A young working-class pianist fights the British system

A young working-class pianist fights the British system


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2018

Scott Caizley grew up on a council estate in Rothwell, the son of a labourer.

He became obsessed with the idea of becoming a concert pianist.

But when he got into Trinity Laban music college in London, Scott floundered. ‘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…’

Read his extraordinarily candid interview here.

Scott is now trying for Cambridge, but he needs our help to get there.

UPDATE: Slipped Disc readers today set the ball rolling on his fundraiser.


  • John Marks says:

    It seems I was the first to donate?

    C’mon, guys and gals!

    John Marks

  • Mike Schachter says:

    A very sad story, at least so far. British conservatoires especially in London, have a very high percentage of students from selective and independent schools: true in other countries?. That may matter more than in other subjects, as middle-class children are more likely to have been exposed to classical music quite early. If he has the talent it would be a shame if he did not perform as a concert pianist but obviously he must make that choice with expert advice. Many negatives here, not least how expensive higher education has become in this country.

  • Bonnie says:

    I would really like to read this story, but the web page has gone down and I just get the This Site Cannot Be Reached message. In fact, the whole Yorkshire Post seems to be offline, even when I tried googling it generally.

    Anybody else finding this? I’m having no trouble anywhere else on the net. ???

  • Allen says:

    Not sure about this. I moved south a few decades ago with a Yorkshire accent and a very modest background, but I didn’t go looking for slights, so I didn’t find any. I know many who did.

    This will not go down well, but some people in the North have an attitude problem. This includes some members of my own family. Sorry, but that’s my experience.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    This young man seems to lack the real resilience that one needs to make a success of both career and personal life. So he came from a working class background (so did many of us) and feels that this was detrimental to his succeeding in his studies.I do wonder how long people can go on making this excuse for failure. And now he wants someone to subsidise his studies at Cambridge? How about going out into that big cruel world, getting a job and saving enough money to pay for your studies instead of relying on other peoples handouts.

    • Sandora says:

      He will surely find his way, don’t worry. You have every right not to help him. Bit you have no right to judge anyone. The aim of this article to reviel that our society is not as fair as we would like to belive.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Life isn’t fair, get over it! Never has been, never will be, that is the nature of society.

        • Iain Scott says:

          Somehow your use of the phrase “get over it” explains why we need to fight so hard against the views expressed by yourself. Perhaps it would be better to delve deeper into the serious issues about why it is harder and harder for people from some sections of society to get into music schools.
          This is not a problem confined to music -it’s a big issue for drama students.
          Fine do not help him, fine do not help anybody but sometimes a small gesture can help so many people in so many ways. Why not change and help this guy?
          And if you would like an incentive may I direct you to Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”.
          Perhaps “get over it ” is the new “bah humbug “.

          • Ellingtonia says:

            You seem to be ignoring the fact that he actually got into music school, so was not denied the opportunity. The fact is he couldn’t cope and decided to withdraw from the course, as do many university students irrespective of social class or background. He now seems to be putting out the begging bowl when he could get up off his arse, get a job (any job) to amass the money he needs to undertake the Masters programme at Cambridge. Up north here, we call it “grafting.”
            May I recommend any number of books about rock musicians (try Waterstones) who came from working class backgrounds, went on the road, often grafted for years before achieving success………or are classical musicians a different species?

          • David R Osborne says:

            Ian you are absolutely correct. The more we come up against this kind of nasty, petty, resentful selfishness, entitlement disguised as ‘personal responsibility’, the more we should redouble our efforts to at least try to do good in the world.

            Right now there is a new destructive tyranny spreading like a seemingly unstoppable virus. One we didn’t expect, but probably should have. Haters have discovered that they get a lot further if they simply drop the hatred based on race.

            The new target is of course anyone who wants to make a stand in support of minorities, who wants to defend the most vulnerable, anyone who seeks a collective solution to the great challenges of our age that cannot be met individually. Challenges like grotesque inequality, the climate catastrophe, children being gunned down in schools.

            A couple of days ago we lost one of the truly great people, someone who faced challenges in his life that none of these ‘life is hard’, ‘personal responsibility’ posters could possibly imagine. And yet Stephen Hawking’s ideas could not be further from theirs. He was one of us. I don’t know about you, but that’s inspiration enough for me.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Well look who’s been watching youtube videos of the far-right’s latest poster boy.

