What gets me up in the morning?

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Suzi Digby, our President for 2012-13, gives us a flavour of her life, work and passion for changing lives through music.

Suzi Digby with The Voce Chamber Choir

Above: Suzi Digby with The Voce Chamber Choir

First and foremost, my husband's very strong cup of coffee gets me up every morning. Since my late friend, the 101-year old Molly Butler imparted to me the secrets of her longevity (breakfast in bed every day, no noticeable gainful employment and always being the centre of attention), I have accepted my husband's early morning butler services with gracious insouciance.

I have always been a musician. Since the age of three I have barely stopped singing or playing for a moment. I studied musicology at King's College, London, and piano, choral conducting and music education pedagogy in Hungary. But equally powerful was a desire to make people feel better about themselves. The medium at my disposal was music, specifically choral music as this was the way I could get to the largest number of people (young, old, professional musicians and the 'uninitiated').

As life progresses, I am ever more driven to change lives through music. The way I have done so is through creating and building up my own organisations and trying to influence policy through government and public opinion. And by working extremely hard in challenging schools, the community and concert halls. I also commission many choral compositions. My 'portfolio' career is bursting at the seams with various applications of the same passion: transforming lives through music – specifically singing and choral music.

When I created The Voices Foundation in 1993, the situation in the UK with respect to choral singing was pretty dire and in steep decline. Singing was disappearing from schools and the community. Now, two decades later, how different the picture is. My dear friend Gareth Malone is a product of the groundwork a generation of us laid, and I never stop reminding him of it!

So I now enjoy two parallel careers, one as a choral conductor and one as a music educator. They feed into each other and are both equally important to sustain me in ways that are vital to my flourishing and survival as a human being and as a contributor to society.

I am proud that The Voices Foundation has grown from being in one single inner-city school to being the most important national institution of its kind, enshrined now in the Government's National Plan for Music Education in England. We work in each school for at least one year – with every teacher and every child, developing musicianship skills through singing. All children must have command of the language of music, as their mother tongue, if they are to fulfil their full potential as a balanced human being.

So my week is spent juggling The Voices Foundation; my new foundation, Vocal Futures: Classical Music to Inspire a New Generation (16 to 22s audience development); my conducting (Voce Chamber Choir and many others. Last year I worked with the OAE on a staged Bach's St Matthew Passion for my Vocal Futures); Artsworks (for companies); adjudicating choirs and working for many education entities with group singing (two current projects are 'A-Choir-in-Every School' in Kingston and 'YMAT' – all the Year 5s in every K&C school). I also support my husband in Queens' College, Cambridge (where he is President), helping to develop music there and starting several choirs, including my beloved Fellows' Choir! I teach at the University of Southern California for six weeks each year (masters and PhD students in Choral Conducting and Leadership in the Arts). I have also done a bit of TV and radio, which I enjoy in small doses...

For a taste of what gets me up in the morning, go to http://bit.ly/suzidigby.

Suzi Digby OBE, ISM President 2012-13

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 edition of Music Journal.


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