Thomas Harris - Bright Young Thing from Kent

Thomas Harris on his early passion for music that led to the award of a Music Scholarship to Eton College

Meet our October Bright Young Thing from Kent

Thomas Harris on his early passion for music that led to the award of a Music Scholarship to Eton College

Tell us about yourself

My name is Thomas Harris and I’m 16. I live on the edge of the Romney Marsh in Warehorne. I started part-time school at Saint Ronan’s in Hawkhurst when I was nearly four, about six months after my first piano lesson with Kevin Smith, then Head of Keyboard at Eton College. I began with the Suzuki method, which is a total joy when you’re young as it’s all about enjoying and appreciating the music, without struggling to try to read it. When I was six I heard Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev and it inspired me to take up the bassoon, starting with a pint-sized version. Shortly after I took up the treble and descant recorders, the flute, singing lessons and then the organ. The biggest challenge has always been finding time to fit it all in – but thanks to Saint Ronan’s I had the flexibility to take time out for extra music lessons, masses of practice and permission to be absent for concerts and competitions. When I was 11 Malcolm Riley, Director Music at Cranbrook School, asked me to sing the treble solo in Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer with the Cranbrook Sinfonia and Choir. It was nerve-wracking, but thrilling. In the last two years at Saint Ronan’s I had to focus on achieving Grade 8 Distinction in all my instruments and singing, plus the ATCL Recital Diploma on the piano. I entered and won 20 classes at the Hastings Music Festival, and I was utterly delighted to be awarded the European Piano Teachers Association Cup for the Most Promising Pianist of Any Age. I really felt that all the hard work had paid off when I was awarded a Music Scholarship to Eton College. Malcolm Gladwin said in his book ‘Outliers’ that success is mostly dependent on the hours you’re prepared to put in for something you love doing – that certainly makes great sense.  

What are you doing now?

Life at Eton is even more hectic, but that goes with the territory of getting more mature and learning to rise to more challenges. Again, I’ve had fantastic support and opportunities at the school – there are so many talented boys here and I’ve made many friends, including a good number from Kent. In my first year I went on tour to Poland with the College Chapel Choir under the direction of Ralph Allwood, which was an exhausting, full-on but fantastic experience. I now have organ lessons with David Goode, Head of Keyboard, and play in the Eton School Orchestra, Senior Wind Band, Senior Flute Group, the Wind Quintet and the Recorder Consort. The help and advice of my tutors and house master has been invaluable in helping me structure my timetable to get everything done, especially with GCSEs this year. I’ve been fortunate enough to win the Advanced Woodwind, Singing and Piano competitions, after which I was invited to take lessons with Joan Havill, Senior Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Earlier this year I made my debut at the Cadogan Hall in London for a charity concert presented by Radio 3’s Sean Rafferty, playing Balakirev’s Islamey: Fantaisie Orientale, a technical nightmare but rewarded by a standing ovation, which meant a great deal to me. After I finish my GCSEs I’ll be working towards a Diploma on the bassoon and performing another piano recital in London in aid of the NSPCC.

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Your future ambitions?

My favourite pianist ever, the incomparable Martha Argerich (watch her on You Tube!) once said: “Do you know what makes God laugh? When you try to make plans!” I love that.

What’s best about living in Kent?

Probably the sense of friendliness; when we first moved here, we were invited immediately to do things with our new neighbours. Everyone is so welcoming, all the friends we’ve made are totally supportive, the transport is brilliant and I love the countryside – it really is the Fifth Continent.

What are your hobbies and interests?

That has to be music, music and more music – it’s what I love. Besides, I’m not much good at anything else – just ask my PE teachers from Saint Ronan’s! I do enjoy reading too (especially P.G. Wodehouse) and, like anyone my age, watching the occasional bit of television…

What was the last book you read?

Naturally, a biography of Martha Argerich: L’enfant et les sortil�ges. It was a wonderful way to learn more about her childhood, sources of inspiration and personal struggles. The more I get to know about her, the more I admire her!

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