          • Furzwängler says:

            Cut out the sophistry, will you. Ellingtonia is right : Life isn’t Fair. That’s the way it is, and always has been since time immemorial. Even Marx and Engels weren’t able to change that.

          • Iain Scott says:

            Thank you David and Norman maybe it is time to think about how to prevent Slipped Disc becoming a refuge for the kind of posts of the “get over it” variety. I say this from a business perspective. You have created an entertaining and insightful site please do not let it be damaged by this growing trend of unpleasant posts.
            Note : Doubtless some will say I am impinging on freedom of speech and I would respond by saying such comments are always made by those who are first to curtail freedom of speech once they achieve power.

    • Maria says:

      As someone who also was brought up in the English class system, and in a poor part of London, he will already have resilience. You don’t understand the system, and you don’t understand you can’t just get a job in this country.

  • Rob says:

    Good for him, I’m working class too. So in the words of Bernard Manning, “F#*k em all” !!

  • Zitti Pannicucci says:

    Assuming the report is genuine and not some kind of joke, this young man–white working class male–is unfortunately at the lowest hierarchical position in the intersectionality complex (next to Asians) and thus currently has no hope of assignment to an oppressed grouping or other emblem of the social justice movement. But if he were to declare some exotic form of gender identity, or oppression of his ancestors by the Vikings………………….?

    But even then, how likely is he to stay out a Cambridge philosophy course given his previous history of flunking?

  • SVM says:

    Cyril Smith was undoubtedly from a Yorkshire ‘working-class’ background, yet that did not prevent him, back in the mid-twentieth century, from pursuing a distinguished career as a concert pianist (even after the dreadful thrombosis which caused him to lose the functionality of one of his hands) and conservatoire professor. Therefore, I find it hard to imagine that Caizley’s background would have been the principal factor in his dropping-out from Trinity Laban. By the sound of the Yorkshire Post article, it seems that the stress occasioned by his aspirations (to perform as a soloist in the Albert Hall is extraordinarily ambitious, and very few pianists ever achieve this, even if they have got high grades at conservatoire) ended up overwhelming him. This can happen to people from any background, and irrespective of whether or not they feel like an “outsider”.

    There is also a factual inaccuracy in the Yorkshire Post article: there is no such thing as studying for a MA degree at Cambridge (because the Cambridge MA is a degree awarded by right to persons already holding a Cambridge degree, after a qualifying period has elapsed, as enumerated here:


    — a similar situation exists at the other place, whilst the ancient Scottish universities award the MA as an undergraduate degree).

    The actual degree concerned is the MPhil, which is the typical title for a Master’s degree by research at Cambridge (at most other universities, the MPhil is a degree awarded to PhD candidates who have submitted a thesis which has some merit but is not considered worthy of a PhD).

    Now, as for the substance of the article, I would say that, whilst I sympathise with Caizley’s plight, it is hardly so unique as to merit special attention. The fact is that funding for Master’s degrees is incredibly difficult to obtain, and, sadly, a great many deserving candidates are consequently unable to take up an offer of a place (although I happen to know a current MPhil student at Homerton who did get a major scholarship, so institutions *are* trying to help). Not only does this deprive such candidates of the intellectual opportunities afforded by a master’s degree, but it also limits career options.

    Rather than giving money to the individuals who can drum up the press, it would be better if people donated to scholarship funds. Most, if not all, universities, have one or more “restricted funds” for the express purpose of providing scholarships/bursaries to postgraduate students (they tend to be less publicised than funds for big building projects, but they do exist if you ask assertively enough — maybe if more people insisted on donating to support scholarships/bursaries for *postgraduates*, institutions would take greater initiative in promoting such funds). If you do not want universities to make decisions as to who are the most deserving candidates for financial support, there are plenty of educational charities up and down the land who will support individuals on various criteria. One such charity gave me a small, one-off grant when I was a master’s student at GSMD:


    [no doubt, there are equivalents that would cover people from Yorkshire]

  • Larry says:

    Can someone explain what a “council estate” is?

