Our children need the arts

As I’m technically on holiday now, I hope you will grant me the liberty to write about something close to my heart that is not conservatoire life.

Today I went to the Christmas concert at Gallions Primary School, where my flatmate works, and I was bowled over by what I experienced. I’m sure Charlotte could provide you with the exact numbers, but here I found 100+ children under the age of ten singing and playing string instruments. In a state school, in what is purportedly one of the most deprived areas of London. The children were happy, and clearly took pride in what they were doing. Furthermore, they all listened attentively to their friends and classmates as they took their turn to play. If you think music in schools is only for the financially privileged, this would make you think again.

But why should this be such an unusual and exciting experience? The sad truth is that music, and arts, education in this country is in a sorry state - and is being pushed lower in curriculum priorities by the day. Thus, often it is only the most privileged that get access to the arts - either at school or through junior academies, Saturday schools and youth groups.

Why doesn’t every child get access to a rounded arts education? What is it that teachers, parents, and ultimately decision-makers are missing?

The Gallions concert demonstrated so much more than a few kids who could hold a violin correctly. What I saw was a hundred or so children who had been gifted with the confidence to perform in public, who had learned to respect one another’s talent, and who had the chance to experience what it is to take pride in their work. On top of this, these children were inspired to create, communicate and express. These skills will stay with them for life. They cannot be taught, they cannot be quantified and nobody can know where this experience will take them. The arts have mental health benefits. The arts develop a whole side of the brain that is barely touched by maths and science. The arts are what make us human.

If we want our children to be the next generation of leaders, problem-solvers and innovators we must give them the chance to learn to perform and communicate, to respect and be respected, and most importantly, to create.

You can help to perpetuate the brilliant work of Gallions Primary School by clicking here: http://gallionsmusictrust.org.uk/support-us-2/ 


“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” - Joshua J. Marine

How apt that this came up as quote of the day as the most challenging three months of life thus far draw to a close. One term down, eight to go. Apparently it gets better from here.

It would be a lie to say adapting to life at Guildhall has been easy - in truth there has not been a single ‘easy’ day. But that does not mean it has been a negative experience; a steep and intense learning curve, yes, but one that has only highlighted the warmth, kindness and generosity of my friends and colleagues. Every day has brought both challenges and inspiration, often tears and laughter, and sometimes all-consuming frustration. But every day I have learned something new, not just about singing but about myself and other people.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned is that most people want you to be good as much as you want it for yourself. It is no fun being poorly prepared for a class, it is certainly no fun watching a friend be torn to pieces in that situation and I imagine it’s not actually that fun to be the person inflicting the misery. Which brings me onto the next thing…

Music is an art of precision. Musicality may spring from inspired spontaneity, but such magic cannot usually occur without hours of study and practice. 'Winging it’ only gets everyone so far in life, and for me this is the moment where I have to take my wings off for good and do some work. With about twenty different people at Guildhall all driving me to work harder, I don’t have to dig particularly deep to find motivation - rather it is thrown in my face on a daily basis. 

And digesting all the criticism is not easy. Whilst manageable in small doses, twelve weeks of seemingly constant attack is more than a little wearing. I have no doubt that I will leave Guildhall with a thicker skin than when I arrived, but there is also a need to filter useful comments from those that are ultimately destructive. Unfortunately these comments sometimes come at an overwhelmingly faster rate than they can be processed.

This segues nicely into my final point - we are all in this together. Very few 'war-wounds’ have been inflicted by my peers, and I thank them for this. At first this surprised me. Arriving at conservatoire I expected hostility and heated competition from classmates - instead I have experienced only kindness and compassion. The truth is, that the only people who know what you are living are the people living it with you. These are the only people by your side every second of the working day, they are the only people going through the same mental battles, and consequently they are often the only people who can find the right words to inspire perseverance.

This is why the highlight of my first term at Guildhall has not been drawing inspiration from watching my wonderful peers, or finding a new physical freedom in movement classes, or even fulfilling a dream I thought impossible at a certain concert hall on a rainy November day. The highlight of my first term at Guildhall was encountering friendship and kindness in the most unexpected of places. Bring on term two.

