As an 18 year old bassoonist all those years ago – I set off to start a music degree with the idea I would become a music teacher. I loved music and I wanted to share that passion and teaching seemed the best way to do it.
Until halfway through my degree my bassoon teacher Philip Brookes pointed out that all the festivals and events I was running as a volunteer student could be a career option. What?! I could be paid for what I do for fun?
Well yes. And the other thing I couldn’t have imagined is the variety of places that option has taken me to. This week is a case in point and I wanted to share it.
So this week I am embarking on three very different musical projects. All of whom make me very excited and proud to be involved! But they couldn’t be more different.
So number one: BCMG – Benedict Mason (BM) performance in Aldeburgh. We premiered this piece in Birmingham last month. It is provocative and challenging (for audiences and stage managers alike) and it’s a total privilege that BCMG have asked me to help (in a very small way) to make such a complex piece happen. I love the idea of working with people like Benedict and being part of the team that make his ideas come to life!
Number two: Young Voices Germany. This is our second year running a Young Voices Concert at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg. It requires me to dust off my very basic GCSE German when speaking to the security staff backstage and involves 6000 German children singing their hearts out to pop medleys both in English and German with an array of great guest acts including We Are Scientists. And their very excited parents in the audience. I love this job because their is no energy like the energy in an arena when a Young Voices gig is on. And I call the shows in Germany. It’s a buzz and a half.
Number three: Well it’s time to admit it. My beloved choir Notorious has been asked to be the backing choir for Barry Manilow (BM) at the Genting Arena in Birmingham next Saturday. We come on for the 3 finale songs complete with choir robes and cheesy moves. And. Well. We are all more excited than we like to admit…
So I’m looking forward to a week of music. All of which I will enjoy and if you had told me I could do this I would have become a producer on the spot… Oh wait…
So…Benedict Mason to Barry Manilow in one week… Here goes!
I received some great news in the post a couple of weeks ago to confirm that I had been successful in securing support from the Arts Council of England to undertake a residency with Interkultur – the world’s leading organiser of international choir competitions and festivals on three projects next year.
The first one will be International Choir Competition & Festival Bad Ischl followed by the Sing’n’Joy Vienna 2016 3rd Choir festival in late April, early May 2016.
And finally I will work on the World Choir Games in Russia in July 2016 with the added opportunity to help with a massed choir tour to St Petersburg and Moscow.
I will work as a member of the event team to learn about international events and to make contact with choirs and conductors from around the world to bring back to the UK as well as provide a link to UK choirs for Interkultur for future events.
This is an amazing opportunity for me to meet more choirs and I am very grateful to Arts Council England for their support! More updates as they happen!
My natural disposition is always to help people out when I can. I don’t mind if it’s a bit of a challenge – I love problem solving making something happen against the odds… I know about choirs and I can get you a choir for your event and at this time of year I am totally ready for these kinds of phone calls…
But… I have my limits.
Twice in the last 24 hours I’ve been approached but different people involved in the BBC music events happening in Birmingham this week.
Both asking if I can supply a choir at 2/3 days notice. And both without a budget.
I have a problem with both for different reasons and have said no twice (which is against my general instinct of saying yes and being helpful). I’ll tell you why:
The first call was to supply a 30 piece choir for the BBC Music Awards Show to mime (yes mime!!) to someone else’s music.
- Problem no 1 – Miming. Really? I can imagine the conversations now. ‘Clare I saw your choir on the telly the other night… They don’t usually sound like that – it was great!’ … ‘Erm, it wasn’t us… We were just miming’. No just no. You could ask anyone off the street.
- Problem no 2 – 3 days notice and the choir were needed for a morning rehearsal on a weekday and an early evening recording of the show. I simply couldn’t get amateur singers out of work at this sort of notice!
- Problem no 3 – No budget. If amateur singers are going to be at work when the job needs doing I would need to find professionals. They need paying. End of conversation.
The second call was for a gospel choir at two days notice to sing on Thursday lunchtime at a drinks reception.
- Problem no 1 – 2 days notice and the same as above applies if you want an amateur group they will be at work at lunchtime on Thursday and if you want professionals I’ve got a lot of ringing around to do!
- Problem no 2 – No budget. If I’m going to put aside this afternoons paid work to ring around all my gospel colleagues I need to be paid. It is what I do for a living. And the singers need paying! I’m not ringing people and asking them to sing for free at a drinks reception at the Genting Arena where I’m quite sure they’ll be paying for the drinks being served!!
The quote of quotes though is that the second caller said ‘well we have the money off the BBC for this and we have to be careful what we spend BBC money on so we can only offer expenses’. When was it appropriate for BBC money to fund a drinks reception but not the artists that perform at it??
I’m a very helpful person. I love getting people out of a fix. But if you’ve left it until 2 days before to call and don’t have a budget, or anything in fact, to offer the musicians. Don’t ask me to help.
I post this not to upset the BBC as I have many helpful and lovely relationships with the BBC but out of principle… I’m genuinely upset I couldn’t help and just wish they hadn’t even asked!
