WMW Joanna Forbes L'Estrange
You're listening to women making waves on Cambridge one. I five radio. We spoke briefly to Joanna. Forbes estranged during our International Women's Day special but we immediately decided to get her back for a full women making waves chat. This inspirational woman is a singer conductor and composer. Linden I spoke to her over the Internet. Because of the cave in nineteen lockdown. Being in place WanNa Forbes from the strange is a singer conductor and composer beginning her career as a soprano and musical director of the swingle singers. She went on to found and direct. Aquilla an all female acapella group at Saint. John's College Cambridge. Joyner has coached choirs. Internationally and works as a session singer at Abbey Road Studio often. Thank you very much for joining us on women. Making waves do honor pleasure now. Interest in music. Start Start when you were in the Credo sort of thing I think I should. I have always loved music and my parents are very musical. My Dad is a professional musician and his father was a professional musician and his brother is an opera singer. Ann Arbor surrounded by music ready weirdly. I didn't live with I parent and will live with my mum. Sixty my teens. But otherwise I was brought up in foster homes so I think I'm a living example of nature over nurture. My foster parents weren't musicians. Not Foster dogs worked in the local factory in my foster mom clean the schools after school time finished but the music was just in me and I guess I saw my does when we can demand and there was always a lot of music going on so yeah I guess it kind if filtered in somehow wow. That's really interesting. Did you do music lessons at school. You learning the piano or not. I studied piano and cello growing up. Just had lessons at school and I loved it so I did. All My Grades Alumni Association board up to Grade Eight on those instruments by really discover singing until I go to university. Didn't really do much singing the full then a sung in my church choir once a week. It's anything I must be. Eighteen might affect quiet and I went so I went about when I was forty eight. Oh my gosh so I went back thirty years later and some of the people were still there actually and they they were doing holesovice of music by me and they want to be to come and conduct it was absolutely adorable and my children came and sang and they put the robes on that we had worn dental and it was. Yeah amazing. You say that you started very later as in eighteen because usually now we saw a much earlier age. Don't we children? Was there any benefit for you? Starting at that age eighteen. And would you say to younger generations that it doesn't matter when you start? Just go for it. I would probably say the opposite. Actually the earlier you start with the best my children would both choruses one St Louis So they started their professional training at a seven. And seeing and world-famous Jones Cambridge doesn't get much better than that. I would love to have started young. God loved being a Chorister am these days. Goals can be choruses. Which is brilliant. But when I was little goes went corresponds. Only boys were so. I would vary envious of my little brother. He got to be one. Yeah I'd love to a Saas Italia and I suppose I could be a little bit about the fact that I didn't actually. I don't feel sad about it because I find incredibly lucky that I did get to sing when I was Oxford because as I say that just changed everything for me and it was just on a whim. I was precious fire and I saw this sign Skoda Kantor him and I thought oh I love to be acquired with a lesson name. Comprehensive School encountered anything quite so exotic sounding but it turns out that being able to cite wheat was a huge advantage. And I could cite me because my dad had taught us how to sight read promoting the little and I tote. He took it for granted. I didn't realize not all children could but I could pick up a piece of music and singing and so the guy who was auditioning me was thrilled to base and said well yeah great. You went to Oxford University. Oh this study they're gonNA. I studied music at Oxford. Of course and I very keen to study music. It was it was my everything. I just adore music. My English teacher at school was slightly disappointed that I didn't sought the English because that was my other passion because I wanted to study music and I wanted to see whether I was capable of guessing into Oxford Cambridge. Didn't want to go to Cambridge. Because my dad have studied music at Cambridge keeping kings in the sixties and I thought Oh my goodness if I spend my entire time being daughter off that much applied to Oxford and the universities as well and nothing could have surprised me more when I got my place Oxford because I really did lack confidence and I was very very shy but I was very. I didn't know very determined and I was very positive in my interview and I was lucky also because I didn't have to do the entrance exams because they I was positively. Let's see if we can recruit people from comprehensive schools. So yeah did my interview and I did a few other things that I had to do but I my place so it was A. It was the best thing I've already. Let's just Gudang diversity. They were trying to do that. Thank goodness for that. Chew on the point of goals chorister. Do you find now. Generally that people are becoming much more relaxed about women inquires well. It's a long process really still. It's quite a new thing. There are certain choirs