Nerves and the nether regions

I want to start this post with an apology to the continuo cellist seated behind me in this morning’s Messiah rehearsal: sorry, for farting in your face during ‘Rejoice Greatly’. It was a glorious combination of propulsion through the runs, chicken & garlic soup… and nerves. I would like to say that this has never happened before, but I would be lying.

In case any of you are lucky enough to have not experienced this, yes, nervous poo is a thing.

If you think about it, it’s not a particularly remarkable phenomenon; stress and the digestive system have never been the happiest bedfellows. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, a bit of poo is nothing in comparison to stomach ulcers, acid reflux and other stress-related conditions. So why write about it?

Well, for several years I thought that there must be something wrong with me. Our culture encourages us to keep our bowel movements private (perhaps with good reason!) and it was not until I became sufficiently friendly with a few other singers that I discovered how common this problem is. If you’ve ever wondered why the toilets smell so awful at auditions, remember you are not the only person whose nerves take revenge on their nether regions.

It can be a particular issue for singers and wind players, as our breath support system requires a certain level of tension in that area. Put bluntly, tricky passages of singing can feel like you are having a shit, which is not great if you actually need one. Nothing in a concert is quite as terrifying as wondering whether it will just be a fart…

There is not room in one post for my collection of poo stories. Needless to say it ranges from the hilarious to the disgusting: highlights including the friend who farts constantly on stage, to the five-shit-day Wigmore Hall debut. What I have found is that no matter what you eat, your digestive system will play up - just embrace it and laugh. And maybe don’t eat a Phaal the day before an important concert.

Audience members: next time you’re at the opera spare a thought for the soprano who desperately needs to fart whilst singing a top C. And spare another for the tenor standing next to her.

Pork pies

Yesterday I went out to Northwood for a concert - Schubert Mass in G and Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. I had a wonderful time. Aside from the fact that it was a lovely concert, with lovely people here’s why:

1) They gave us food between the rehearsal and the concert. Pork pies, funnily enough. Maybe I’m just unlucky, but usually what happens is you turn up to a church that is relatively in the middle-of-nowhere, meet some relative strangers, rehearse and then get locked out the church and left to fend for yourself for 2/3 hours. Fending for yourself usually involves spending a portion of your fee on food - sometimes pork pies.

2) The church was warm. OK, there is not much people can do about cold churches in the winter, but if there is heating it doesn’t hurt anyone to put it on for a few hours does it?

3) There were clean toilets and a dressing room with a mirror. I have not yet reached levels of diva-dom where I would expect my own dressing room, and am not childish enough to be much fussed about male/female changing space - it was blessing enough to have a space to change and leave belongings in that was not then going to host the interval drinks! 

4) The rehearsal was super-efficient. No crying organists (this has happened unfortunately recently), no arguing about lighting, no debate about where to seat the soloists. Everything ran like clockwork, to schedule and stress-free.

5) I was trusted to dress myself. That sounds ridiculous, but so often people say ‘DJs for the men and something sparkly/glamorous (etc.) for the ladies’. We know what is expected, we have done this before. And please, please, please nobody ever again tell me to ‘make myself look sexy’. Especially not if the concert is in a church.

Honestly, this is not really a rant. When I do any concert I am happy just to be working. But a warm welcome, a little privacy and some common decency goes a long way.

On fear

There are lots of things I wanted to write about this week. 

I am not a political beast, but on this rainy November day as every corner of the world seems to continue to be falling to pieces, it is hard not to feel something. It is hard not to think something.

I will be the first to admit that there are some things in life that scare me. Auditions. Concerts. Very occasionally, getting out of bed scares me. That, which sounds like the smallest thing on that list to be scared of, is perhaps the greatest of all. For who knows what life will bring each morning as we wake up to face the world?

We could spend our whole lives being scared, recent events remind us of that. But that would be letting something other than ourselves win. Life is for living. Enjoy it to the last.

