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A Musicians Unexpected Journey

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For those of you that I haven’t met in my many years on the road as a gigging musician, my name is Daniel Watt and for the last 3 years since July 2014 I’ve had the pleasure of being a Yamaha Brand Ambassador, travelling the country performing on and presenting Yamaha’s great range of Synths, Digital Pianos, Acoustic Pianos & Digital keyboards either in music stores or in concert at festivals & organ clubs.

I also work in the Yamaha HQ offices at Milton Keynes several days every week along side Steve Marsden & Dusty Miller as part of the technical support team. So if you have ever contacted Yamaha for support or help with your keyboard or piano it may well be me that you have spoken to via email or on the phone.

My History
When I left school way back in 1987 all I wanted to do was dive straight into being a professional musician entertaining the public touring the UK.

Indeed at this point I had already been a resident organist working at a local W.M.C. (Working Men’s Club) every Friday Night, Saturday Night & Sunday Lunchtime for a couple of years (Shhhh don’t tell the taxman).

When I first started as a resident organist it was playing on a Hammond C3 with a Leslie 760 speaker & resident drummer.

As well as playing for our own sections of the evening we were also expected to back visiting singers, instrumentalists as well as magicians & comedians, basically whatever type of entertainment the club had booked on the Saturday evening we had to back them, which I could tell you all some real stories about (Maybe another Time).

When I first started in the Organ business there where very few Musical qualifications available for the organist so I decided to opt out on the whole further musical education side of things as at that point in my life the idea of more studying really did not appeal to me.

I couldn’t wait to leave school, so I just concentrated on performing and entertaining the public.

This year 2017 is actually my 30th year as a professional musician as I left school in September 1987 & over those 30 years I have had the pleasure of playing with some of the great musicians of the organ world, many like Mark Shakespeare, Brian Sharp, Klaus Wunderlich, Brian Rodwell & Jerry Allen who are sadly no longer with us but still live on in our memories.

It’s also been an honour sharing a stage with my heroes growing up like Klaus Wunderlich, Franz Lambert, Harry Stoneham, Brian Sharp to name but a few.

I worked for 3 years in my school holidays for the Hammond Organ Company from 1984 with Keith Buckingham and that was where I met Jerry Allen & Howard Beaumont. Associations with other companies followed when I had left school like Godwin Organs, Wersi GmbH & Casio who I joined to launch the MZ2000 Arranger Keyboard and ended up staying with for 4 years to launch their very first Celviano digital pianos. Then a move to Korg for 3 years working with their arranger keyboards and setting up their ‘Korg School’ teaching classes before I found my home at Yamaha.

Over the last 30 years I have been very fortunate to have a job that I absolutely love that has taken me to lots of different parts of the globe.
So far as well as most parts of the UK I have played in France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Holland, Austria, Canada and the USA which I have made over 74 trips to over the years.
An Unexpected Journey
Last year while at the Yamaha Club weekend in October at Helidon Lakes in Northamptonshire, which if you haven’t been to one of the Yamaha Club Weekends before you should really try to get to the event this year as it’s a great weekend of music, teachings & fun.

I was sat late one night talking to two of my very good friends Jayne Davis (Hon LCM, ALCM, LLCM TD) & Yamaha Club’s very own Gill Eccles (B.Ed (UCE), Dip ABRSM, ALCM, LVCM TD) when the subject of the letters after their names came up in conversation.

Jayne mentioned to me that it wasn’t too late for me if I wanted to get a performance diploma & that I should seriously think about going for one as she was sure I would pass if I did enter for one.

In fact she was quite insistent that I should enter for a Diploma exam as she had just heard me play that evening in concert.

Both Jayne & Gill are heavily involved with the London College Of Music so we had a nice talk about what going for a diploma entailed and that was it, or so I thought.

This whole idea of getting a diploma did intrigue me and started a spark in my imagination “What if ??”.

I had been wanting to do something special just for me to celebrate 30 years as a musician.

So after quite a lot of emails back & forth between myself and Jayne about what would be involved in undertaking to do a diploma, which was followed by me talking myself into and out of the idea several times, I finally decided to go forward with an exam.

My first ever music exam at the age of 46 AHH !!!!!!!.
What Have I got Myself Into ??
Anyone who has ever looked into any type of musical diploma will know that all of those letters after peoples names can be very confusing even to people like me who are musicians, in fact I still have to look some of them up when I get handed a business card, thank goodness for Google !!

At this point I didn’t know which level I was going for or even which one I had any chance of getting, DipLCM, ALCM, LLCM or FLCM ?

It made sense to try and do the diploma with the London College of Music knowing I could ask Jayne & Gill anything I needed to know.

So I thought start in the middle “Maybe ALCM ?” which stands for Associate of the London College of Music or “I might qualify for a LLCM ?” which stands for Licentiate of the London College of Music. I should qualify for at least a DipLCM I thought which is just short for Diploma of the London College of Music.

