Work/Life

Wednesday 21st May 2014

Inspired by Stylist Magazine's Work/Life column, Anna and Emily give you an insight into what it's like to run Starling Arts...

Emily

I usually wake up when my fiancé Dan leaves for the day, which can be anytime between 6 and 8am. I’m partial to a long snooze, so it takes me a while to coax myself to actually get up for a very hot shower. I then start the day with a smoothie and bowl of cereal, whilst checking work emails and catching up with the news on my phone. 

My home office is in my second bedroom, where I switch on and deal with any enquiries. This can take anything from a couple of minutes to several hours! Both Anna and I look after the main Starling Arts inbox and either one of us might reply to an email.

Once I’ve cleared the backlog, I’ll focus on an ever diverse task list, which might include finding a venue for an event, updating our website and social media, planning workshops we’re delivering (my favourite home-based task), and seeking new opportunities. During show terms, I’ll also be busy creating choreography for our choirs (which I do in my kitchen!), as well as planning and producing show logistics. Anna is always at the other end of Skype, and we run various decisions or questions by one another throughout the day.  

One of my favourite things about working from home is cooking a proper meal for lunch (or reheating leftovers). I try to get out of ‘the office’, and switch off by sitting on the balcony, going for a stroll round the block or watching an episode of 'Masterchef' on iPlayer. I often use my lunch hour to do some ‘wedmin’ (wedding admin!) ahead of getting married next year, or brush up on my Hebrew homework, as I’m currently learning the language! I might also try and fit in 10 minutes of yoga while the oven is heating up…

Our afternoons might be spent running a workshop with a choir, office or school, and could take us anywhere in London or further afield! I love the challenge of working in different environments, and responding to the needs, levels of singing experience and attitudes to singing. My favourite participants throw themselves in to whatever challenges we set them - those ‘up for it’ types seem to get the most out of what we offer. For me, nothing equals the thrill of working with a group to achieve something through music and performance - whether that be the joy of singing a complex harmony for the first time, or the delight in nailing a new dance step. 

Three evenings a week we run our own choirs - Forte, Corvida and The Starling Singers. I usually meet Anna in advance to plan the session, share any creative ideas, and talk about any other outstanding work - over a thrown-together dinner! 

Choir sessions can start at 8.30pm and last two hours. After registering everyone and taking any payments, we run physical and vocal warm ups before tackling the current repertoire, which ranges from Mumford and Sons to the musical Wicked! Learning new parts takes a while, and in the run up to a show, I’ll put performers in stage positions, offer direction, dance tuition and performance technique. My fiancé joined one of the choirs a few years a ago, and the bonus is that I get to see him for an evening that I’d otherwise be out of the house for. Two hours go very quickly, and I leave just after 10.30pm, buzzing. 

On the train home across London I write and edit the script I’m writing for our new musical Return To Aesop, which currently fills some of my spare time. I love the creative challenge of putting our original story on the stage, and I’m excited to see the show performed by 45 young people in August this year. I get home at 11.30pm and I find it hard to switch off - singing often leaves me on such a high that I’m often tempted to lie awake for hours dreaming of new song ideas. Luckily, I’m usually asleep within 5 minutes of closing my eyes.

Plan B.

An indulgent combination of my love of the written word and discovering new places, I’d always had a secret dream to travel the world and write about it. I have several diaries crammed with tales from overseas adventures, but travelling can be a lonely pastime and I’m a home bird at heart. I still love discovering new places and people, and Starling gives me that (and so much more), so I’m lucky to call it my Plan A!

Anna

Unless we have an early workshop at a school, I'm usually awake by 8.30am. I go for a run every other morning, and breakfast is always a bowl of cereal, orange juice and a cup of tea, and then it's off work in my home office wearing jeans, a strap top and slippers.

Aside from running our three show choirs, no week is ever the same for Emily and me. We could be leading a singing workshop in a school or business, meeting with a venue to discuss an upcoming show, or working on our latest musical, so it makes for a varied week with no day ever being the same, which is just how I like it!

A good chunk of my working week is taken up with arranging music for one of our choirs or a workshop. Depending on its complexity, a choral arrangement can take me anything from 2 - 10 hours to work on. Added to that, I'll spend a good couple of hours recording rehearsal tracks for all our repertoire so that our singers can practice their parts at home.  In addition to writing the vocal and piano parts, I'll also write music for bass, drums and some other instruments so that the songs really fly in concert! I love creating new arrangements and re-imagining well known pop and show tunes, and can't wait to try them out in rehearsal.

If we're not working together, Emily and I will speak on Skype throughout the day, dividing the admin side of the business between us. With over 70 singers to keep tabs on, 45 children enrolled on our Summer School, and our bespoke projects and workshops, there are quite a few emails, spreadsheets and planning documents flying to and fro. The two of us also look after our marketing, website and social media. Part of my degree was in film making, so I particularly enjoy putting these skills to use editing videos for our popular YouTube channel.

On my evenings off and at weekends, I try to catch up with friends, run a little walking group exploring all that London has to offer, and attend as much theatre as I can. However, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, I'll leave the house after a day at my desk or the piano, and head out for choir practice, grabbing a bagel or pasta salad to eat with Emily while we plan rehearsal. It's a physical job conducting and playing piano for 2 hours, so I'll try to eat some fruit (but more likely cake...) to keep my energy up 'til we finish rehearsing.

Leading a rehearsal of any kind is when I'm happiest. I love hearing harmonies come together and people connecting through music. The community spirit felt at Starling Arts is the icing on the musical cake for me - it's lovely that so many of our singers have become great friends both in and out of Starling, and that our community is constantly growing.

When I get home from rehearsals, I'm usually buzzing from the natural high of it all, so I'll have a cup of decaf tea, watch something like 'Suits' on Netflix and head to bed by 1am.

Plan B. 

I’m lucky that Starling Arts is an amalgamation of all my dream jobs, but when I was younger I desperately wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter. The idea of getting paid to travel, do extreme sports, meet inspiring people and make Tracy Island out of old loo rolls really appealed to me. I do have a Blue Peter badge, so that's something...