Rebecca Toal, trumpet player

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most
important influences on your musical life and career?

My time at Wells Cathedral School led me to think about a career in music – up until then, it had
just been a hobby. My teachers Simon Jones, Ross Brown and Paul Denegri were always so
supportive of me, and helped me prepare for my music college auditions in the big city. I had a
really hard time at school, suffering with my mental and physical health, and these teachers really looked out for me and nurtured the potential in me that I couldn’t see.

When I got to the Guildhall School of Music (and later, the Royal Academy of Music), it was my peers who influenced and inspired me the most. I’ve always found it motivating and uplifting to meet musicians who could really play, but with whom I could also create a strong connection and in whom I could see the honest reality of being a musician.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Self-belief has always been a massive obstacle for me. I’ve become used to the routine of applying for jobs, funding, courses etc. but often can’t help but feel that at some point, somebody is going to tell me that I don’t belong in such a skilled community, and that all my success so far has been down to luck.

I enjoy collaborating with musicians, but more often than not, I leave a performance or recording session feeling quite defeated, and anxious for the future of my career. I have always been so dependent on external validation, and to have graduated last year into quite an empty post- Covid aftermath, it’s been really quite hard to keep a sense of how things are going for me musically.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Listening back to some of the performances from the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra
makes me really proud. I was so nervous to go, partly because playing with European musicians
seems so intimidating for me, but also because the music was so difficult! But I loved it, especially
the Rebecca Saunders works we performed.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I seem to have found an affinity with contemporary music, which I was always hesitant to admit
because I think there is sometimes an assumption that musicians turn to contemporary music to
hide technical or musical insecurities, when the reality is totally the opposite.

In the process of preparing for my final recital at the Royal Academy of Music, I discovered Scelsi’s Quatrro Pezzi, which I think are simply beautiful. They may not be the most modern of pieces, but they’re just so characterful and extremely accessible for all audiences.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I have always had a strong interest in mental health, but it was only through my studies in
Counselling Skills that I realised the true importance of self-awareness and acceptance in all walks of life, but particularly in music for me. It’s so cliché that every musician forges their own path, but it’s proven so true time and time again. In psychotherapy and counselling, they often talk about congruence which is complicated, but in short it is being exactly what and who you are in order to facilitate change in others. This was a powerful concept for me to learn about, and I have tried to transfer it to my musical work, which in turn has helped me cultivate a much more meaningful and sustainable practice on and off the stage.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As an orchestral/ensemble musician, I don’t often get to choose, but when I do, I try a mix of
listening on Spotify, googling under-performed composers or trying to find other pieces by
composers I’ve enjoyed in the past! I like playing stuff I don’t know or haven’t heard performed
before – it’s very freeing!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’ve never enjoyed performing much (which I’ve also been hesitant to admit – a musician who
doesn’t like performing?!), so I’m usually so preoccupied with my own thoughts and playing to
notice the venue. I have to say that I really like the Barbican though, because the gift shop is

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Ah this old question… What a conundrum! Like anything, change takes time, but I think increased
diversity and openness will help decrease the perceived distance between performers and the
audience. I also think that getting to know the backstories and the more ‘human’ side of performers will only help cultivate interest for new audiences – getting to know individuals seems like such an inviting concept in any art form.

Aside from that, I think it’s the same old story of how much/little societal value (and funding) is
given to classical music. If schools aren’t teaching music for example, it’s only going to make
classical concerts seem even more alien and uninviting.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There was one time I missed coming on stage for my one of two movements in Handel’s
Partenope with Hampstead Garden Opera…that was quite a shock when I heard my movement
being played through the stage door… But then there was also the time I took on a B Minor Mass on natural trumpet. I thought it would be impossible for me to build up the stamina and range required for this piece on such a big instrument, but it went well and one of the other trumpeters (who I really admire) said it sounded good so that was the best day ever obviously.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Finding that elusive balance between artistic satisfaction and a sustainable career as a human

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring

Teaching is not a failure, success doesn’t necessarily equal an orchestral job, and you are more
important than any music that could ever be composed.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would love to have an established performance career, whatever that means in 10 years’ time, I
would like to be a qualified counsellor and I would like to have figured out how to balance having
children as a freelancer.

What is your present state of mind?

At the moment I’m just trying to get by financially, and having existential career crises every other
day, but I’m finding my work with the podcast and platform, Things Musicians Don’t Talk About,
incredibly fulfilling and very motivating.

Trumpeter and teacher Rebecca Toal recently graduated with a first class Master of Arts degree from the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied as a scholar under the tutelage of Mark David, Gareth Small, Bob Farley, Paul Beniston and Will O’Sullivan. During her studies she participated in masterclasses with Reinhold Friedrich, Huw Morgan, Jeroen Berwaerts, Thomas Hooten, members of Septura, and performed under the baton of Edward Gardner, John Wilson, Marin Alsop and Sir Mark Elder. Prior to this, she also studied as a scholar at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she received her Bachelor of Music Honours degree.

Rebecca is co-host of Things Musicians Don’t Talk About, a platform launched in 2020 in a response to the ongoing taboo around mental illness and vulnerability within the classical music profession.

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