Having never even done any Grades in Electronic Organ I just didn’t know.
The first thing I had to do was write a letter to the Chief Examiner explaining why I thought I qualified for a diploma with at least 2 accompanying letters of recommendation from people I had worked with over the years to support my application.

Anyone who knows me personally will know how hard I found it to write a letter about myself as I don’t particularly like blowing my own trumpet, I always remember Brian Rodwell saying to me years ago “You can always tell a good organist, he’s the one not telling you how brilliant he is”

So I approached one of my oldest and closest friends John Jackaman who over the years I have done a lot of charity work with for ‘Imperial Cancer Research’ as well as other shows over the years I also asked fellow musician & teacher Penny Weedon (ARCO, FLCM).

They both wrote brilliant letters of recommendation about me which both made me feel quite humble when I read them.

I also had to send through a number of recordings of my performances as audio files to prove that I was a musician and give the examiner an idea of my playing ability.

In the meantime Jayne who having worked as a LCM Area Representative for a number of years ………..if I tell you how many years she’ll kill me, spoke to the Chief Examiner of the London College of Music on my behalf to see which diploma I should go for.

My sheer shock and amazement when the answer came back to me via email that he wanted me to enter straight at the highest level, Fellowship, was so much I nearly dropped my MacBook when I read the email !
There’s No Turning Back Now !
So in January of this year I travelled up to the ‘Telford Music School’ which is owned and run by Jayne to sign the entrance papers and Pay my entrance fee.

“There’s no turning back now” I thought as I got back in my car to drive home again you’ve got to do it now.

The next thing that needed to be done was to organise the program and 3 sets of accompanying notes for each of the pieces that I would be playing in the recital.

Accompanying notes for each piece had to be written explaining who wrote the piece of music, when it was written, a short history of the piece and how I had arranged the piece in the way that I was going to play it in the recital. This was one of the requirements of the Diploma that I was now going for and they had to be bound printed notes.

This process consisted of me starting by making a list of the pieces that I thought may be good enough…. if I’d played all of these pieces the exam would have been about 5 hours long.

Over the following weeks these got narrowed down to 45 minutes playing time and 10 minutes to announce and talk about each of the pieces so the whole exam would last for 50-55 minutes in total.

At this point I have to say that both Jayne & Gill who owns ‘Hammerwich Music School’ were absolute stars and I could not have done the whole process without them being there to help and support me listening to all the pieces that I thought of playing for the exam and then having them there to point out things that could be improved.

I then found out that the examiner on the day for my exam would be none other than the Chief Examiner of music for the London College Mr Philip Aldred (B.Ed (Mus), FLCM).
Rehearse Rehearse REHEARSE !
Over the next few months every chance I could get in the studio at home I would run through the program on my own.

I even performed the program in front of Jayne & Gill a couple of times which was quite a scary experience having a teacher sitting each side of you watching your every move and writing it down for discussion after you played each piece.

Then play the same piece again incorporating the changes before moving on to the next piece in the program and starting the process again.

Gill is a lovely lady but give her a clip board and she’s scary !

The first rehearsal lasted for 5 hours by which time my fingers where really aching.

Some of you may know that at the end of November last year I broke my right wrist in a cycling accident with 7 hair line fractures and a chipped bone so I was in a cast until mid January, but hey onwards & upwards ‘No Pain No Gain !”

So with work at Yamaha getting busier and busier the time started to disappear, in fact 2017 in total seems to be disappearing very quickly.
Today’s The Day !
January to May seems like such a long time, trust me it isn’t !!

Before I knew it the day of the exam was here May 22nd and I was loading the car & driving to the venue for my exam in Wolverhampton.

The Venue was ‘Crammer Methodist Church’ in Wolverhampton which Jayne, Gill & Julie Williams who owns and runs the ‘Wombourne School Of Music’ take over for all of the exams they organise for LCM, and it is a beautiful venue with fantastic acoustics with a fabulous vaulted ceiling.

They were midway through their full day of exams and I arrived at 12:00pm just in time to see Gill Eccles come out from her Grade 1 exam in Musical Theatre, talented lady that she is if she gets anymore letters after her name she’s going to need a bigger business card !
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My exam was at 2:30pm so I had a few hours of watching Netflix in the car on my iPad trying to not worry to much about the upcoming exam while I waited to be able to get into the venue and set up.

At 1:30pm the examiners left and I could set up for the exam while Jayne took them to have some lunch, mine was the last exam of the day for them, about now the nerves where where starting to creep in.
Here We Go !
One of the options I had for my exam because it was a performance exam was that I could if I wanted have an audience.

This I’d decided would help me to relax as I am used to playing in front of an audience having done this for 30 years and my thinking was that would give me a chance to compose myself between the pieces during the applause.

