I didn’t grow up around classical music. Mum and Dad own a tea room in Ulverston and used to play Classic FM and Smooth Classics for Babies – to keep the customers calm, Dad would joke, but I’d always ask him to turn it off.


When I was 11 I went on a saxophone course and was exposed to a variety of classical music and started to love it, the sheer power, the emotion, and from that moment on it became what I wanted to do. Dad is a drummer and used to play in an indie band and I worried about “coming out” to him: “I want to play soprano [the sax that most classical music is written for] and I’m going to go into classical music.” I remember his face just dropped. 


My mum says when she was a kid watching the Proms or BBC Young Musician on TV she felt it was for a select group of people, not her. When I was part of the competition – a category winner in 2014 and the runner-up in 2016 - my friends all watched and many of them said to me, with surprise, how much they enjoyed it. Sometimes my life must seem a bit alien to them – they can’t really relate to how much practice I need to do and how disciplined I need to be.


It’s a challenge we all face today, getting younger audiences interested. People have preconceptions about what a concert is, that they won’t be welcome, or worry that they won’t know the etiquette. Provision for music education in schools is nowhere near enough. Music is part of how we’ve expressed ourselves for centuries. Why isn’t it a core subject like history or maths? It’s part of who we are.


The sax is a chameleon instrument, and I play soul music and jazz as well. I don’t think barriers between genres are helpful. I’d like to keep as many doors open as possible – top of my wishlist of collaborators is Peter Gabriel: his New Blood orchestral album is incredible. So long as something emotionally connects or moves you then it’s music and worth engaging with.


We’re lucky that the internet makes music so accessible today. You don’t have to buy CDs or go to concerts to hear it, and I love how I can collaborate with other musicians wherever they are, watch a rehearsal via Skype, work on and share MP3s; My social media presence is an important part of my identity as a musician. In fact it’s vital – you need to appeal to people offstage and on.


But the most important thing is to be yourself and play music that you love. If you don’t love it it’s likely the audience won’t either. I feel I’ve been most successful when I’ve moved an audience. I would hate to live in a digital-only world. There’s something about live music and the excitement and wonder of being in a room where it is being created that you can never capture on camera.