Strong foundations: Matilda Lloyd

Matilda Lloyd
Saturday, December 1, 2018

Since winning the brass finals of the 2014 instalment of BBC Young Musician of the Year, Matilda Lloyd has gone on to be principal trumpet of the European Union Youth Orchestra and this summer made her debut at Wigmore Hall. She shares her experience of home education, and how it has impacted her life as a musician.

All images: Andrew McCoy 2018

Looking back on my childhood, I feel incredibly lucky to have been home educated throughout my primary school years. I feel that, for me, pursuing a career in music would not have been possible without those years to learn lots of instruments and play in many different ensembles. It gave me a strong foundation in music that, many years later, enabled me to read music at Cambridge University – and has helped me achieve my dreams of being a professional musician.

From a very young age I was an extremely curious child, always asking questions and reading anything I could lay my hands on. Therefore, it was startling to everyone around me when this dramatically changed over the first two years of primary school. I lost all interest in learning and became distracted, unfocussed and mischievous. In a quest to solve the problem, my parents suggested that I move up a school year – I was old for the year group, being born at the beginning of October – but the head teacher wouldn't allow it.

One of Lloyd's recording sessions for her new album

We began looking for an alternative school, but didn't have enough time to find one as there were only a couple of months left before the end of Year 2. As my mum had always been interested in home education, she suggested that we could try it for a year while we continued to search for another school. My sister is two years younger than me and she was just finishing Reception, so we were home educated together. This temporary one-year solution turned into four years for me, and six for my sister, because we enjoyed it so much that we did not want to return to primary school!

I think the reason we loved home education was that it gave us much more freedom and choice, so we could learn about the things that interested us in ways that were suited to our style of learning. We studied maths and English on a daily basis, using programmes such as Kumon Maths, Singapore Maths and Bond English papers. Alongside these core subjects, we each chose a topic for a cross-curricular project that would be completed over a few weeks.

For example, I chose a project on India after reading a book set there. In my project, we studied the geography of India (tracing a map and labelling all the major cities, rivers and mountains), the culture (music, dance and dress), the languages, and religions. In another project about Antarctica, inspired by my love of penguins, we incorporated science through the water cycle and the different states of the elements. This kind of project-based learning essentially covered all the individual school subjects, but tied them together under one topic. Through this style of education, my love of learning quickly returned.

Home education gave Lloyd the freedom to pursue music

One of the greatest bonuses of home education was that it gave me and my sister so much more time for extra-curricular activities. For a start, we never had any homework! At the start of this four-year period, I was already learning the piano and recorder. Very soon into our first year of home education, I came across my dad's old trumpet in the cupboard and began having lessons. Then, aged 10, we went to an instrument try-out day and I immediately took to the cello and wanted to have lessons on that, too, and I also started singing in multiple children's choirs. I am absolutely certain that if I had not been home educated, there is no way that I would have been able to learn all of these instruments and play in so many different ensembles on a weekly basis.

Alongside musical activities, I also danced multiple times a week (ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary), took group swimming lessons and attended theatre school on Saturdays, all of which I absolutely loved and helped me develop skills that I now use every day. My love of acting as a child has been particularly important in my career as it helped me to become comfortable onstage and taught me how to present myself and project my voice, which is particularly useful when giving spoken programme notes in recitals.

Home education also encouraged me to be independent and helped to develop many skills and qualities that are vital to my life now as a professional musician. We never had a strict timetable, for instance, using instead a list of things to accomplish each day. This taught us good time-management skills as we could complete these tasks in whichever order we liked, as long as they were finished by the end of the day. Home education also inspired my love of travel through a four-month trip around Europe in a motorhome when I was 10 years old. I became fascinated with learning about the culture and history of different places, and knew that I would want to have a career that would enable me to travel around the world.

Travelling also gave me the very useful ability to sleep on any form of public transport, which comes in handy as a musician who spends a lot of time on trains and planes! Crucially, I think that alongside all these amazing benefits, home education gave my sister and me the time to just be children as we spent all our breaks playing together, outside and inside, going on walks or running around playgrounds.

It was always my intention to return to secondary school, so my parents organised tutors to help me prepare for the entrance exams and I restarted school in Year 7, with my sister following in my footsteps two years later. Although some people perceive home education as a negative experience, I look back on those years very fondly. Ultimately, home education saved my love of learning and allowed me to really enjoy my childhood. It also gave me the time to pursue all the extra-curricular activities that I was so passionate about. Little did I know I that I would end up following a career from one of them.

Matilda Lloyd's debut album Direct Message – comprising forgotten 20th-century pieces and contemporary works – is out now via Orchid Classics