Toby Kearney is Head of the Percussion Department at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Discover more about his role, his career highlights and his thoughts on what makes a successful musician.
What is your ethos for the department?
Work hard, play hard... be a team player and get the most out of your time here.
What do you look for in musicians auditioning to join your department?
Potential. We’re not interested in applicants being the finished article, we want to see your enthusiasm and desire for being a musician... show us some confidence and flair, tell us why Birmingham? Why our department?
Do you perform outside of teaching?
Yes, I’m Principal Percussion and Timps at the CBSO as well as a member of O Duo and a regular guest principal of the Britten Sinfonia. I also perform with many of the UK’s leading orchestras including the John Wilson Orchestra.
What are your main responsibilities as Head of Department?
Creating musical and professional opportunities for all percussion students at RBC. I tutor snare drum and tuned orchestral repertoire and some solo playing in addition to running the department’s percussion ensemble, Millennial Percussion. Aside from that I run the rest of the department looking after the course, tutors, personnel, international travel etc.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Leading the percussion section of the John Wilson Orchestra at the proms this year, joining O Duo and giving recitals up and down the country, playing Shostakovich ‘Lady Macbeth’ with the CBSO (the most insane xylo part I’ve ever seen!) and concerto performances at the Sage and Bridgewater Hall.
How did you come to your current role and what have you done before Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC)?
I was one of the percussion teachers here at RBC for two years and was a regular coach for the National Children’s and Youth Orchestras, so when the opportunity came up to lead this amazing department, I couldn’t miss it!
How would you describe your team in the department?
Well-connected, versatile and inspirational... all our tutors are at the peak of their playing careers and will support students with their musical and professional development.
What is your favourite thing about working at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire?
The amazing facilities and gear in the department, and our comprehensive syllabus which is focussed on employability and helps get the best out of students.
What do you think sets RBC apart from other conservatoires?
Having many tutors, each teaching their area of expertise, we are in a better position to find the right path for each individual. The flexibility of our unique, extensive and bespoke syllabus means we can help each student in the best route to employment. Whether it be symphonic, ballet, opera, folk, world music, outreach, West End shows... we’ve got it covered.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing new music students?
Versatility and responsibility. All percussionists need to be super organised, and super flexible. With our focus on employability we help students excel musically and professionally.
What do you think makes a successful musician in your field?
Versatility, reliability, flair and great social skills. Being a percussionist relies on teamwork.
What can prospective students look forward to the most when they join your department/Royal Birmingham Conservatoire?
Opportunities. Those students who work hard get rewarded with professional schemes, external work and international travel... but most of all, they’ll have a great time!