EX CATHEDRA | Nicola Starkie - alto

From our ‘Christmas Music by Candlelight’ programme, December 2017

Originally from Kent, Nicola first came to Birmingham for a gap year with the charity Oasis Trust and met her husband-to-be, Richard. She then read Music at Downing College, Cambridge, where she was an Organ Scholar and so was thrown in at the deep end, expected to conduct the Chapel Choir with a fellow student – it was through this experience that her passion for choral music was born! After graduating Nicola trained as a secondary school teacher and taught in Wolverhampton and Bromsgrove, before taking a career break to be at home with her three children during their pre-school years. During this time Nicola founded Quinton Community Choir, a non-auditioned choir in her neighbourhood which now has over 90 members aged 8-88.

In 2013 Nicola returned to university as a mature student, gaining a Masters in Choral Conducting from Birmingham Conservatoire, where her principal conducting studies were with Paul Spicer and where she also received vocal coaching from Maureen Brathwaite. Nicola sang with the Conservatoire Chamber Choir, conducted ‘Camerata’, a student chamber choir, and formed ‘Polaris’, an upper voices ensemble with a focus on music from Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Scandinavia, and which toured to Serbia in June 2017.

Nicola now pursues a varied freelance musical career; in addition to her regular work with Quinton Community Choir, projects with Polaris Vocal Ensemble and singing with Ex Cathedra, she is Director of the 160-strong boys’ choir at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, has recently taken up the post of Musical Director with Quinborne Choir and works for Espressivo Chorus, coaching its Warwick pod. Nicola’s other musical interests include accompanying and arranging when time allows. Outside of music, Nicola enjoys escaping to the countryside for walks and bike rides with her family.

1. How long have you been a member of Ex Cathedra and why did you join?

My first experience of Ex Cathedra was coming to a concert of Monteverdi’s Vespers when I moved to Birmingham aged 18 – I was awestruck. It never occurred to me that I would end up living here long term and singing with the choir myself! I joined three years ago whilst at Birmingham Conservatoire. I was loving singing with the Conservatoire Chamber Choir so when Jeffrey came in to college to lead an early music project and plugged Ex Cathedra, it seemed the logical next step to audition as an amateur. I’m ever so glad I did… it’s such a pleasure to sing the repertoire that we do and there’s a really friendly atmosphere within the choir too.

2. What does a typical day look like for you?

Over the years I’ve become a fan of early morning solitude so, after a cup of tea and Northumbria Community morning prayer to focus myself on the day ahead, I try to do some rehearsal prep and score learning while my mind is fresh and the house quiet! Once the children are up I’m around for them and take our youngest to school. During the day I’ll sometimes be at King Edward’s School for rehearsals, at other times there’ll be ad hoc work such as playing for a funeral or leading a workshop, but I’ll often be working from home doing a variety of musical or organisational jobs for the choirs with whom I work. I’ve recently started with Quinborne Choir, a lovely group of people eager to develop further. I’m investing quite a lot of time in the choir, making musical plans and working with the committee on other practical matters to take us into the next chapter of the choir’s life. After school my focus is back on the family and then in the evenings I’m either out at rehearsals or at home doing the myriad of things that mums do!

3. If you could choose to perform again any piece you have performed before with Ex Cathedra, what would it be, and & why?

I can’t possibly limit it to one! I’ve particularly enjoyed singing new compositions by Alec Roth and Liz Johnson because in both cases I felt an instant connection with the harmonic language. As for the longer works we perform, it would have to be Mass in B minor and the Passions. J.S. Bach has always been one of my favourite composers and last year’s liturgical construction of St John Passion was particularly special. The organ improvisations were so evocative and the community choirs’ involvement in some of the chorales was a brilliant idea. I was really quite moved to have Quinton Community Choir singing alongside me because it was a wonderful opportunity for our members to be part of a superb performance of this powerful work. Several people were blown away by the experience and have since come to other Ex Cathedra concerts.

4. What’s your musical “guilty secret”?

I’ve been into all sorts of pop music at various points from Tracy Chapman and Jamiroquai to Annie Lennox and Tori Amos… but now that we have teenagers exercising some quality control over what we listen to in the car, I’m becoming worryingly well-versed in the latest releases!