Tell us about your journey to the Academy and the highlights of your time training here.
I had an interesting start to my musical career. After studying history at Cambridge, where I was also a choral scholar, I worked in politics and the civil service for a while. When I returned to music at the Academy, having the space to think of myself just as a musician for two years was so valuable in helping me work out the direction of my career.
The single most important thing for me was having the opportunity to work with an amazing coach called Audrey Hyland. She opened my eyes to all sorts of musical horizons and gave me the freedom to harness my own gifts as a musician rather than constantly compare myself to others. So much of what she taught me informs both my performing and my teaching. I find myself repeating things she had said to me, and I get transported back to her room on the third floor.
A lot of my cohort of postgraduate singers are still friends and we occasionally get to work together. It’s really fun when our paths cross!
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
During my time at the Academy, I was part of an early music ensemble called Stile Antico. After leaving, we went on to do several recordings, some of which were nominated for Grammy Awards, and we even won a Gramophone Classical Music Award. The group is unconducted, so we all felt like we really owned a piece of that success.
I’ve been able to explore all sorts of different aspects to my singing career, including solo work with companies such as the English National Opera and Garsington Opera. However, I’ve also been able to pursue ensemble singing at the highest level.
Realising it was possible to combine the two led me to put myself forward for the opportunity at St Paul’s Cathedral. My work there is multi-faceted – sometimes doing the solos in a Messiah to thousands of people, sometimes as part of the ensemble bringing a moment of calm to worshippers and visitors. It is special not only to be the first woman in the choir but also being a symbol for women in church music, making sure that barriers come down and that it’s a place where women can be valued too. I also love music-making as part of an ensemble. The singers I work with are dedicated to their craft and to moving so many people every day through their music, and many have been doing the job for well over a decade, bringing so much experience and knowledge to their work.
What did that moment mean to you - becoming appointed the first female Vicar Choral in St Paul’s Cathedral’s 1,000-year history?
Women haven’t had access to those roles for such a long time, and this is an inclusivity issue. For many, a church singing job represents a bit of predictability and job security that you can build a career around, particularly if you have a family. Church music is such an important part of the UK’s musical and cultural heritage, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to bang the drum for it and show what girls and women can contribute. I’m heavily involved in the fundraising campaign that will enable us to welcome girls into the St Paul’s Cathedral choir from 2025 . A chorister education is such an advantage, so it’s a lovely way to bring things full circle and hopefully give a new generation of young women opportunities that I didn’t have.
Why is the teaching side of your career so important to you?
I think it’s important for me to perform at the same time as teaching, as one informs the other. I’m a better performer because I teach, and vice versa.
I mostly teach at Exeter College, Oxford. I see my role as working out a programme with a student that will enable them to be the best singer they can be, rather than having a pre-existing idea of what I think they should be. The trajectory of a singer can vary so much from person to person, and often the journey can be quite long. Having a supportive and realistic teacher is so important, and that’s what I try to be.
Improving access to music education is very important to me. It used to be the case that kids who didn’t have sufficiently developed musicianship skills would find it very difficult to get opportunities. In my work with the National Youth Choir, it’s a real pleasure to work with an organisation that’s prioritising a passion for music-making and saying, ‘we will teach you the rest’. With cuts to music education in schools, this sort of work is becoming increasingly important. We are looking to expand the work of the University of Oxford and St Paul’s Cathedral to support music in schools, especially for primary school teachers who are suddenly having to teach a music curriculum with no prior training.
My dream job would be to run an organisation that plugs music into schools at a very high level, throughout all its activities. I really admire the work done by people like Jimmy Rotheram to demonstrate how music can be used across the curriculum to support subjects like English and maths. The impact it has on children’s mental health and on the community are well documented. And quite simply, every child deserves the pleasure of a musical life, whether that manifests itself as Grade 8 violin or listening to hip-hop at breaktime.
You’ve had a very varied career. Can you tell us more about life as a freelance singer?
When I left the Academy there was a sense that if you weren’t going down a set route, such as a solo opera career, then somehow you weren’t succeeding. One of the challenges of being a freelance musician is predicting your income, so most musicians I know have a portfolio career, doing a multitude of things. My husband is a musician and a qualified psychotherapist. People teach, perform, run workshops or even have creative side hustles! Embracing the variety has been such a joy for me, and the key to a happier life, not second prize to a glittering solo career.