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A week in the life of: Anna Semple – Associate Artist (alto)

Posted on 29 September 2023

The first week of September has come as a bit of a shock after a relatively quiet August involving holidays, a house-move and a light smattering of church work. Like most freelancers, singing (though filling most of my time) is not the only work I do. I also work as a freelance composer, and August has been a great chance to get stuck into some new commissions – though the plug for my keyboard has been lost in the midst of the house move, so I’m now a bit stuck… There’s not really a typical ‘week in the life’ as a musician, which is part of why I like it, and levels of business can fluctuate pretty widely, but hopefully this will give you a vague idea of what this musician gets up to in an average ‘fairly busy’ week.

Kicking off the week, Monday started with a rehearsal with Corvus Consort in preparation for concerts at Whiddon Autumn Festival next week. It’s lovely to get back into the swing of things, seeing friends I haven’t seen since before the summer, and getting to know new repertoire – a particular highlight being a set of pieces called ‘Welcome Joy, Welcome Sorrow’ by Imogen Holst for upper voices. I’m back home for a late lunch, followed by a spot of practice and a bathroom clean (the glamour!), before heading out to see some friends for dinner.

Like Monday, Tuesday morning consists of another prior rehearsal – this time for Tenebrae’s tour to Oslo and Dresden later in the week. We’re doing our Bach/MacMillan programme, as well as Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles (two of my favourite programmes!), so it’s a lot of fun! Though musically very different, both programmes are very involved, so by the end of the morning I’m nearly at my concentration quota… Off home for an afternoon of more practice and some time to work on a new Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.

Wednesday starts early, with a 6.20 train to Gatwick for the start of tour. First stop, Oslo. We arrive in the city at around 2, so time for a much needed kanelbolle (enormous cinnamon bun) and cup of tea, and a chance to drop off bags in our hotel rooms. It’s my first time in Norway, and Oslo has definitely made an impression – I didn’t get to walk up the sloped roof of the opera house, so it’s earmarked for a potential holiday destination in the future. We rehearse in the venue later on, and in the evening perform to a packed out church. There’s even time for a very hygge glass of wine before the taxis turn up to take us back to the hotel, and I turn in for an early night.

Being a touring musician, you see a lot of hotel interiors, and eat a lot of continental breakfasts. Nothing could have prepared me for the hotel breakfast we were treated to on Thursday morning. Eggs three ways, sausages, tomatoes, three varieties of herring, potatoes, pancakes, pastries, fruit – you name it, it was sampled. As such, lunch was a light affair (another massive kanelbolle), and we hopped across the sea to Germany. Our schedule this tour has been very generous with free time, so with a free evening and morning ahead I did what any fun-loving twenty-something would do: arrange in advance to audition for a Dresden-based vocal group. Thankfully things went surprisingly smoothly, so I was able to enjoy a lovely evening involving quite a lot of sushi.

One of my favourite things about my work is being able to travel to new places, and it’s easy to forget you’re there to work when you’ve got time to do some sightseeing. 27° Celsius and sunny, Friday morning was spent walking round beautiful Dresden, popping into the Frauenkirche and checking out some killer views along the river.

After lunch we headed to Cunewald for our second concert. Path of Miracles involves quite a lot of movement (particularly for the altos), as well as 17 individual vocal parts, so it’s always different depending on the venue and team. As someone with two left feet, this can make for some quite stressful situations (especially with the added complication of darkness…), though it’s also why I love performing it. One near dress-tripping incident aside, things went without a hitch! Post-concert proceedings were less hitchless, as we learnt that our return flight home from Dresden had been cancelled! Alex Davies, CEO and Manager of Panicked Singers, to the rescue!

As such, I’m currently finishing up this blog on the train to Prague, before our new flight back to Heathrow. My plans for the day have slightly changed – no evensong after all, though I’m pretty grateful for some chilled time at home before the usual church services that form so many singers’ Sunday staple (at my regular haunt with the Choir of All Saints, Margaret Street), and another very early trip to the airport on Monday for Tenebrae’s next tour!