Careers in Music Series #4: Laura Kox

Note: This article refers to Leeds College of Music (LCoM), the former name of Leeds Conservatoire

By Kath Hartley


In the next instalment of our ‘Careers in Music’ series, we discuss with Laura the differences between the German and British approaches to musical education, alongside her passion for exploring the full range of the flute family.

How did your postgraduate study prepare you for a career in arts management, musical performance, musical direction and teaching?

I chose to study a Masters in Performance (MMus) as I really wanted to learn to play better, perform better and play more contemporary music. I loved my lessons with both Karin De Fleyt and Carla Rees - they are both phenomenal teachers. Although I had to perform a lot during my undergraduate degree programme, I never felt really confident with it and I certainly never performed anything composed after 1970 or on anything bigger (or smaller) than a concert flute. I am grateful for the opportunity in being able to learn to play all sizes. Now I walk on stage and feel confident in being able to perform whatever music I have before me.

I also met Dr. Paul Abbott at LCoM and have since had the pleasure to play with his Departure Lounge Collective. I had never improvised at all before that – in fact I’d say I was absolutely terrified of it. But he put me on the spot and it turned out to be a lot of fun! I don’t think I would have done anything like it in my life if I hadn’t come to Leeds.

What changes have you seen at Arts@Trinity since you first began working with them in 2014? What skills have you developed since taking the role of General Manager?

I love working for Arts@Trinity - it has been the most valuable experience I have ever made. When I joined the team there was already a great deal of events going on. Our programme is very diverse: art exhibitions, concerts from classical to rock, theatre/opera/musicals, corporate events, fairs (records, vintage clothing, arts & crafts)… This means you meet different people every day and have to adapt to what the clients want. We also create our own programme, run movie screenings every month and have a regular recital series in partnership with LCoM. Our biggest in-house events are the Leeds Flamenco Festival and the Leeds Handel Festival.

In terms of my role as General Manager and what skills I have developed from that, there are different aspects. My job now is 80% paperwork. I had to teach myself basic accounting and what needed to be done for the Charity Commission and HMRC. I had to figure out PRS for Music and film licensing, Health & Safety Regulations and make sure we are all DBS-checked and First Aid-trained. I write all the contracts and invoices and have to make sure all documentations are up to date. I am also responsible for funding applications. I’d say I pretty much know the management world inside out now but it was a steep learning curve and I bet there’s still a lot I can learn and do better.

What events, musicians or clients have you enjoyed working with most?

I think the diversity is what makes it. One weekend you have Live at Leeds, the next - photos of senior citizens and their life stories (through art exhibition – Humans of Leeds), followed by the nominees of the RIBA Stirling Prize and The Beggar’s Opera. Where else do you get a programme as diverse as that?

What was the concept behind the creation of both the Handel Festival and Leeds Flamenco Festival?

The Flamenco Festival was initiated by my fellow LCoM alumni and colleague Samuel Moore who himself is an established Flamenco guitarist. Initially he wanted a performance opportunity for his students and the dance students of Instituto Cervantes that we started organising the festival with. The first festival was purely performed by teachers and students from the Institute. In the following years it developed into a major fixture of our calendar. We now have the Juan MartÌn ensemble coming to do headline performances and workshops and a second festival day featuring community groups from around the North of England. It’s a sell-out festival every year.

The Handel Festival has a much older tradition: Handel’s music was first performed in Holy Trinity church in the year of its opening 1727. In the 18th century there were 3 major Festivals of Handel’s music, which involved musicians and instruments (including organs and double drums) being brought up from Westminster Abbey! We started reviving this old tradition in 2014 with performances of local baroque ensembles such as Ad Hoc Baroque, 4’s company and St. Peter’s Singers.

How have you seen the musical community develop and change since you first moved to Leeds?

This is an interesting question. I suppose it depends on which angle you look at it from. For jazz and pop music I think there are more and more venues popping up where up and coming musicians can perform. There are a lot of small labels and agencies that help put them on the map.

For classical music, there’s the recital series at HEART, the Arts@Trinity lunchtime recital series where graduates can come and perform and more recently the Rush Hour concert series in Leeds Minster and the lunchtime series in Mill Hill Chapel. In terms of classical music performance in Leeds in general - Opera North has a good programme this season.

How important do you feel it is to give greater prominence to the lower members of the flute family (e.g. alto flute/bass flute)?

As in any ensemble a balance of high and low instruments is essential and in my dream world I’d like every flautist to be able to gain experience in playing all sizes of flute. We are lucky in the sense that we have been able to fund both an alto and a bass flute and that some of our members have their own which they are also happy for other members to play. Anyone who wants a go, can.

Tell us more about your involvement with rarescale Flute Academy. What opportunities has this enabled? How did you begin working with the ensemble?

My Creative Practitioner at LCoM was Carla Rees, founder of rarescale and the rarescale Flute Academy. She founded the Flute Academy so that her graduates kept on playing together. The group has since evolved into a semi-professional group. We play in around 4-5 concerts a year around the country. We play pieces specifically written for the group as well as Carla’s amazing arrangements of big orchestral works such as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” that don’t miss a note out of the original with no conductor. As Carla is a low flutes specialist most of what we play has 75% or more low flutes (bigger than altos) in it. Last year was the 10 year anniversary of the ensemble and we went to Athens in Greece and worked with some students at St. Catherine's British School at Athens and performed a concert with them. This year we have been invited to perform in the first International Low Flutes Festival in Washington D.C, which will be fun.

You’ve studied in both the UK and Germany, how do the approaches to musical education differ within each country? What lessons were you able to take away from both systems?

I find the German education system to be much narrower than the British system. Before you even start studying you’ve got to decide: am I going to be an orchestral musician, a soloist, a specialist teacher, a school teacher, a composer or theory teacher… I chose Music Education Specialist Flute Teacher and I am glad I did. The focus was very much on how to teach flute and learning how to teach different age groups, social groups, with different abilities, background knowledge, you name it. We had courses in psychology, physiology, education, conducting, other instruments, theory, history…. But I didn’t learn how to be a performing soloist.

So I decided to do a Masters in Performance. Coming over here and looking inside the music education system taught me how lucky I was with the narrower German curriculum. I have been to job interviews over here and lost a flute teaching job to oboists because they have more years “experience”. That was a shock. An oboe has hardly anything in common with the flute and an oboist wouldn't get a job teaching flute in German music schools. Similarly, I’m not allowed to teach piano there although I have a minor degree in it. That’s when I decided only to teach privately. I’m not saying the instrumental teaching in the UK is completely bad or wrong, but I wish there was a mixture of the German and UK system. I think the UK Music degree should include more modules on teaching, I see so many students coming out of the conservatoire system wanting to teach and not knowing where to start, but at the same time I saw a lot of students coming out of college in Germany not knowing how to stand on a stage.

If it’s teaching: see if there are specific workshops or courses going. There’s quite a bit of funding towards specific courses too if you look for it. Watch other people teach – we had mentoring whilst I was studying and had to sit in various lessons with other teachers. See what you think they do well – think about what you would do differently and adopt. Don’t stick to your instrument - I learnt most from a cello teacher!


If you’d like to find out more about Laura and her career, visit her website

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauraKoxMusic

For the latest updates on Arts@Trinity, click here

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