Gill, Jayne & Julie had arranged for a small audience of about 25 people to be there for me to calm my nerves.
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I was shown into the venue and before the exam started the Chief Examiner introduced himself and his fellow Examiner Anne Bull who had recently qualified as an examiner to the audience and instructed them on the way that the exam would progress.

“Please do not clap between the pieces, can you all please wait until the end of the recital so as not to disturb the flow of the exam”, so much for my plans of relaxing and composing myself between pieces while people where clapping.

I played my first piece and stopped to complete silence…………. I can’t type what was going through my head for about the next 30 seconds.

My brain was instantly saying “Why is no-one clapping ?”

“Right come on you can do this”, afterwards Jayne told me she saw me say that to myself.

Straight into my next piece I thought don't give my brain time to think. After the second piece I turned and spoke for the first time.

The 2 examiners very professional showing no emotion (As they have to when they are examining) about 3 feet in front of me while I announced the first 2 pieces I had just played and announced what was coming next in the program. I didn’t know if they were enjoying it or hating it there was no reaction from either of them.

I can honestly say it was the most nervous I have ever felt in a concert performance in my life and that includes playing in front of 1600 people at a festival, each time I turned around there was no applause & no reaction from either of the examiners.

As a performer if no ones clapping in a concert you generally know it’s not going well.

On several occasions I thanked the audience between each piece despite the fact they weren’t clapping which is quite funny looking back and obviously my brain was racing.
My Program was :

Eve Of The War -From War Of The Worlds
My Funny Valentine
Aquarius -From Hair
The Slaves Chorus -From Nabucco
Mr Blue Sky
Night & Day
Can’t Buy Me Love
Dancing Queen -From Mamma Mia
The Second Waltz
Autumn Leaves
Music To Watch Girls By
1492 - Conquest Of Paradise -From 1492

Nearly Over
The 55 minutes of the recital did actually fly by quite quickly and at the end the Chief Examiner Philip Aldred stood up and walked forward towards me. I thought he was going to thank the audience for coming and to say that if they wanted to they could applaud now.

I knew from talking to Jayne & Gill that I was not likely to hear on the day if I had passed the exam as you were usually notified within the next couple of weeks by post, I was really not looking forward to having to wait but that’s the normal way things happen.

What he actually did say when he stood up will stay with me forever and left me completely shell shocked.

I was sat on my bench thinking “You’ve done the exam now if you don’t get it you've done your best” and I started relaxing for the first time in about 4 hours.

Philip turned to the audience and said “I have been an examiner with the London College of Music for over 30 years and being the Chief Examiner I get to break the rules on a few special occasions”

I’m sitting there thinking……….…….??

Then he continued “That was the best Fellowship for Electronic Organ that I have ever heard in all my years examining” “I’d like to congratulate you on your choice of program, arrangements & presentation”

I’m sat there thinking “Who’s he talking about??” “It can’t be me”

“I am going to award you your Fellowship right now” he then turned to his fellow examiner Ann and said “I’m glad you were here to hear this as it will be years before you hear another diploma on Electronic Organ of this level”

At this point I can’t speak and I’m starting to shake…….

I was completely speechless he came across shook my hand and handed me back one of the copies of the notes that I had produced for the diploma which he had signed and dated.

All I could manage to say was “Thank you” and that took some doing.

I looked across at the 3 wonderful ladies that had helped me to get to this day and to get this result which even on the day I didn’t think would happen.

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Gill & Jayne where both crying and Julie was just about holding it together …….just.

I sat down on the bench completely shell shocked.

The audience applauded and asked for an encore, Philip turned to me and asked “Do you want to play another one?”

For the first time in years I sat down at an organ and didn’t know what to play until Gill shouted a song title from the audience.

Now anyone that knows Gill Eccles will know that she is very heavily involved with the scouts and is actually a Scout Leader.

She will kill me for typing this………

I only found this out very recently. All the scout leaders have Disney characters as their Scout Leader names.

Are you ready ??

Gill is known as ‘King Louie’ from ‘Jungle Book’

So I sat down and played ‘King Of The Swingers’ for her.

A Great Day !
So from now on I’ve joined the ranks of musicians with letters after their names
Daniel Watt FLCM.

I still can’t believe that after all of these years I now have this kind of experience in my life.

I will always be so grateful to both Jayne & Gill for all of their help in getting me ready for the exam, and their belief that I could get the result I did especially when I didn’t think I could.

I also want to thank Julie Williams for her help on the day and again for her kind words of support, since passing my exam Julie has passed her ‘DipLCM in Musical Theatre’ so congratulations to her as well.
Jayne I want to thank you in particular for becoming a very large part of my life in 2017 and for pushing me so far outside of my comfort zone, you knew I could do it even when I doubted myself.

I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you my love and making many more memories in our future.

Till next time have fun & enjoy your music.

Daniel Watt FLCM
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