Phoebe Haines (Wi. 2004-06) is an award-winning British Mezzo Soprano, with vocal qualities that have been variously hailed as ‘extraordinary’ (The Times), ‘silvery’ (The Evening Standard), ‘impressive’ (The Los Angeles Times), and ‘opulent’ (Sunday Times Culture). To Phoebe, Brighton College and its Music Department were an inspiration and greatly influenced her career path.
- When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?
Actually my desire to become an opera singer was at a real peak during my Brighton College days! Thanks (in no small part) to the incredible Music Department, who were positively inspirational even during our 8am choir rehearsals! I thought, if I can enjoy singing classical music before I had even had a cup of tea in the morning, then surely it must be the ideal career for me.
I recently rediscovered our 2006 yearbook, along with best friends Emily Thomas (Ch. 2001-06 ) and Martha Scrace (Fe. 2001-06). I had then said that my dream for 10 years from now was to be a 'penniless artist'; I can quite confidently say that at various points along the road that dream has been categorically fulfilled!
- What are you now you've grown up?
An opera singer. (See: 'penniless artist').
- What is your best memory of school?
I think I'm going to find it completely impossible to pick just one...
My fondest memories of school are those which combine the musical/ dramatic life of the College, and spending time with the two people that continue to be my best friends, Emily and Martha. Luckily for me, the three of us spent the vast majority of our time in Montague. Whether it was practising Russian text for Rachmaninov choral works, learning choreography for Kurt Weill musicals, or coming up with ideas for improvised theatrical sketches, which we could almost certainly guarantee no-one other than ourselves would find amusing. I have so many happy memories not only of our time spent in that building, but also of the vast International venues in which we performed during our time. Our Choir trip to Prague, and the Concord Academy.
Exchange are just two such examples which spring to mind.
The most heart-warming moment that I regularly reminisce over was our 2005 production of 'On The Town', directed by the fabulous Mr. Kerr, which saw Emily, Martha, and myself in the three leading roles of Ivy, Hildy, and Clare de Loone. We felt as if these roles had been written specifically with us three in mind! (Watching the video again, 12 years later, and with considerably more mature musical tastes, I sort of wonder what poor old Bernstein would think of this... but at the time I felt it was ideal casting!).
I have plenty of lovely memories with fellow Williams old girls, Hen Smyth, and our very fondly-remembered Hester Stewart - especially as we'd all been partners in crime since junior school so were well-practised in the art of mischief, come Sixth Form. Also, Mr. Smith's A-Level English lessons were so thought-provoking and definitely encouraged me to become a more passionate and analytical reader.
One of my most treasured personal memories of college was singing at Speech Day 2005 at the Brighton Dome. This was probably one of the first times I stood on stage, just myself and my accompanist, and performed an aria in front of almost 2000 people. I sang a Baroque recitative and aria by Benedetto Marcello, 'Il mio bel foco'. The rush I got from this was quite honestly like nothing else; I've spent the rest of my professional life happily chasing this!
- What was the best piece of advice you were given?
To go to university and receive academic degree. While I ended up taking two years out pursuing singing full-time before doing so, I did eventually earn a place at Cambridge where I spent three awe-inspiring years studying, socialising, and just generally learning about myself and others. I ended up spending another 5 years at conservatoire, separate from my degree (and not counting the years I spent at junior conservatoire!), so I definitely got my fair share of musical education as well. But this really was brilliant advice and I'm so grateful to all of my advisors at Brighton College for helping me to achieve this!
- What does your job involve?
My job involves vocal (and sometimes physical) acrobatics; as a teenager at Brighton College, I couldn't possibly have understood the sheer physical effort and fortitude that operatic singing demands. My mum always used to tell me that I was an athlete, and I needed to treat my body as such; I think I finally have come to realise what she meant!
- What are the most challenging parts of your job?
My job involves some very sociable elements - travelling the world and having the privilege of experiencing new cultures in the process. Ironically, it can sometimes be somewhat isolating, having to become instantly acclimatised to new cultures and make new friends, often on a month-to-month basis. So this requires a certain amount of flexibility and energy.
On the flip side, any performer of classical music simply has to spend a certain amount of hours (Malcolm Gladwell seems to think 10,000... It certainly feels like far more from where I'm stood!) in a practice room. This type of solitary focus can really test your character and endurance, and it doesn't really abate, the more you do it. So it's a constant exercise in both discipline, and compassion towards oneself.
- What have you done that you are most proud of?
This summer I was extremely fortunate to spend 6 weeks in China where, having never sung in Chinese before, I found myself standing in front of a couple of very large orchestras singing IN Mandarin, TO Chinese people...! It's at this moment in fact that I wished Brighton College had brought in compulsory Mandarin a few years earlier so I could have got a head start. The beauty of the music and the passion of the audiences was palpable, and I felt very blessed to have this unique learning experience.
I think the moment that fills me with the most professional pride was getting to open the International Opera Awards in London in 2014. It was before I had ever really sang at a large opera house, and was just ahead of my Salzburg Festival debut. I was extremely thrilled, but equally anxious, to be singing to an invited audience of 800 of the Opera World's most esteemed professionals, from intendants, to conductors, to, most scarily of all, other singers, far more clever and famous than I. I remember just feeling extremely elated that I got through this fairly challenging Bel Canto Aria without either my voice or wardrobe malfunctioning on me! But on a serious note, without the support of the International Opera Awards Foundation, so many of these amazing experiences would not have been open to me, so I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
In moments in which I question myself as an artist (which admittedly are often, as I believe they probably are for all creative/ freelance professionals), I remind myself that the only experiences you can really be proud of, or 'hang your hat on' so to speak, are those times in which we look outside ourselves to help others. As long as I can continually be of service, to the charities for which I volunteer, or for younger people in my industry looking for guidance, then I feel like my outlook and experiences have worth. Brighton College definitely instilled in us a very strong duty of care to our community, and I'm extremely grateful for that.
- What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
- What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
Well, I'm actually spending a month on the Big Island of Hawaii this summer (hardly a desert island I realise!), but I can only bring one suitcase, so this question is particularly pertinent at the moment. I would have to take a book, obviously (my go-to would be one of my many Maria Callas biographies which I have a habit of re-reading) Are the other two objects allowed to be the aforementioned Emily and Martha? And can they be holding Pina coladas...?!
- How would you like to be remembered?
As a good friend and colleague, and maybe if I'm lucky, as a good musician :-)
To learn more about Phoebe visit her website here >>