I grew up just outside Liverpool, and in some ways I became a singer completely by mistake! When I was 15, I found out that the state school I went to was allocated ‘Gifted and Talented’ money from the government, which wasn’t being spent. I begged them to use some of it to pay the fees for me to go to the Junior Department at the Royal Northern College of Music, where I wanted to audition on the piano. My headteacher agreed, I went to audition, played some Chopin, and then right at the end was asked to sing a scale as part of an oral test. To my surprise, I received an acceptance letter a week later: to study singing.
A few years later, I got a Choral Scholarship at Merton College, Oxford, where I spent about 40 hours a week singing (and only the side I somehow did an undergraduate in English & Modern Languages, and a Master’s in Anthropology). Up until my arrival at Oxford, I had never set foot in a church for a service, let alone sung in one, and I vividly remember being told off in my first evensong for singing a psalm with a Scouse accent, with short ‘a’ vowels! It was a very steep learning curve, and a formative experience.
I then moved to London to start working as a professional soprano. In my first audition for a well-known conductor, I walked into the room, and before I had opened my mouth to sing, I was told I didn’t quite have that “certain something”. In the decade since, I have received similar comments from time to time; I’ve been told I didn’t have the “right” look, or that I probably wouldn’t “fit into” the line-up. I’ve learned not to take it too personally, but it shouldn’t be that way. And of course, much of the work isn’t even open to audition: it’s more about ‘who you know’, making the older private school and Oxbridge networks particularly potent in the classical singing world. The industry is very challenging, and artists are always plagued with self-doubt, without these additional hurdles being put in our way.
Probably in part because of the precarity of it all, I’ve forged a sort of ‘hybrid’ career. I sing with many of the foremost ensembles in the U.K. and beyond, but I also have a parallel academic career, and have spent a significant portion of my life living abroad as well: in Brazil, Cuba, Spain, Portugal, and the U.S.A. I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at University College London, as well as an Associate Research Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, where I do research into Artificial Intelligence and its applications within mental healthcare. In that capacity, I regularly mentor young people moving into the world of work on how to navigate the vicissitudes of being self-employed and having to pitch oneself constantly. I’m excited to bring that to the work of Vox Urbane too, and hope that I can provide some of the self-assurance and mentorship to the next generation that a younger version of me would have so benefited from!