Life as a Trainee Music Leader: Kate Howden

I was working with Blackheath Opera and Multi-Storey Orchestra last year as a singer on their children’s opera Noye’s Fludde. I had admired and loved the work of Multi-Story for some time and was interested in exploring their community work, so I asked someone in the organisation how I might get involved. I was told that many people that work with them in that context have been a Spitalfields Music Trainee Leader. I’d never heard of the scheme before, but when I looked into it it seemed ideal; a flexible year of learning (on-the-job as well as in a ‘class’-type situation) and getting hands-on experience in workshop leading. I applied and didn’t expect anything from it, as I had no prior experience in music leading, only having participated from a performance perspective.

In the ‘audition’ everyone was really friendly, but I felt even more out my depth being asked to lead a warm up and teach a song. I tried to think about what the participants needed to get out that activity and plan it that way. I was thrilled (and daunted!) to be accepted as the Spitalfields/Garsington Opera trainee! Throughout the year I’ve experienced so much and  had the opportunity to observe and work with companies such as Welsh National Opera and the London Symphony Orchestra. I was the Assistant Vocal Leader at Garsington Opera on their Youth Opera project, which this year was a new commission called The Happy Princess. As the year progressed and I gained more confidence (and skills!) I took on more responsibility, such as coaching the children individually on their roles, as well as leading small groups. My mentor Suzi Zumpe was always there to advise and help me out if I had any questions, and to be able to observe how she led all year has really influenced the way I lead now.

Another big highlight was creating and leading our own six-session workshop in an East London school with two other trainees. Again, this was a hugely daunting idea at the beginning of the year, but we had a fantastic time and overcame a lot of challenges to create a great ‘sharing’ (not performance!) of our Viking music with the kids at the end.

Before this year, I mostly saw my job as being an opera singer, but being a Trainee Music Leader has opened my eyes to how many different opportunities are out there to reach people with music. You can become obsessed with being ‘perfect’ and you forget that, for most people, music is a release and a FUN activity, and perhaps one that they wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. It’s really shown me how my skills as a musician can help others, not just in a performance aspect. I’d love to get more involved in helping people in my community especially; I’ve since led some singing workshops for elderly people near me, and I’m hoping to start a choir for people living with dementia (we have a one-off session soon).

I would really recommend this training year for any musician who has an interest in this type of work; the work you get to experience throughout the year is so varied and interesting. You see how much outreach work is going on out there and how many more different types of people you could be helping with your musical skills.

Find out more about Kate Howden online: katehowden.co.uk