    • Ellingtonia says:

      A council estate is a very large estate of land, comprising of country residences usually containing 18 bedrooms per property and these were built for the working classes post 1945. Of course the middle classes were very resentful as they had to make do with 3 bedroomed semi-detached residencies.

      • Maria says:

        That is not the case. A council estate is social housing, and if you have the flat the size of an orange box and where you’re not surrounded by anti-social behaviour and violence, then you are lucky. It is not fun.

    • Dan P says:

      In the US, that would be public housing.

  • Minutewaltz says:

    ‘Scott made an application to University College London to study the sociology of music education’

    What is the sociology of music education? I guess it’s people like Scott complaining that they have to study at Music College with toffs who he doesn’t like.

    • Maria says:

      How music can change society.

      • Maria says:

        and for the better. And why they play classical music in the Underground stations in London that are prone to violence and anti-social behaviour and a risk to the public. Seems to ward off the gangs hanging around as listening to classical music in that set up or any set up for them isn’t ‘cool’.

    • Una says:

      It will be more that they didn’t like him as he was working class and poor. I have experienced a certain kind of that myself from toffs and know-alls.

  • norman lebrecht says:

    Go for it, Scott!

    • Iain Scott says:

      Well said Norman!
      I do have to add that in Scotland there are no University fees and that includes, I think, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland which has a pretty diverse range of students.
      There is the problem that Music tuition is less and less available in schools which means that by default people coming forward come from families that can afford or prioritise music and instrumental tuition.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    This is beginning to sound like a PR broadcast for Jezzas Labour (or should I say Communist) party………….it’s everyonelses fault that you can’t get enough money together to pay for your studies. How about relocating back north where living costs are much cheaper, thus enabling you to save for a couple of years to fund your MPhil (this is what a lot of mature students do!). And you are not the only white working class kid who has come off a council estate who has had to graft to achieve in life. Your breast beating and “blame it on society” is becoming a little tiresome. Many of the working class kids who went to the same secondary modern as I did achieved professional status in their various careers by sheer bloody hard work, often over a long period of time……….an all without handouts.

    • Hugo Banks says:

      He said no research is available hence the importance for this research? Also, how is it fair that just because he can’t afford fees he has to not go? Why are you being so rude or arrogant? This is someone from a minority background trying to do well and help others… I’ve donated to the funds and encourage others to support these type of causes.
      Nothing communist about it… he can’t afford to study at Cambridge due to high fees which come into power through a conservative government… no communist ideology there? Also, I’m glad your friends are all professionals but when you can name one professional from his background who is also gay and who also has a disabled mother AND also gets a place at Cambridge… then please share your negative views. This is a good story and this boy is clearly going to go far. If he is good enough for Cambridge we should all help get him there…

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Oh please, he is not from a minority social group, he is allegedly from a working class family and there are millions of those in the UK, and what the hell has the fact he is gay got to do with this issue or is he claiming “victimhood” status which seems the usual thing when someone can’t get what they want?
        As regards tuition fees, go back and do your research and I think you will find it was the Labour Government that actually introduced tuition fees………..oh dear, that has buggered up your argument!

        • Hugo Banks says:

          Labour introduced tuition fees but the Tory government made them higher thus the widening gap between the rich and poor at elite institutions (like Oxbridge and Conservatoires).
          I am outraged how you are saying that being gay is now claiming victim hood? Have you seen the stats on homophobia in UK HE? Have you seen the suicide rates for gay students in state schools? Also, you sound mad that he is going to Cambridge?

          Advice for you: READ

          If you read wider and read academic works you would understand the point of this. Your argument is invalid, unjust and incorrect.

          Seen as though you think there are millions in his position… so you think millions of people made it to a Conservatoire, whom are gay and attended a failing state school, whom are born on council estates and whom received free school meals with the agonising fact his mother is also disabled? Then these millions are now accepted to Cambridge (which we know is one of the toughest universities to get into in the world)

          You are not only wrong, you are now insinuating false facts and becoming rather rude and ignorant towards other people from minorities within society. Being gay is a minority and being a white working class boy and a receipent of FSM also makes him a minority… again, you need to do lots of reading and less time arguing and making yourself look absolutely weird and rude. You are politically incorrect and I never said that the conservative government INTRODUCED TUITION FEES… I

          I’m sat discussing this story with work colleagues in Bristol and we are all going to now donate and spread the word…

          Let’s get scott to Cambridge, maybe his research will help those WHO ARE MINORITIES and maybe, just maybe he can help make a difference through educating and researching for social justice.

