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Guest blog: The road to Julliard

By Gwenllian Llyr

Gwenllian Llyr

April 4th, August 28th – two important dates that seem quite a way apart. Well they did seem like that on April 4th, when I accepted my scholarship to study at the world-renowned Juilliard School in New York. Yet (as my mother could have easily predicted), here I am, six days to go and a million things to do before I board my flight at Heathrow.

As I begin to farewell with friends, colleagues and family, I can’t help but think about all the decisions that led to here.

When I was begging my mum for harp lessons at seven-years-old, I never thought that it would lead to what I have accomplished so far; as well as having studied privately and in master-classes with famous harpists across the world, I have performed in Europe, North America and Asia, and won prizes at national and international competitions.

When I was begging my mum for harp lessons at seven-years-old, I never thought that it would lead to what I have accomplished so far

Now I’m about to start my next adventure of studying with Nancy Allen in New York and hopefully begin my preparations for my next international competition.

People who have ‘made it’ in whatever field they choose often speak of this defining moment in their life when they knew that this was the right path for them; a game that they won, a performance of their life or just a bright moment of clarity where everything felt perfect.

For me, I have had doubts as recent as 2010 that I shouldn’t have pursued this career. It is stressful, time-consuming and very lonely at times, when you practise for that 6th hour and block the world out so that you can get that piece of music in your head. Yet I must admit that there have been some performances that I wouldn’t want to live without experiencing, where I have felt that I was really making music and performing with every fibre of my being.

There are certain points in my life that I can see have clearly led me to where I am today, and sometimes I think of what could have been different.

What if at 13 years of age I hadn’t been accepted to the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain? I might never had met Susan Drake, who retired from the orchestra soon afterwards but did teach me privately for two years, changing my technique and sharing practising techniques that I still use today.

What if at 16 years of age I had accepted my place at the Junior GSMD inLondon, instead of staying in Wales to study with Caryl Thomas? As well as being the most influential teacher of my life, she introduced me to the world of international competitions, and to the Aspen Music Festival and School where I met Nancy Allen.

Without these experiences I might never have imagined that I would be able to fulfil my dreams of a performing career, or even consider applying for Juilliard so that I could try to improve my performing capabilities.

What if at 18 years of age, I had decided to study in London rather than Cardiff? I wouldn’t have met the fantastic friends I have, or had the opportunities from RWCMD such as performing concertos in St. David’s Hall inCardiff,St. George’s in Bristol or at the RWCMD Royal Gala in Buckingham Palace.

I’m grateful for every single experience, the good, the frustrating, the depressing, the exhilarating, each one a part of my musical and personal journey to where I am today: sitting on the bed thinking how in the world will I be able to fit everything into just two suitcases.

  • Gwenllian is from Swansea, and studied harp at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She is the first ever Welsh harpist to secure a place to study at the world famous Juilliard School in New York

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