Meet the Team: Anna Lapwood, Director of Music
Anna Lapwood joined Pembroke as Director of Music last year. She talks here about what it’s like to be Director of Music, and some of the projects she’s worked on this year.
What is it like to be Director of Music?
It’s amazing! The good thing about Pembroke is that you have a lot of freedom; they are very responsive to whacky ideas as long as I am happy to put the energy into making it work. So we are going to Zambia in September which wouldn’t have happened without the College’s support, we’re setting up a girls’ choir, things like that, so they are certainly keen to think about ways to develop College music, which is why this job is so exciting.
What do you find challenging?
I think it’s a challenge knowing what to prioritise because there’s so much that I could do, and the College is happy for me to take it in almost any direction. Knowing which avenue to pursue can be quite difficult, and there’s a lot of admin; that’s always a bit of a challenge in its own way! There are these glamorous views of the job that you turn up to chapel to conduct and that’s it, but actually you have to put a lot of work into it behind the scenes, answering emails and sorting logistics – that’s just part of the job.
What made you decide to become Director of Music?
I was looking around and thinking about what to do following my degree, and my choices were to carry on studying to gain a Master in performance or to take a different approach. I knew I wanted to develop my conducting and I loved working with children at Oxford, so I’ve always wanted to get back to that. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to go into a college environment and be working with a choir of my own, but not one that is so pressured that I couldn’t learn on the job – it was always going to be a massive learning curve and it has been, but Pembroke have been so good to help me through that and give me the opportunity. It seemed like the perfect job for me and at exactly the right time, and that’s definitely been proved right. They’ve been willing to let me think about ways to shape the job to suit me and my strengths and my weaknesses.
How many instruments do you play?
I used to get teased quite a lot because when I was at school and a lot younger I had a COMPLETE lack of self-awareness, so I would introduce myself with “my name is Anna Lapwood and I play 20 instruments” so at one point I guess it was sort of 20 but that was including every kind of recorder and a penny whistle and things like that, so I don’t think it really counts. I would say I can still probably play about 8 to grade 8 level, but harp, organ, piano, and singing are my main things. I do have less time to practice now.
I started with the piano when I was really young, about four, and I took up the violin a couple of years later. I just sortof got addicted to taking up new instruments because there’s something so satisfying about transferring what you’ve learnt on one into learning a new thing – even though it could be a completely different instrument – there’s still a cross-over of knowledge and I just got addicted to that and kept teaching myself. I would go to a second hand shop, find a clarinet, buy a clarinet book and sit and learn the clarinet. I did the same with the flute and the guitar, drums, things like that, which was really fun. It was when I found the harp that my parents tried to say no, but I managed to persuade them in the end!
What has been a highlight of your time at Pembroke so far?
I think one of the highlights has to be the performance of Bach’s St John Passion which was the big concert we did in the middle of Lent term, and that was one of the first concerts of that scale that Pembroke had done in a long time. Along with Pembroke choir we had the choral society, some professional soloists and instrumentalists, and it was exhausting! I mean the organisation that went into it was intense and it was one of the most stressful days of my life, but it was so worth it to have it all come together at the end. Also the Bach-a-thon which we did this term, in which a group of organists performed the complete organ works of Bach in 24 hours, was again exhausting and crazy, such a silly idea, but we managed to raise about £2000 and it was a really fun thing to do at the same time. The amount of support we got from the college was incredible; people turned up who had never really listened to Bach before, and then the amount of support we got from further afield was fantastic.
We decided on a Bach-athon because a lot of what Bach wrote was for the organ, and he wrote about 260 organ pieces, so it’s the bread and butter for the organists. I also just love it!
What would you like to achieve in future?
I think the idea is to keep building more opportunities for the Pembroke students, but also more opportunities for the Pembroke students to interact with people outside of the college and bring them in. With the girls’ choir we are planning, we are hoping it will be an opportunity for secondary school girls to come in and sing/rehearse once a week, and do a service once a week, so really trying to make Pembroke an outward looking college as well as just providing musical opportunities for those who are studying here. I think trying to make it sort of a little hub for that side of things – doing more outreach work like the tour we are doing to Zambia – that’s my aim.
Tell us more about Zambia
Zambia is the first tour I’ve organised which is mad really, to be doing such a huge tour. I’ve started realising the amount of work that goes into it. I may start big and once I’ve realised how stressful it is never do it again! But I’ve wanted to go back to Zambia since I went four years ago, and the Dean and I were just chatting about it at the beginning of the year. We didn’t think it would happen, and then it just did because suddenly we had booked the flights! I am so excited, the choir are really excited; it’s going to be an amazing trip. We have a very full schedule with outreach work and concerts every day, but I’m hoping that they fall in love with Zambia in the same way I did.
I like the fact that we are going to be giving something back, because it’s so often with choirs that you always end up going and just doing concerts without necessarily learning anything yourself, and not really giving anything back to the community you are visiting. The whole idea with Zambia is that we are going to be making sure that there is a direct balance between the concerts and outreach work like music workshops with local children, working with some local choirs and so on. We will also be working with some local music teachers to help them think of different ways to approach teaching, because there are actually a lot of similarities between our education systems; Zambian teachers follow ABRSM like we do in England, but then if you go out into the bush areas then there are fewer similarities with very little (if anything) in the way of music education. It’s a balancing act in that we want to learn about their culture but also provide opportunities for them to learn about ours; we hope it’s going to be a cultural exchange between the two countries. Zambia is an amazingly culturally rich place and I just fell in love with it.