“When I was at school I was persuaded to take an academic path and somehow ended up with a degree in Geography. This was followed by careers in fashion retailing and buying and running my own restaurant in Brixton, London. Satisfying to a degree and successful, but I was always left ‘wanting’ and searching for more fulfilment.”
What inspired you to leap from fashion, restaurants and motherhood into music? In my 30’s I had children (I have four now) and it was after the birth of my second child, Max, that I had an urge to sing. Nervously, I joined a local community choir in Totnes where I had moved to and…bam! The first day of the rest of my life. Not only did I discover I could sing and harmonise but also write music and teach. Thus was born Glorious Chorus, my performance choir, Thula Mama and many more vocal enterprises.
Tell me about your journey to get there. I had learned to play musical instruments as a child but given up all music at 13 to fit in at school. When, after 25 years of doing no music, I re-found my musicality at 37 years of age, I had to ‘relearn’ all my theory in order to write and teach. I started out playing around on a second hand piano I bought soon after starting singing and experimented with song-writing. I would sing into a tape machine, then play it back and improvise harmonies into another machine. Seriously low-tech! I would write the scores out in pencil, working out the method from my old piano books, then write over it in ink and dash down to the photocopier to make copies ready for teaching the choir.
My first song, Chanson, became an encore hit and soon I was writing more and more songs and it was time to start my own choir. At the same time I decided that I wanted to share my love of music with other mothers with babies and so I created Thula Mama, a singing group for mothers with pre-crawling babies. It is now celebrating its 10th anniversary and has franchise groups around the UK.
What helped you to do this? A piano, and faith in a musicality I realised I’d always had. My new partner at the time was also a music technician and helped me eventually set up a computer with music software which made my song-writing easier. I also taught myself how to use scoring software so bye-bye to writing manuscripts by hand! I believe that everyone can sing. I start with that premise and never entertain the idea that someone really can’t sing. I believe that when you act this out it just dissolves people’s lack of confidence.
Did you have doubts at any point and if so how did you overcome them? The minute I walked into that first night of the community choir back in 1999 started singing and heard this big sound, 40 people singing in harmony together, I felt truly born again. Everything in my life before that moment felt totally irrelevant. I’ve never doubted my ability in song-writing or teaching. When you’re doing what you should be doing, what fires your passion, when you’re in full blossom, obstacles just feel like stepping stones. I feel rich though I’m not materially. If anything, the only problem has been the distracting nature of this passion and how that affects family life/relationships.
What was the biggest obstacle and how did you manage it? Marrying my work with family and relationships. It’s the curse of all creative people. How can you finish reading a story to your children when all you can think of is completing the final phrase of a brilliant new song?! I’m sure that every creative master has had a ‘wife’ or adoring muse and never had to be distracted by nappies or sleepless nights. I didn’t overcome this problem.
The other obstacle I faced was the cost of professional PR which costs thousands of pounds. I overcame this partly, and that was by luck. Chris Evans, the Radio 2 DJ, just happened to read a tiny piece in the London Metro about me which ended up with me being interviewed by him on prime time radio in 2008. This gave me a real publicity boost which I then supplemented a few years later with a bank loan to fund further PR from my side.
What advice would you give to others? Do work that brings you joy (even if it has to be supplemented with some that doesn’t, to pay the bills). The wealth you feel by working with your passion is just as fulfilling and valid as financial wealth. Also, don’t forget about enjoying your family – it’s hard being self-employed as it can be 24/7 if you want it to be. I learnt to put a throw over my computer when the kids came home from school to help me separate from my working self! Finally….get a cleaner. Best money you’ll spend all week.
What next? More Thula Mama franchises are due to start (Manchester and Wimbledon). I also want to start marketing my original songs for choirs, something I’ve never done. I’d also like to make money without having to leave the house and travel more running singing workshops.
What else? All mothers with babies – check out www.thulamama.co.uk for the ultimate music to soothe and put your baby to sleep to. You’ll love it too! All singers visit www.gloriouschorus.co.uk. for the fabulous Glorious Chorus.