Here's the first blog in our "A Week In The Life Of.." Series!
“We’re hoping it’ll just be a few weeks, but we’ll get you more information as and when it comes.”
These were the words said to my entire company at around 10:15pm on Monday 16th March 2020. We had just finished performing THE megamix at the end of Mamma Mia! to a nearly-sold-out Hull New Theatre, incidentally as one of the only shows in the country to have performed that evening. It was the day that the West End had announced all shows (musicals, plays, etc.) would cease performances ‘until further notice’. As we now know, ‘further notice’ has no fixed term, and what we thought might be a few weeks of no work has turned out to be a few months, with a few months more (at least!) to come. Broadway is closed until 2012; the West End will likely follow. The industry I love is in tatters, and we don’t know when, or more scarily, IF a lot of theatres will ever open their doors again. But enough of that…
That’s the sad bit of my tale.
Before Covid-19 arrived and stopped the world, I was the Assistant Musical Director of the Mamma Mia! UK & International Tour, and I loved every minute of my job. Who could reasonably say that they wouldn’t love listening to some of ABBA’s greatest hits every evening for a year, while being paid to do it? My dream of working full time in commercial theatre had finally come true, but before that I had been making quite a successful career for myself in secondary music teaching.
None of this would have come about if I hadn’t changed my mind at the last minute when submitting my UCAS form, way back in 2008. I had wanted to study Spanish and/or French at university, and it was only when I really thought about the career that would have given me (teaching, interpreting, translating) that I decided Music would be a better move. Fast-forward a year or so and I accepted my place to study at the University of York, where I had three of the most musically creative and fulfilling years of my life, as well as making lifelong friends with whom I am still in regular contact.
Fast-forward again to July 2012, and graduation. This is the point at which most young people begin to wonder what on EARTH to do next, and I was no exception. I moved back in with my parents and started to think about it. Theatre had always been a huge passion of mine, and I was involved with the local theatre group, who soon asked me to musically direct (MD) the pantomime that Christmas. It was a paid job, so I jumped at the chance to make some pocket money for myself. It took up lots of energy; the job was time-consuming and challenging in ways I hadn’t expected. I had to choose all the songs, teach them to the cast, arrange band parts, record a virtual orchestra, hire musicians, rehearse musicians, spend days in the theatre in technical rehearsals, have meetings with the director and choreographer, and at the end of all that, there were 17 performances to get through in the space of about 12 days, with only Christmas Day off.
I. Was. Exhausted.
But I wouldn’t have changed the experience for anything. It was exhilarating. And it planted the seed in my mind that would eventually come to fruition a whole five years later. But more on that later…
Following panto I spent six months as a full time member of Chester Cathedral Choir, singing daily services (three on a Sunday) and enjoying the wealth of different music I was able to sing there. (If you think of my current career, you are probably amazed at how diverse my musical taste is!) During this time, I landed a job as a Graduate Musician in Residence at a lovely and very expensive private school in Surrey. Fast-forward (again) to August 2013, and I was moving to Surrey to start a new and exciting chapter of my life.
My job at the school was unexpectedly fulfilling, and it gave me the experience of working in a school without being a member of full time teaching staff. However, it planted another seed - my brain being quite the greenhouse - that perhaps I would enjoy a career in teaching. I was certainly enjoying watching pupils progress in extra-curricular activities, and I realised it would be equally, if not more, fulfilling to translate this enjoyment into the classroom. I saw a teaching job advertised at another (better) school down the road, and I applied, having very little classroom experience. I went for an interview and taught a 20 minute lesson about Roar, by Katy Perry. It must have gone well, because I got the job and a few months later I was standing in front of a Year 7 class, alone, about to start three years of a fantastic job. Here are just a few things about that job that I remember as being fantastic: the pupils, the staff, the facilities, the holidays, the support, the training, the learning, the food, the trips, and, most importantly, my own development, both personally and professionally.
During my third year at that (fantastic) school, I applied (on something of a whim) to study Musical Direction at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London. The seed that had been planted after panto was starting to grow, and I wanted to give it the chance it deserved. The application process for RAM was tough - I had two gruelling hour-long interviews with some of the most well-respected Musical Directors around (one who was fairly high up at Disney!) and I really didn’t know which way it would swing. I had no real practical experience in the field, and I had a lovely and very understanding school to return to if it didn’t go my way. There was nothing to lose.
In the end I was accepted onto the course (phew!) and I suppose the rest, as they say, is history. Here I am, living the dream (Covid-19 pending), and loving it.
It really doesn’t matter how, when, or why you decide to do something. Just do it!