for example Pools Cathedral Choir. They admitted their first female singer Ernie a few years ago. It's always being boys on the front row men on the back growth but she is now sitting also not quite and people were terribly confused. People who owns in the music business. I should say because it was pushing the press illnesses. If it was suggesting that she was singing in the front row with boys but of course she wasn't she was thinking the outset nine behind with the men. So that was it also confusing media around at the time one obstacle saying Oh. I don't think it's right at tool because what about the poor boys being pushed out. She wasn't replacing any voice so that was funny and various other previously. All male choirs a now beginning to admit women onto the back row but really. It's the front row. That's created all the controversy because many people believe that boys and girls should have exactly the same opportunities when it comes to being choristers. But it's such a complicated. It's such a complicated thing to try and sort out really. Because there's fear among the old boys quals such as we have. It sent Jones Cambridge. That if you introduce goes into the boys cloth that the boys will be less keen to sing so therefore you might have a girls club under boys choir running in tandem taking intones to set to sing the daily services. But then you have to worry that if the boys aren't seeing as regularly as they currently are that the standard will begin to drop. So you've got all these considerations plus the fact that fee quad schools that support These these foundations that support the education of these boys would have to have a complete turnaround in order to be able to admit goes as well. So it's very complicated and I don't pretend the bits isn't Another issue that's often brought up his that boyzone. He has that high voices until the fifteen and then the voices change whereas does have that high voices for their whole life so some people say it's fair that goes don't get two choruses because they get to be singing the top line you know until that is ancient as me but then on the other hand goes then don't necessarily they've not had the training that boys have had and so therefore they would be us goods when they into the profession. I you know there was so many issues. Oh my goodness I thought about it a couple of years ago and it's led to a lot of conversations but also a loss of animosity are encountered from people saying you don't understand how old was the problem is and I didn't think I did actually in all fairness and but I do now but do you still want to blog about it because I think it's in in many ways is incredibly important that we do accept change and we actually work around that changed. Is that something that you will still keen to do? Or as you just acting definitely and I'm on all sorts of discussion panels and working parties and I'm very very keen to try and find a solution which is fair for girls but will one which will not damage the amazing boys choir tradition tradition that we have in this country. I mean it really is unique. My husband's just got back from America. Made it back just in time where he was working with all over America and they all revere the English tradition that we have here. They just don't have anything like that there. Although they are beginning to the our tradition stretching right right right back five hundred years is unique and it would be an absolute tragedy if we were to do something but goes which were then spoil the wonderful tradition that we have with the boy's choir so it really is GonNa take a lot of careful planning to to get this rights. Ju on your website which have say looks very very good. Very impressive. The Aussie Yield. The meantime will be the main titles on our singer composer and Corre leader. But I know there are more hats on your head than that other things. Do you do the inbetween oldies lines? What other things that we don't know about oh well professionally or otherwise. Yes what I composer but I don't know I don't really think of myself as a composer in the traditional sense a for example would never want to write anything other than cool music so I'm a composer. I didn't want to write. Killian demento music but I also am different from some composers in. I write songs so I'm not just working in the classical music industry but I'm watching a lot of pop soul jazz songs. I wrote a song last year which ended up being used on fleabag back. Well that was so exciting thing. It was until I wrote in collaboration with two songwriters. I've worked with quite a lot. David Tobin and Jeff Megan and we album together of vintage vocal swing. It's cooled and we wrote it for audio network A company called audio network which supplies music for television and so for every television company they will be looking at tracks that will work well as background music full whatever program it is documentary or drama or whatever so we rented this album not really knowing where or if these tracks are going to be used on one of the songs that I wrote for. Its was called you all. And it's a lovely kind of nineteen forties style ballots with three par female harmonies very much along the lines of the kind of socialist. I write regularly and blow me if it didn't rocket up on the opening scene of series. Two fleabag which is one of my favorite programs will shine goodness it. It's so funny. The senior phoebe waller preaches. Character is wiping blood. Offer face having just all kinds