Why we sing

When I was 16 I suffered from performance anxiety. Incapable of any positive thought in relation to my singing, practise became an emotional ordeal, singing lessons were torture - for me and my teacher - and getting up on stage in front of people was agonising. My nerves were crippling, my self-criticism even more so.

But I was desperate to be an opera singer.

One day someone asked me, “why do you want to do this so much when it makes you so unhappy?” And then it dawned on me.

I have always loved singing. As a child I loved singing Snow White while I brushed my teeth at night. I loved singing carols in the school nativity. I loved pretending to be Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music or Sally Ann Howes in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved making up songs and musicals with my brother and sister. I loved singing annoying tunes in the back of my parents’ car on long journeys. I loved singing to myself when I was scared, happy, sad, lonely, excited.

I loved singing, until I decided to learn to sing.

As I worked to conquer my performance anxiety I rediscovered a love for what I do. I learned to have fun on stage. I remembered what inspired an eight-year-old girl to decide that she was going to be an opera singer. That girl was not aware of the challenges ahead: the competition, the emotional demands of the profession, and least of all the small, inconsistent income. That girl loved singing. And it is because of the challenges that the girl was not aware of, that her love was the only reason to sing.

The beginning


Assuming that that Internet has done its thing and placed this blog in the hands of a stranger or two, a quick introduction: my name is Mimi Doulton, I’m a 21-year-old singer, and I have just started on the Extended Artist Master’s at Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

This blog is to jot down some thoughts that I hope might be useful to other young musicians out there. I hope that it will also be entertaining for friends, family and other interested parties; although much of my writing will have a musical focus, I fundamentally plan to describe human experience that can be found in all walks of life. If that all sounds a little serious, I can promise some silly stories too!

Today I want to focus on something I have just survived myself – the first month at conservatoire. If you are also new to conservatoire, but are yet to meet someone who is honest enough to admit that they are as terrified as you are, then keep reading…


Nothing can prepare you for the first day. You sit in a room of a few hundred students and get told that you are the best performers of your generation. As the welcome speech continues you look around at the other people – they all seem so confident, so secure – they look like they think they deserve to be there. Perhaps they will be the best performers of your generation, but you are nowhere near their level. You are too scared, and too nervous to ever compare to the quiet confidence that they exude.

1) Truth – They are thinking exactly the same thing while they look at you.

As the week progresses you start to find your way into the practice corridors. Rows of doors with soulless soundproofed rooms behind them, where you will spend much of the next few years of your life staring at your tongue and feeling perplexed (if you are a singer anyway!) The noises that come from behind these doors are beautiful and brilliant, and once again you find yourself wondering how you ended up studying with all these beautiful and brilliant people. Every time you venture into a room yourself, you hardly dare make a noise for fear that somebody will laugh at how terrible it is.

2) Truth – Anyone can sound brilliant through a soundproof door. Including you.

There will be moments when you feel like you do not fit in with everybody else. Maybe you are from another country, or specialised in a different field before committing to music. Maybe you swear every other sentence and talk a little too openly about your bodily functions (hello!). In your eyes all other students amalgamate into a mass of one personality and mind-set. You worry that it is ‘them’ against you, and that you will never be one of ‘them’.

3) Truth – We are all different. That is what makes human beings so wonderful. There are over 7 billion people on this planet. Some of them will like you for you.


As the first days become first weeks, and those weeks become months, you will start to see the ‘equal’ in everyone. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, we are all at conservatoire to learn and develop. There would be no point in paying the fees if you were perfect.

Most importantly though, you will discover that you are studying with a wonderful group of people. These are people who you can rely on to clap every time you perform, even if nobody else does (and they will!); the people who will buy you cake on a bad day; and the people you can talk to about bodily (mal)functions unashamedly. They are your greatest asset (along with teachers, coaches, family members and partners). 

On that note, thank you to all my wonderful friends at Guildhall whose frankness has inspired me to finally sit down and write. I promise a lighter subject matter next time! Until then…

Over and Out

M x