          I wish to longer engage in a debate with you as your views are becoming rather slandering and edging towards an arrogant view on LGBTQ rights. I’d be very careful if you reply with how you phrase things…

          Lastly, I must ask you to read more careful as I never said the conservative government introduced fees… I said due to HIGH FEES* introduced by the Tory government… again, you need to read.

      • SVM says:

        I realise Banks’s comment is not directed at me, but there are so many flaws in his argument that I feel compelled to intervene.

        Re: “Also, how is it fair that just because he can’t afford fees he has to not go?”

        It is not fair, but Caizley’s case is far from being unique. This is why I urge people to donate to scholarship/bursary funds, rather than to individuals who can whip-up the media.

        Re: “he can’t afford to study at Cambridge due to high fees which come into power through a conservative government”

        Caizley has been offered a place on the MPhil, a *postgraduate* programme. The Con-LibDem coalition’s fee hike pertained to *undergraduate* programmes. I am not endorsing the situation, but please refrain from misattributing blame and conflating different systems — it dilutes the potency of the valid criticisms and the arguments for reform.

        Re: “when you can name one professional from his background who is also gay and who also has a disabled mother AND also gets a place at Cambridge”

        Socio-economic background and sexuality are private matters, and most professionals choose not to shout about these things from the rooftops, as is their right. You may know somebody ticking all of these boxes without realising it. And, if you do realise it, you do not “name” such people without their permission, since it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act to do so.

        Re: “This is a good story and this boy is clearly going to go far.”

        It is patronising to call a 23-year-old man a “boy”.

        Re: “If he is good enough for Cambridge we should all help get him there”

        There are many young men and women, including many from “working-class” backgrounds, holding offers for postgraduate courses at élite institutions, but who have not got the means to pay the fees. This is why I would advise supporting the many charities and scholarship funds which assist with the costs of postgraduate study, and without the need to pour out one’s problems in public and grab media attention first. Much as I sympathise with Caizley, I will not support him individually, since to do so reinforces the precedent for requiring a person to divulge deeply personal matters to the press in order to get funding.

  • SVM says:

    Mr Caizley, could you clarify what you mean by “total fees are £22,500”.

    Presumably, this is the amount Homerton is asking you demonstrate you have available.

    According to


    , the university fee for your MPhil programe is actually £11,100.

    So, presumably your figure of “£22,500” is inclusive of living costs?

  • Sherice says:

    How sad, people are arguing over money and missing the point. Classical music is elitist and good for Caizley to try and help.. and how amazing for getting into the University of Cambridge – absolutely fab!

    Best of luck,


  • Alan says:

    Is the comment from Scott Caizley the same person in the news? If so, how do I contact him? I have some research he might be interested in looking at! Alan

  • Ellingtonia says:

    So far we have had that he is white, working class, from a council estate, has a disabled mother, gay, from a failing school, mental health problems, bullied……….not many more boxes to tick before he has a “full house”. He is NOT a minority. I would venture to suggest that his pitch is nothing less than emotional blackmail and oh, how the gullible middle classes fall for it as it affords them an opportunity for virtue signalling of the highest order (“I’m sat discussing this story with work colleagues in Bristol and we are all going to now donate and spread the word…”)
    There are thousands of young people out there who face similar issues with resilience, stoicism and a drive to succeed, and often do so without putting out a “poor me” message with the accompanying begging bowl.

    • Been Here Before says:

      You have made your point clear. Nobody is asking you for anything. But why beat the issue over and over? If you can’t help, just move out of the way.

      • Sarah jones says:

        I’m reading this with disgust… be proud we have people like Caizley in our country! Let’s get MUSIC BACK IN SHOOLS!

        P.s I have just donated 🙂

      • Ellingtonia says:

        My goodness, I am sorry that I expressed an opinion that does not find favour with your own views. I stand suitably chastised and will try to refrain from expressing any critical comments in future, on any subject that I feel strongly about. I hope that meets with your expectations……………..