of comedy. Dinner ended up in shops. And you say we in the background. It's like you the one. I would be met many charts addition of wiping her face. Oh this is so so funny so yeah. I was thrilled to bits found that. Will you warned that was going to come on. You're listening know you just never know. And in fact it wasn't used on the original BBC Bro cost fashion but then it was used on a different version of colleague of mine. Saw watching fleabag on coming flying back from America it was just before Christmas and she landed and immediately phoned me and said you were so I'm I didn't have clean so I'm meet at. He went online and found it. Oh it's just fantastic. The A lot of songwriting. I wrote a song. Who the women wearing Blue Madonna wheel shock fun radio great? Pta that was made by the national youth quote great. The goal is quiet. They went to this amazing museum in Dharam which is out like an old fashioned finished one cycling around on old fashioned bicycles. Oh it's amazing. And they recorded if they made a film So yeah I become known as the kind of Goto women for sums about women. Do you find it easy to write. I do actually I. It does quite easily to me if I got some basic SPEC how long somebody wants to sell them to be and roughly what they want it to be about and who. I'm rising at full whether it's a youth choir. I don't Clai whether it's a professional quote or I'm going to quote once I go parameters in place to start like lyrics and lyrics. Always come quite quickly to me and then. I sort of Moldova for weeks until they rights and then once I got lyrics amenities come equity quickly so I I am lucky but I have to say it says something. I only recently saw it thing really in the last fifteen ten fifteen years. I've been working as a singer longtime before. I realized like he'd write songs. So it's really Nice. String to have to my boner. What made you try and do it really kind of caught them by accident. My husband is a composer and he was rising a large scale. Choral piece like a forty minute. Piece all about the bicycle. And it was commissioned by the Tour de France. Then if you remember in two thousand fourteen the Tour de France starting in Yorkshire and so this Big Yorkshire Choir wants to sing so seeing a piece all about the bicycle and so a couple of years before bats must've sausage rising the peace and he said I could really do some original songs as well. I not being since toppling writing original songs a bit but I wrote women wearing loomis on a wheel for best Peace and several other songs. Well and it just took off from there really are just suddenly full. Hang on. I really love doing this so I just carried on doing it. One thing led to another and then the minute she wives. Quiz Oskaloosa writes a song for their album. So he wrote. We will remember them and off tonight. I just couldn't really written to the military wives as well yet. Yeah exactly so They will be recording. An album called remember to celebrate Hundred Years Since the end of World War One and they wanted to sample new songs for their album and they approached me and said would I write something so I wrote. We will remember them for US Album and oh they sung it so beautifully and I've had lots of different choirs around the country singing and it's just oh it makes me cry salmon cried. It makes me cry so I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing but we all cry. You see the movie. I haven't got tickets to see it and local cinema on the twenty seventh of this month so I'm really hoping that everyone's GonNa be allowed out by them not to go. I really want to because she just all the way through your amazing career. I'm sure it's been most SA- time incredibly uplifting everything but have you had challenges that you could put down to making sure that you got passers have there been things that have really hit you and and so just advised people to you know getting into that. Yeah absolutely golly I mean especially when are starting out? I gave up a full time teaching job. I was teaching secondary music in the school in London. And I've been doing that for three years. I was enjoying the teaching aspect of it. But I wasn't enjoying the you know the fact that we had to do so much paperwork and the stress. The various stresses a thing a teacher and I was desperate to do more music making and so I I gave up that very steady job and just launched myself into this world of being a senior in nineteen ninety seven and it was terrifying because so much competition and could easily have been pushed off but my husband bless him just said come on nets. Really get this ago. This is what you've always wanted to do which was true. And I'm so grateful to him because in those early months I had very very little work and we were really scraping together. The rent us. I did stick it out and I did not have auditions. And then suddenly the swingle singers. We're looking for soprano and I did. That's what they and I go sit and that opened all sorts of doors for me so the advice that I always give to people starting out such as freelance artists need aspects of art. But you know especially in music is not to give up straightaway because you never know what's around the corner and I think also another good advice that someone gave me was to have lots of different strings to your bow so not just to be a singer because unless you're going to be absolutely incredible. I've got friends who are acid incredible and flying around the world being so Lewis so very few people