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Get to know us: Anna Semple

Posted on 11 March 2024

Anna Semple is a freelance singer and composer living in London, she is currently in her second year on our Associate Artist programme. We asked her to tell us a bit more about herself and what she’s looking forward to most at the moment:

Tell us about your background in music

I read music at university, and kind of got into singing more seriously whilst I was there, mostly by having too much fun with my college chapel choir. I’d never thought of myself as a ‘singer’ (whatever that is…) before then, as I’d been pretty focused on becoming a professional viola player (don’t ask me how that’s going). Before and during uni, I was unsurprisingly just extremely keen – I basically said yes to everything music-related that came along, which involved arranging various things for 18-piece viola ensemble (inc. a horrible mash-up of Gustav Mahler and Miley Cyrus… neither artist done sufficient justice there I’m afraid), playing and singing whenever and wherever I could, and basically making tonnes of mistakes in different musical contexts. Post-university I was part of The Sixteen’s Genesis Scheme, which was a big confidence boost that I think I needed, and got me thinking that it would actually be really nice to do this as a job. I’ve also always been interested in contemporary musics of all sorts, the weirder the better, so I did a Master’s degree in composition, which I do freelance now alongside the singing.

What do you enjoy most about singing in Tenebrae?

I really enjoy the intensity of singing with Tenebrae – both the intensity of sound and concentration. Often our concerts have a sense of continuous flow, especially if we’re moving about the place, so you really can’t afford to have your mind drift! The choir has such a defined sound too, which is almost overwhelming when everyone is at full pelt! There’s something really invigorating about singing with a group when everyone has a shared vision of the combined sound that’s being created. As one of the Associate Artists, I’ve found that the experience of being immersed fully in Tenebrae’s sound for a while now has really pushed me to take more responsibility in a group setting. It’s been really rewarding to feel able to contribute to the choir’s sound with more musical consciousness and awareness, and to be able to take these skills elsewhere too!

Which concerts are you particularly looking forward to? Do you have a favourite Tenebrae piece?

Of the upcoming concerts I think I’m most looking forward to our schools performance of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles. I’m sure this piece will come up a lot with the other singers too, but it really is a fantastic piece to experience and to sing! I’m so pleased that we’ll be performing it for some of the schools we’ve been working with in Southall as it’s so dynamic and dramatic. There’s so much in the piece for kids to get excited about – devils, saints, death, drama, epic journeys – it’s all theatre really, and I can’t wait to see what they make of it! That concert kicks off a Path of Miracles tour, which is very very exciting – some of the venues are a bit mind-boggling!

Experience Path of Miracles live in concert this season: in London, Cambridge, Hamburg and Reading, Nürnberg  and Disentis.

Another recent highlight has been getting to know Joel Thompson’s music through our programme called A Prayer for Deliverance. His music is so lush with moments of really poignant beauty, but with fresh twists and turns which make it a joy to sing!

It has been such a busy season with lots of touring and visiting new places. Do you have any travel hacks for those early-morning flights? or a pre-concert routine?

Intense travel schedules are always made more bearable with decent headphones (not even fancy ones) and pre-downloaded podcasts/audiobooks – especially if, like me, nothing gets you off to sleep on a plane more quickly than listening to strangers talk about true crime. As singers we also often fall foul of the (unnamed coffee chain name here) ginger/turmeric shot scam. If you’re not flying and can therefore bring maximum liquids, I recommend mixing some grated ginger (+chilli if you want that spice) with apple juice and a splash of lemon as an emergency (-come placebo) voice-saver.

The pre-concert routine has to be a flexible thing depending on timings, venue, whether you’ve left your concert dress in your hotel room, and all manner of things. I suppose the ideal is having a dressing room big enough that everyone can sit comfortably and chat or do make-up if they’re so inclined, digest what has probably been an unwisely portioned dinner, and change in a calm way – not too much time, but not frantic. The atmosphere of the pre-concert dressing room can have quite a lot of sway over feelings going into a concert, so it’s always nice to feel relaxed, perhaps with a herbal tea or something. There is such a thing as too relaxed though – after a very leisurely getting-ready-routine I discovered as we opened our folders to start a concert that I had the second half music rather than the first half, so that, you might say, ‘ruined the vibe’ a bit…