Scott Caizley: From Leeds couuncil estate to classical pianist

Scott Caizley.
Scott Caizley.
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Scott Caizley grew up on a council estate in Rothwell. His dad was a labourer but Scott always wanted to be a classical pianist.

Scott Caizley grew up on a council estate in Rothwell. His dad was a labourer but Scott always wanted to be a classical pianist.

“I don’t really know where it came from,” says Scott, now 23. “I used to listen to Elton John a lot and then I came across classical music by watching the BBC Proms and remember being fascinated by a pianist who at the time was performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2.”

After begging his parents for piano lessons, eight-year-old Scott got his way and his parents scrimped and saved to pay for the lessons.

“My parents were sceptical and were in no financial position to get me a new piano, so I was given a digital keyboard for my birthday and I began my lessons. They have always supported me even though it was something they couldn’t really understand.”

Scott progressed quickly and started excelling in his music exams, while having to cope with bullying and name-calling at school.

“I realised quite early on that I was different and I had to put up with quite a lot of abuse. I never felt that I really fitted in.”

His school, the then-failing Rodillian School, realised it couldn’t give Scott what he needed and so it put his name forward for a private school in Silcoates.

“I got a music scholarship and was offered a place, but it still meant my parents having to find 70 per cent of the fees and there was no way they could that,” recalls Scott.

“I was devastated and didn’t understand why I couldn’t take the place I had been offered. It must have been very hard on them too.”

It was not to be the last time that Scott’s circumstances were to stand in his way.

Despite this, he attended Leeds College of Music at 16 after which he was offered places at the Royal College of Music, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

“I fell in love with Trinity Laban and decided that this was to be the place where I started my training with hope to one day debut at the Royal Albert Hall,” says Scott. “I studied under a very talented international concert pianist and in my first year I achieved some of the highest grades within my faculty. However, I was struggling. I felt as though I was not ‘fitting in’. I felt like a fish out of water. My accent was funny, my schooling was not great, I was not as cultured or as well-travelled as the other students and I did not make one single friend whilst at the music college,” he recalls.

“My dreams began to shatter in front of my eyes and I became frustrated with how unfair it was that I had to come from this background. I was ashamed of myself and I could not understand why my social background was restricting me from doing the only thing that I loved. I developed depression and ended up having a breakdown.”

Scott left music college after seven months and moved back to Leeds, vowing never to play the piano again.

“I felt as though my life had become pointless and, somewhat questionably, unendurable. One morning, I switched on the radio and playing was Liszt’s Liebestraum – ‘love dream’. It did something within me.

“It ignited a spark and it was as though I was hearing music for the first time. I ran to my piano after five months of not playing and I started playing along to the piece.

“I decided I had to do something. I had to stop this from happening to others and I knew to save the music which I loved so much, I needed to help widen participation and make this high art form more accessible.”

Scott made an application to University College London to study the sociology of music education. His mother was understandably concerned about him returning to London. But this time was different.

“I knew straight away that I fitted in, people weren’t judging me because of the way I spoke or what my parents did. I came across a sociologist called Bourdieu and his key concepts helped me understand why classical music was so restricted.”

It made Scott even more determined to make a difference and he decided on graduation this year that he wanted to do a research project looking at access to conservatoires and access to classical music for state-schooled students.

“I need to help and I need to do something. There is no current research within this area and no-one has attempted to conduct research at conservatoires to specifically look at access and attainment from students who derive from low socio-economic backgrounds.”

He has been offered a place for a MA in philosophy at the University of Cambridge but again he fears his poor background could end his dream again.

“My degree at Cambridge will cost an eye-watering £22,550. Again, it is money which is stopping talent and passion from entering elite spaces. I really want to believe in meritocracy but I sometimes feel like the world is against me and my passion for social justice and social change sometimes feels like nothing but a dream.”

He can get a loan for £10,000 and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the rest.

“I want everyone to be able to access music and I one day hope to inject culture into our national curriculum and provide free music lessons for those who need it.

“I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to participate, regardless of their background.”

Scott still plays the piano at home but only for personal pleasure and for his disabled mum.

He says he doesn’t think he will ever be able to play to an audience again.

He hopes that once his paper is published he will return to Leeds to work with schools and organisations such as the Leeds International Piano Competition to help children of all backgrounds achieve their dreams.

MUSIC MISSION

“My research will lead to a PhD which will look at how working class students ‘fit in’ at elite universities and elite music colleges. The goal is to publish research which lays the foundations for social change.

“The next generation need to be able to access the arts, they need to be able to not feel inferior to their private school counterparts and they need people like me to do this research to show how evident these inequalities are.”

To help Scott visit www.gofundme.com/helpscottgettocambridge