can end up making a decent living just from doing one thing so I always kept my coaching running alongside my singing. I love coaching groups and I kept rising as well and you know. I'm so grateful now because it means that if one Syria of work as has happened now with the corona virus all of my performances have been cancelled or postponed on my session. Where is being consoles so quite honestly if? I didn't have my writing work and the royalties that come from that. I wouldn't have any income tool. So that's my best advice to anybody is just to have a lot of different skills running along in tandem and it's not a popular opinion to have. I know I happen to know that a lot of people who choose the music college route as opposed to the university that I chose are advised that it's not a good idea to have too many things going on at once because you can be perceived as a Jack of all trades master of none and that it's much better to hone in on one thing. Well I think that's all well and good if you're going to be Bryn terfel but if you're not going to be careful that's quite a risky way to approach the music business. I would say think you're absolutely right. It's the same with acting as well if you could right if you can direct if you can do lots of other things much much better than just focusing on one thing. I think so your support and your mentors around Cambridge and all your experiences so far. Do you have a sort of a network for for you to go to as well when you think you need some help. But some some critiques. I suppose uh some really interesting question. It is a funny business. There's not really an obvious person to go to any line of work as rice. Saying a singer rose as a coach but I do have various friends. Usually who are little bit older than me and a little bit more experienced the. Mita for WHO? I will tend to from time to time for advice. I'm very good friends with Ben. Perry who is an absolute musical genius He's very well known in Cambridge. He is the director of King's voices at King's college and he is just wonderful for advice so I do occasionally Tend to him and then it's quite lovely to have singer friends who also have families because occasionally it's nice to pick their brains about trying to find but elusive life work violence that we're all striving for and my husband. This has been a huge support to me all the way through. Because he's in the same business so he understands all the various stresses and strains but no it says a funny business being a freelance side. Because there's no. Opiates passengers speak to and when things get tricky. It's very difficult to know who to turn to sometimes. So yeah. I'm very reliant. On my friends and my colleagues. We've been talking a lot about mentoring. Haven't we suzy people? Turning to mentors somebody useful thing to have actually are definitely when you join the swingle singers. Their international only the travel. All the time. Well your your family all time. At that point yeah. It was very tricky but I didn't have my children at that point thankfully but I had just got married so I saw traveling a year after that but as I said in. My amazing husband is very supportive. He knew that this was a great opportunity for me And he at the time was building up his career as a composer and jazz musician and in fact he was the envy of one of his John's friends because they will be getting to midnight or one o'clock in these various clubs around London and saying oh I better get back and he would say oh. Well I'm right actually. Because my wife's away lucky we lived fairly separate lives. Were quite a few years for seven years to be precise and then when I left we saw Saddam family so I think yeah it was challenging being apart but again it really helps that he was in the same business and also for the final yet. I was in the singles. He came on with us. Because we did a retro gear to celebrate forty years if the group and he came paid double Bass and traveled around the world with us so that was a kind of crofty lay of getting to see him. Lots of people are turning online to try and do music and all the rest of you consider doing anything like that. I've seen lots of things on facebook. People going gigs on line or no line. Choir considered doing gigs yet but have spent today in my studio putting together a show reel of all the different types of music that I regularly record and I'm going to hopefully tomorrow turn into video that I can put out on Youtube to encourage rises. Who NEEDS THE MUSIC RECORDING? Jeering this corona virus. Look down to send me stuff. Because I've got my studio in my God and I can go and recorded and I can send it over to them. Nobody needs to meet. It can be done. Virtually and that way we can try and keep that aspects of the music industry going a little bit. So that's my plan. We'll see what happens. Excellent the coral leading the car-leasing that you do. Do you find that the women that you work with. Are they inspiring to you? Do you find that your learning a lot from them as as well as them learning from you. Oh I love quaking Ohio class. I do work with mixed choirs as well. I'm with children's choirs. But the last few years in particular. I've been working a lot with all female choirs. I love it because the more energy I give them the more energy they give back and so on. It's reciprocal and everybody ends up. Buzzing off to US Navy wants to go home. That's what I find at the end of my show so funny so I'll finish and then I'll be out join. No no and