In Conversation: AYM Alumnus Willard Carter

As part of our ‘In Conversation’ series AYM’s Matthew Tiller was delighted to catch up with AYM Alumnus Willard Carter. Willard started cello lessons at the age of four with Elizabeth Anderson. He joined Wells Cathedral School as a chorister at the age of eight and moved to the Purcell School to study cello with Alexander Boyarsky in 2013. In 2016 Willard joined the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music (RCM) for additional study of chamber music. In 2018 he started learning with Ivan Monighetti at the Escuela de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid.  Willard has been mentored by extraordinary musicians including Vasily Petrenko. Ben Palmer, Alban Gerhardt and Guy Johnson. 

Willard told Matthew about how his musical journey so far, AYM’s role in that journey and his plans for the future.

How old were you when you started playing?

I started cello when I was 4 years old, following my sister and then my brother who were learning the viola and the violin. My sister, who is 5 and a half years older than me learned to speak through music when she struggled with illness and disability as a young child. She is autistic, and epilepsy significantly affected her development. She struggled with communication, so my mum found this fantastic support centre that helped young children speak through music.

I wanted to follow in my older siblings footsteps and my brothers’s teacher offered me a trial of violin, viola and cello. I chose to play the cello. Although both my brother and my sister stopped playing a long time ago, I never did. Cello has become central to my life, and my future.

What obstacles did you face when learning your instrument?

I think the majority of children who study classical music feel peer pressure in school and are made to believe that classical music is ‘not cool’ or that it is only for the older generation, but this is not true. Any time that I have ever played for young children or witnessed young children listening to live classical music, I have always seen them react to the music in such a natural way. Their attention is drawn to the music and they are completely engaged. The peer pressure can be difficult but if classical music brings you joy, then I hope that that joy brings courage to choose to enjoy it.

How did AYM’s support through the Awards programme make a difference to you?

I was supported by AYM for 8 years, during that time AYM gave me opportunities that I would never have had otherwise. They introduced me to so many different musicians and mentors but essentially, they helped me with the costs of cello lessons and with different music courses and without that support, I wouldn’t be playing today. From those cello lessons, I was motivated to practice and grow as a musician. On those music courses I made friends and learnt that playing a musical instrument is a way of having fun as well as communicating, and this is the most important thing. I am extremely grateful to AYM for supporting me for so many years and for nurturing my love of music and giving me the opportunities to encourage my growth as a musician.

© Copyright Edward Webb 2015

What are the seminal moments in your musical journey so far, good or bad?

Good! There have been many moments over the last few years where I have been given opportunities that will stay with me forever. One of them being in 2021, in Gstaad, Switzerland, where I was lucky enough to perform the Elgar cello concerto with the Gstaad Festival Orchestra. To have the opportunity to share my music on such a prestigious stage, supported by such brilliant musicians, was truly a gift.
I also had the chance to perform a recital in the Solsberg festival, which is the festival of Sol Gabetta, a cellist whom I have loved and revered since I was very little. That experience was very special for me and an opportunity I am very grateful for. Then of course I remember very well concerts that I played for AYM. I especially remember the concert in Goldsmiths Hall, where I played alongside Jess Gillam. After this concert I met Miloš, who was encouraging and inspiring. That is a concert I have very fond memories of. Also the concert in Bob Boas’s house, which was such a unique experience. I had never played in an environment quite like that one before and it really changed my perspective on an ‘intimate concert space.’ I have been very lucky with the opportunities I have been given and the memories of performing, meeting people and discovering new countries and cities are things that continuously motivate me.

© Copyright Edward Webb 2015

Do you think it’s harder for talented young musicians from low income families to progress than when you started out?

There are many challenges trying to pursue a music career coming from a low income family and often it is too difficult to continue studying music when there are so many financial difficulties involved. I have been extremely lucky to have received support from so many people, my mum being the first of course, who drove me to cello lessons, to music courses, looked for financial support when she couldn’t afford cello lessons for me, the list is endless. There is a lot of luck in finding people who are willing to support young musicians and to help nurture them and it is harder to find them when you are from a low income family. If I could give any advice to any young musician who is wanting to take their musical studies further, I would say to surround yourself with people who want the best for you and try to find as many people like that. (I would also tell them to contact AYM!)

What are your plans for 2022 and beyond?

I want to share my music with as many people as possible and enjoy every step of it. For me it is very important to play in schools, in assisted living facilities and play for people who don’t necessarily have the access to classical music, so I want to make that a bigger part of my life. There are a lot musicians that I would love to work with and to play for and so I am hoping that I will get an opportunity to meet some of them at some point. In addition, my plans are to work as hard as my body and mind allow me, and not to take for granted any moment of learning with my teacher or with colleagues or on stage.

Thank you to Willard for answering our questions, it was a privilege to support him and we look forward to seeing where his career goes next! You can keep up to date with Willard by visiting his website.

Do you know a talented young musician in need of support and opportunities? Our Awards programme offers up to £100,000 in means-tested grants each year, helping young musicians grow and develop their musical potential. Find out if they are eligible and help them apply by following the link below.

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