I have just finished a week of working on Icon of Freedom, a festival dedicated to the life and work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Who? Well you may just ask that as she is very well known in her home country of Mexico but not so well known here. So we thought we would raise awareness through Icon of Freedom at the Oxo Bargehouse.
Sor Juana de la Cruz is a 17th Century a self-taught scholar and poet and nun from Mexico who was known in her lifetime as “The Tenth Muse’. The festival helped UK audiences to find out why her poetry has endured through the centuries and still speaks to audiences today on subjects as diverse as gender equality, science and freedom of expression.
The event was a lovely partnership between the SHM Foundation and Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana who worked together to present visual art by young Mexican artists, food and fashion events inspired by Sor Juana’s life and work.
My role was to produce an event featuring Sor Juana’s poetry with responses from contemporary UK artists and Mexican visual artists. We put together two shows of spoken word, poetry and music to celebrate and explore her work.
For Juana’s poetry was read in Spanish by Sandra Lorenzano from Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana and in English by actor Naomi Frederick who had just finished playing Sor Juana at the Globe Theatre. We also worked with contemporary UK artists who presented their own responses to the poetry: Sarah Sayeed musician; Vivien Ellis and Giles Lewin, early music duo, Amerah Saleh, soul poet and Chandra Chapman, composer.
There were also visual arts installations from contemporary Mexican artists and photographers, Derzu Campos, Alex Aceves Bernal, Cannon Bernáldez, Mauricio del Razo, Maru Rojas.
In June I had the pleasure of being asked to Produce the first Young Voices show in Germany. It was the first time I’ve worked on a show where I don’t speak the language (my A at GCSE didn’t get me very far!) but luckily most people spoke English very well. But it did raise challenges when I didn’t actually know what the presenter was saying on stage even though I had written the script! But as ever Young Voices had put together a first class team of musicians and production staff so it was really a joy.
The acid test was to watch the faces of the children, teachers and parents in the show and it was great to see everyone smiling and loving every minute! I can’t wait until next year (and I’ll use the next 12 months to brush up on my German!).
Last week we ran the third Voices Now festival at the Roundhouse. As Creative Producer I got to work with all the choirs to put together the programme for the weekend.
This was a completely different way to put the festival together from previous events and involved Kathryn Tickell, Sam Lee, Omar and Akala as guest artists and curators and the event was shaped by them, the choirs and our expert choral leaders Osnat Schmool, Chris Samuel and Stephen Layton.
The results were outstanding. The collaborative environment suited the choirs – who all shared songs and ideas and worked with the guest artists to put together some unforgettable moments that took my breath away. We also had a range of sell out workshops, two Making Music Open Stages that were busier than ever.
Overall 45 Choirs, 2000 participants , 45 different Open Stage performances, 9 workshops and 3 mains stage shows.
I had a lot of fun producing the Worcestershire Youth Music Gala concert on Sunday 3rd May at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. The logistics of moving 561 children around the stage at different times and keeping the event moving so it didn’t go on all night was made completely worthwhile by the quality of performances from the groups of young people from around Worcestershire. Some amazing playing from all involved and the concert showcased the talents of children as young as 7 through to those leaving school. A really lovely occasion.
As someone who sings in choirs for fun – the fact that I get to work with choirs professionally is a real treat. But this weekend I had a highlight of my career so far. This year we have decided to build the programme for Voices Now with a collection of choirs of all kinds. So instead of myself and Matthew Swann our Artistic Director coming up with a programme and asking choirs to take part – we have started with the choirs and asked them what they want to do!
So on Saturday we all gathered at the Roundhouse in Camden for a day of singing and working out what everyone wants in the festival. We were looked after by some of the best choir leaders in the business – Chris Samuel and Osnat Schmool who led the choirs through warm ups and singing some new songs.
I have to admit to being quite apprehensive on Saturday morning as to how it would all work – but the day was extraordinary. The energy and excitement from the choirs was palpable and the singing from everyone blew me away. Everyone worked really hard and the first shape of the festival is starting to emerge and I can’t wait for May now! Oh and we were joined by the very talented Kathryn Tickell and Sam Lee who will perform with some of the choirs at the festival as well – look out for the festival programme coming soon! https://twitter.com/voicesnow
After three weeks of practically living in arenas – normal life feels really strange today. This year was my first year doing the full tour with Young Voices (and we are not finished yet there is still a week in Manchester in March). 15 days of working with thousands of children sounds hellish and tiring doesn’t it? But actually the whole thing is so well organised it is tiring but it is also a joy. There is nothing like seeing the children arrive excited and then hearing them sing their hearts out before heading home on coaches – often tired – but still smiling!
I also had a lot of fun working with the Young Voices Teacher Choir – who all had an amazing time despite often being quite nervous at the beginning of the day at the prospect of singing in such huge arenas.
Here are a couple of my pics:
Being the Producer of BCMG’s world premiere performance of David Lang‘s Crowd Out in June was one of my career highlights. The videos made by the wonderful Rebel Uncut are now out and I have to share the edited highlights here as it is a wonderful memory. The full version is also worth watching and can be found via a link on the BCMG website…..