Baton at the Ready
By Kelly Beswick
The grandson of a docker whose love of music was born listening to his granddad play trumpet in East End working men’s clubs, Spencer Down’s profound passion has propelled him to Musical Director of Dockland’s Sinfonia, with performances for the Queen at Buckingham Palace along the way
“I grew up on the Isle of Dogs. My granddad lived nearby and we were very close. He used to work in the docks, but he also played the trumpet and I would often go and watch him playing in the local working men’s clubs. He was my first teacher and taught me the cornet. When I was about seven years old, he took me to Tilbury Brass Band where I was given a free instrument and the chance to play. It was an amazing opportunity.
One day, the conductor there recommended that I take my studies further. So I auditioned for Junior Guildhall, based in the Barbican Centre. I was lucky enough to be accepted and also managed to get a scholarship that paid my fees. After that, I took a four-year degree course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I discovered how much I enjoyed being at the front of an orchestra and that my future lay in conducting.
It was always my life’s dream to set up my own symphony orchestra, which is how Docklands Sinfonia came about. It has been a lot of hard work, but it has been highly rewarding. We have performed twice for the Queen at Buckingham Palace, with Grammy Award-winner Imogen Heap at the Royal Albert Hall and recorded an album with singer Katie Melua. Recently, we received a standing ovation at the Barbican.
But we are firmly grounded in our community in the Docklands. Music changed my life and gave me opportunities I didn’t know existed and that’s what we would like to show to the children of Tower Hamlets through our Children’s Concerts. Last year, we performed for 1,600 pupils from 13 local primary schools and this year, we are putting together a much more ambitious project for 2,200 primary school children from 20 schools. The concerts are highly educational, but they are also enormous fun.
To any aspiring young musician I’d say, be prepared to deal with a lot of rejection, but don’t fall at that first hurdle. If you have that passion and drive, try and try again.”