then also be there an hour later. They went to all sorts of stuff. And it's really nice because I get to know them and then I usually end up in the pump with them and we carry on chasing. I mean that's going to be a bit different for the next few. No it's really inspiring and what I love. Is that women you know we create sharers on we tell everybody our failing and what we're doing and so. I find that it's not just the music that I'm helping them with. But there was one choir recently where they really low on morale because the in charge of feeding charge of before and didn't really rate herself very highly and so she was very confident leading seniors and one by one. The thing is we're leaving the choir and not made it even worse and so they got in touch and said would I come along and do a session with the quiet but actually focusing on her and it was obsolete because I arrived and she introduced herself to me and I said. Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you want to get out of today. And she said well the thing is. I'm not really a musician on actually. I'm not really a singer. I'm not a natural leader and I'm not very confident person and I'm not really sure I know what I'm doing and I said I'm just going to stop you there because you've just given me five knots in a row things that you're not good in your opinion. So can you just tell me some things about yourself now but the all that you think you all get it and she just said what I just you know and and it was just amazing and I said right. I know what I'm going to do so I spent the whole three hours. The choir was sitting in that Chas. Oh sounding upsetting every now and again but I was focused on this leader and you know she was fantastic. She had all the skills but she totally lacked confidence and what she needed was for me or anybody to say to her. Look what you just did that. That was Brennan's used to do that. Law and I was saying. Don't see your feet look up. Don't stand like that stands straight. You know what? You're doing be competent. So I gave her all these middle techniques so I tried and tested over the years and my goodness the transformation and I said to have now you A pebble in the water and you are going to ripple out this confidence that you've discovered you have gods and everybody will the ripples and before you know this choir will be back on its feet and it's gorgeous because every now and again she puts on twitter. I'm still being a positive pebble. The ripples and I just came away elated. He no we didn't go into the nitty gritty of all the different songs. They were singing. Like I normally do talking about shooting in bland and Blah Blah Blah. It was all about positive attitude. And sending out this positivity that then comeback to her and then everybody was happier with Britain. I loved it sounds missing but you know something John. Not many people could do that what you did. Because I don't think so. I don't think many people would be equipped to do that. Maybe it's because you you said you were once on confident. Maybe you understand exactly how she felt newer able to out here. I think there is an aspect of that because although I've always been confident in I musical ability I've always known. I can do music as a person. I was very uncomfortable for a long time. Even if I was pushing on an active not being I I was very lacking in confidence and so yeah I did see where she was coming from. I just wanted to scoop her up and tell them she was going to be fine. And it was so lovely. See The difference in her. A lot of it was just body language because she was starting in front of the quad talking to them but with her hands clasped in front of her which is what a lot of people do if they're failing on shore of themselves and soon as I said just released that grip and just have your arms by your side or better still up where they can see them. She a means that you just look different. She stood differently. Maybe it is partly having had to learn it myself. I'm now more able to pass it onto people. Yeah interesting you choose questions here Joe I just want to focus on. We've done this before but I really do want to focus on your twenty. Th Century Women beautiful songs that she performed and the video. The video is incredible million going to watch a touch. I'm always making people cry. But did you feel very proud of that video because obviously it was written full international women's Day but it will go on and on and on. Yeah always be reversed. I'm proud of it. I mean it was a huge labor of love. I just did it all with just one friend. Who is just amazing? I've got to give a shoutout to feel stop. She's just fabulous. You know she just said right. Come on WHO. Are we going to do next then? And she met me every filming of every celebrity that we stalked and she just made it all such fun and she gave me confidence every time. I must say I come possibly get in touch with the Bishop of London. It come on. Let's do it. And she was just brilliant and we have such fun doing it together. Yeah and somehow all came together and it said ten thousand views which to me little me just fills incredible so yeah. I'm really happy with that. I WE ONLY DO UNTO FORBES. The strange in our lives so my children would agree with. You could go on asking you questions. All night is absolutely brilliant talking to you today. Thank you thank you so much. I really hope we get together again sometime. And that was John Forbes strange talking to Linden s and me susie thought.