the amazing programme that Music in Action has and the cultural development through the Chamber Orchestra and the Liberation International Music festival,” Toni said.

“The role is wonderful and complex in a sense as, like many performance art organisations, we are in a sort of building back mode, working towards resources that will support having a full time member of the team. At the moment, there is only one full-time member of the team and that’s me, we have a fantastic board and a great chairman.

“My remit really covers a lot of different things strategy, fundraising, oversight for education, I am the external face and meet a lot with other organisations and supporters in the community to develop partnerships.”

Toni is looking forward to the JCO’s first concert this year at St. Thomas Church on Saturday at 20:00, which will mark the ensemble’s return to the stage.

The programme will feature music inspired by the joy of youth and innovation, including the world premiere of a flute concerto by Jersey composer Derek Lawrence, performed by Cosimo Dhami-Hounsome, winner of the 2021 Jersey Young Flautists Competition, and the iconic ‘Walking in the Air’ solo from the Snowman, sang by Jonathan Mews, a music scholar at St John's Choir in Cambridge.

“It has a wintry theme and will really warm everybody’s hearts, it’s going to be very wonderful,” Tony said. “The benefits will go to Jersey Hospice Care so we want to encourage the community to come out in droves, buy tickets and enjoy the music together.”

Speaking about the beginning of her career, Toni said it fits in well with the theme of the concert, which she says is all about young musicians and helping them develop their talent.

“Like many young musicians, I started from a young age,” Toni said. “I played the piano when I was four or five on my grandmother’s piano. My parents ferried me to rehearsals and concerts, it’s a very intense development that musicians go through.

“I did my first concern when I was 14, probably the same age as some of our performers will be on Saturday. It’s a nice full circle moment for me.”

 cosimo__Jonathan_mews.jpg

Pictured: The two soloists for Saturday's concert, Cosimo Dhami-Hounsome and Jonathan Mews.

One of Toni’s goals in her new role is to ensure young musicians have all the opportunities they need to be prepared for a professional life and that they enjoy a cohesive education from their early years to the moment they become a professional.

“When children have access to music education, it enriches every aspect of their life, their cognitive development, their emotional development, their social skills, physically they are more active, and their mental health,” she said. “And we’ve seen this in the pandemic, lots of all these things, community choirs, drama clubs, art groups, all of that was lost, there was a dearth of creativity.

“JCO wanted to make sure we would deliver this January concern, maybe against the odds. We wanted to say ‘we are here, we are coming back’ and give our students the experience of sharing music together.”

“It’s wonderful because part of learning is having a performance platform,” she added. “The only way to learn how to perform is to have the opportunity to do it.

“We will have a great conductor and wonderful musicians, some from Jersey, some from the UK, on Saturday and they will play a very essential mentoring function. How young musicians develop is by having these opportunities to learn what musicians do, it’s such a great project.

“Those are the experiences that help you grow, you learn from what other musicians do and from working with great conductors. It’s an unforgettable experience to have this large performance space.

“As a musician, you see often the world, other people, and you are much richer as a person because you have been outside of the norm, your cultural norm, which is something we all need to do."

Pictured: Toni wants to develop opportunities for young musicians.

Toni and Music in Action are also keen to look into how inclusive the organisation and its concerts are. One of the things she is working on is a series of innovative concerns in exhibition rooms at the museum and in art galleries.

“It could be an entry point for people who are not regular concert goers,” she explained.

 “We want to look at the way we really empower all the members of the community to come and engage with the music.”

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