Profile: Cordelia Hobbs, soprano

What have been the most important influences on your interest in music?

I think it started with my Dad’s love for anything from Flanders and Swan – the music and text play off each other so well, which is something I can well relate to. More recently, Anna Lapwood has been a great inspiration to me in terms of being a champion of equal opportunities for women and girls in classical music. I had the honour of being interviewed by her for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire show in 2019.

The music department at Portsmouth Grammar School encouraged an incredible variety of musical interests in me – from jazz, a cappella, singing with the big band through to choral singing. An opportunity that was most notable was with jazz pianist Jason Rebello. The school’s close relationship with the Cathedral set me up as a chorister and led me to organist Oliver Hancock and singing teacher Lucy Cronin – both had a knack for striking the balance between challenging and encouraging me during the tumultuous time that is secondary school!

 What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

The pandemic. I’m now at York University reading Philosophy and English, though doing as much singing making as Covid will afford me. I’m singing with The 24, conducted by Robert Hollingworth, also founder/director of I Fagiolini. We’re supposed to rehearse twice a week but we’ve not been able to access the practice rooms, let alone perform, these past few months although I am looking forward to finally singing again this term.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

It’s wonderful singing in a choir of great listeners where there are only 1 or 2 voices to a part, where all your vowel sounds are matched and everyone is strictly in tune, and where your efforts are appreciated. I find that I am often walking on air!

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?

I studied Pagodes by Debussy at A level and it has a wonderful calming effect on me. Madeleine Dring’s cabaret songs and West End Revue material are full of clever writing, both musically and textually. Dove’s For an Unknown Soldier is immensely powerful. Being a chorister, of course, the Gloucester Service is the best Howells Mag and Nunc.

Which works do you think you perform best?

Most works where I can get behind the text and create something unique, especially with solo pieces.

(I feel that I give an extra 20% when I can get behind the text of a piece I’m singing.  I love singing poetry or any text that moves me in any way. If I can find a way to relate anything to my own experience, then I stand the best chance of nailing a piece especially if it’s a solo.)

Which performances are you most proud of?

In secondary school I used to perform Messiah every year. The most memorable performance was singing the soprano solo If God be for us in Portsmouth Cathedral with a full Baroque orchestra. Quite by contrast, as a young chorister I was immensely proud of singing short solo plainsong pieces in quiet evensongs – terrifying but satisfying. Singing with the cathedral, I performed in the Royal Albert Hall for Remembrance which was attended by the Queen.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

I’m still considering my options as regards pursuing such a career! Nevertheless the only thing I feel qualified to say is that you need to practise your art, keep your options open, and sing all different kinds of genres – if you sing in a healthy way it can only do you good!

What are your current music-related academic interests?

I have a special interest in war poetry and am researching the music written for the poems by Christina Rosetti and Wilfred Owen. Next year I will be researching aesthetics – what influences an individual’s musical taste – why we like some pieces and not others. I’m a huge advocate of joint honours and exploring the inbetweens of different academic avenues.

I’m extremely passionate about equal opportunities and developing singing opportunities for girls and women, particularly in church and cathedral settings. Irrevocably, girls’ choirs deserve the same treatment as boys’ choirs. Being a chorister set me up to be the musician I am today and it’s extremely important to me that everyone gets an equal opportunity to get that start regardless of background or gender.

Cordelia Hobbs is a current student at the University of York who began her musical career at The Portsmouth Grammar School and as a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral. She now sings for Robert Hollingworth’s choir The 24 and continues to engage in wider discussions surrounding gender and choral music.

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