  • Andrew says:

    Well done Caizley – you are breaking those glass ceilings and I agree – YOU ARE a minority (this is proven both academically, politically and socially) and anyone who disagrees with you being a minority is not only uneducated but also, ignorant and questionably offensive.
    Also, there is such a lack of funds at Cambridge for home students – this was recently in the news… so everyone should donate! Cambridge is the richest, most exclusive and unarguably the most prestigious university in the world (along with Oxford and Harvard) – he got a place – he is from a state school – he is defying odds- anyone who disagrees is either jealous or very bitter against poor kids going to elite universities. By sounds of things, he is going to be big news one day!

    These negative comments are laughable as I find it hard to imagine those writing Mary things would even have anything to offer institutions like Cambridge… they would be more suited to the poly institutions by the sound of their philosophies. Anyway… I support this guy and think we should celebrate people like him! I’ll be telling family and friends to donate!


      He is already at UCL? Isn’t that one of the worlds leading universities full of private school kids anyway? I mean, congrats on Cambridge as that is rock solid to get a place but he needs to stop pretending he is deprived when he is pictured on a baby grand piano lol. Maybe he needs the money and I hope people help but I’m just saying, if he doesn’t go to Cambridge he will have a UCL degree and that’s still pretty prestigious.

  • Chris MacLeod says:

    Best of luck to Scott Caizely. I hope he succeeds. He certainly deserves to. It’s a shame to hear so many unkind, sneering “Get a job” comments.
    He has raised some important questions, but any potential answers seem to throw up further questions.

    It seems incredibly unfair that musically talented children from poor backgrounds should miss out on the opportunity to study an instrument to a high level. But let’s assume that someone sponsors an impoverished musically talented child, or they win a place on, let’s say the RCM Sparks scheme enabling them to attend Junior RCM.
    Let’s imagine they then do well at music college, and graduate with flying colours. Then what happens???
    Many musicians find the first 2 or 3 years after graduation to be very challenging, They do unpaid gigs to get experience, or travel around doing international competitions. They need to have financial backing to follow either of the above pathways. They need to have supportive parents who can help them to pay the rent, who can fund lessons in preparation for auditions, who can buy them concert clothes, who can buy them instruments, who can pay for photo shoots, who can help them to pay for demo CV and video recordings.

    If they do not have financial support, they will end up doing lots of teaching, which means they will not have adequate time to develop artistically, therefore will not be successful in that competition or audition.

    For those middle-class music students who do have that kind of support, who manage to hone their art to concert artist level, and perhaps win a few competitions and appear in some young artist platforms in important halls, a nasty surprise is waiting a few years down the line. If these students are from middle-class as opposed to millionaire backgrounds, they will hit the buffers when they discover that to sustain a high-level career, they need to be able to fund their PR campaigns. Rolling PR with a worthwhile company costs upwards of £1000 a month. The scary thing is that the major international artists have rolling PR. You would think that a top international artist would have no need to pay for PR, but they all use swanky PR companies.

    The truth about these aspects of the business should probably be made clearer to aspiring music students early on. Scott is probably better off going into academia…..

  • Don Hohoho says:

    The sad truth is, nowadays, if not always, classical music is the plaything of the well-to-do. It costs so much to study, and it costs money to perform. You can only make money from teaching, if even that. Even if you can get all your training on scholarship, to give a debut recital, to enter a competition, to hire a manager or publicist, to make a recording, all costs thousands of dollars, and you are surrounded by vultures and parasites with their hands out, and no chance to make money for yourself. Only the biggest artists, those who can tour constantly, seem to be able to manage. It used to be different, at least for a time. If, IF, you could get into the Community Concerts circuit, controlled by CAMI, you could tour for several months of the year and have enough to live on the rest of the time, while you rest up. My teacher never charged me for lessons outside of school, but I could not pay for a debut recital, I could not pay for travel to a foreign competition (they were all foreign), let alone prepare full-time, so this is the tragic reality, classical music has little to do with talent. Even actors have a better chance of making it. And that is very depressing. The only solution is to marry someone wealthy who will allow you to pursue your interests.