Gemma is canadian but she lived most of her life in France. She is a second year saxophonist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and wishes to give everyone, regardless of their personal situation, the opportunity to enjoy music and what it can give. 

Hi, my name is Gemma Gillies and I wanted to talk about the stigma around pursuing music as a career.

I was seventeen when I decided that I no longer wanted to study academics after high school, instead I would audition for various music schools to study the saxophone. My parents were very supportive as soon as they had made sure that I really knew what I was getting into: potential financial hardship, limited job stability and an increasingly competitive field. My music teachers of course were all overjoyed that I was taking my passion further than just a hobby and helped me write my application letters and wrote me amazing references. However, some other teachers, in particular a mathematics teacher who was less than thrilled by my choice of study. I was good at maths, and I came from a family of physicists, so she seemed to deem that the only thing I should do was follow in their footsteps. All throughout my final year of high school she would make fun of my choice, up until the day I collected my high school diploma when all she told me is that she hoped that one day I would study mathematics. Although I am flattered that she believed I had the knowledge to go and study mathematics, her comments throughout the year made it less and less pleasant to attend her classes.

That experience in high school was not the first, and probably not the last time I will have to deal with scepticism about the viability of music as a career. Indeed, throughout this pandemic, the lack of funding certain countries have given to the arts, even though it’s a sector that brings billions to the economy, shows that even major governments do not care what happens to this domain, and the hundreds of thousands of people it employs every year. This pandemic should have taught everyone how much we depend on the arts: where would we be without Spotify, Netflix, books, movies? How would anyone have gotten through two lockdowns without the shelter that the arts offer? It would have been a lot harder. People tell me I have a chip on my shoulder, that I should just brush it off when people put you down for following your dreams, but this is something I’m too passionate about to let it slide.

Musicians in my eyes are some of the most hardworking and resourceful people in the world. For us, not only is it a question of being good at our instruments anymore, but there is also more pressure on us, especially now, to learn to produce, compose, arrange, play multiple instruments to an extremely high standard. We have to be jacks of all trades to succeed, and even then, there’s no guarantee of stability.

I might be getting more existential now because I am in the process of writing my first EP about coming to terms with myself and my sexuality, and the process has pushed me out of my comfort zone in a real way. I chose to study music because I wanted to make people feel the way I do when I listen to music or go to the theatre. I want everyone to be able to experience the rollercoaster of emotions that I feel listening to my favourite pieces. Writing music to put out in the world is one of the scariest things in the world in my eyes. It is putting yourself out there in a raw, vulnerable way for everyone to listen to and pick apart. And yet it is those people who are brave enough to do that, who do not hide behind a wall who can get to people. They are the ones who harness the real power that music has, to make people feel things in a way they could not before, and if I can do a fraction of what they can with my EP and my future work then I will be happy.

– Gemma, December 19th, 2020

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