Bolton School Former Pupils
Laurie Ashworth (1994-2001)
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
Although I obviously enjoyed music, my favourite subjects were my languages, Spanish and French. I had fantastic teachers – Madame Hutchings, Mrs Shafiq and Mrs Patterson – and in a way I wish I’d gone on to study languages at university, as singing is something that you can always come back to at a later date.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
On leaving school, I took a gap-year. I taught piano at my old primary school in Southport and went to my mum’s ‘finishing school,’ where I learned how to operate the washing machine and get stains out of things! I then went on to study voice for four years at the Royal College of Music in Manchester and completed two postgraduate years at the Royal College of Music in London.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
I do a lot of vocal teaching, as my job can be rather financially insecure. During college we are all under the impression that we will walk straight out and into an opera house, where we will become worldwide stars. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. Most musicians need a varied career, usually incorporating teaching, so that they can survive. I teach four days per week at various schools and at Manchester University, and then my concerts tend to be at weekends. Luckily, the teaching is very flexible should an audition pop up or a recording contract.
What/who influenced your career choice?
My parents were wonderful when I announced that I might like to study voice at a music college. It’s a scary profession to embark on, with so much competition, but they always assured me that they would help and support me through it.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
It is of utmost importance to be thick-skinned! You get so many knock-backs and sometimes you’ll only be successful in one out of ten auditions. I think it’s also important to be versatile. Gone are the days when simply a beautiful voice would suffice. You now need to be able to move well, take directions, act convincingly – it’s amazing what some directors will ask you to do ... cart wheeling around the stage whilst singing a ridiculously difficult phrase! I always regret not improving my dance skills. Granted, I’ve got two left feet, but it was a huge stumbling block for me at a West End audition a few years ago.
What do you like most about your job?
The variety is good. I couldn’t imagine sitting in an office all week, and I get a real buzz from singing at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall. It’s also lovely when I have a few days off and I can knuckle down and enjoy learning some new repertoire.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
I’m not going to lie, for me the biggest challenge is the realisation that you can’t just sing every day and be financially secure. Occasionally, I find the teaching particularly hard because of this. If there is a student who is flippant about their music, and who does no practice at all, it’s soul-destroying. You try to encourage them with songs that you absolutely love, and it’s horrible when they don’t love them too! On the flip side, occasionally a student will come along who works incredibly hard, and it’s fantastic to see them fulfil their potential.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
I suppose I would be expected to say winning the Song Prize at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, or my RNCM Gold Medal, but I would have to say my recording work for the BBC. I’ve done a few concerts on Radio 2 and Radio 3, the most recent being some Vera Lynn songs for the latter’s HomeFront series. It was so much fun and I’d jump at the opportunity again.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Teaching in schools, I’ve realised it is very rare for a school to give music pupils lots of performance opportunities. John Davenport instilled a tradition of informal concerts at Bolton School and there’s nothing more valuable than having to get up and perform in front of your peers. I think being given those regular performance platforms got me into the swing of performing in front of people.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
Personally, I would advise them to take a couple of years out. When I was an undergraduate, there were fellow vocal students in their 40s and 50s. There’s plenty of time for singers, so patience (however difficult) is the key. Go and get a university degree, whether it be in music or something completely different, and come back to singing after that. That way you always have something to fall back on should the singing not work out. If you’re a brilliant academic, Oxford and Cambridge Universities would be a good option, as there are a lot of valuable musical connections to be made there which can come to fruition later on.