Communications Manager for the London Symphony Orchestra
What does your current job involve?
As Communications Manager for the London Symphony Orchestra, I help guide public opinion of the organisation so that the outside world is correctly informed of – and with any luck inspired by – the services we offer. I devise and implement strategies to engage three key groups of stakeholders: audiences, donors and influencers. The LSO’s mission is to engage the broadest mix of people with the highest quality and most evocative music-making – so we seek to diversify our audiences, not just grow them. Public funding for the arts has been steadily decreasing since 2008 so it’s essential that we consolidate and enrich our donor pool. And of course, everything comes from the top: the media, Government and business leaders play a huge part in determining public policy, structuring society’s shared values and setting the tone of national conversation. We work hard to ensure that influencers are aware of how the LSO positively contributes to life in this country (and beyond), not just by providing the UK with a world-class cultural export but through a commitment to affordable and accessible performances, thousands of education and outreach projects with people of all ages and backgrounds, and producing soundtracks for the latest Hollywood blockbusters and video games.
Did you have a career plan when you left Univ?
Since the age of 16 I had a strong desire to merge my English skills with my flair for music. This quickly crystallised into a desire to work in the classical music media or broadcasting industries. I was very sure that I didn’t want to be a musician (too narrow and too unstable a profession for my liking) which made the elimination process easier. I’d never heard of arts managements before I started job-hunting, and as I researched, it became blindingly obvious that it was exactly where I wanted to be. Knowing how competitive and rare these jobs were, I secured work experience while still at Univ – first as a runner on the BBC Proms and then as a documentary researcher – and made a point to engage in as much relevant extra-curricular activity as I could, such as being a student ambassador for Music at Oxford. I finished my Finals and immediately took a local data entry job to pay off my overdraft, whilst applying for job after job. I didn’t dare – or want to – take any time off to travel or relax. It paid off, and just two months later I started a Marketing, Press and PR traineeship at the Philharmonia Orchestra on the Southbank.
Which projects have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
I get to work with the most gifted musicians in the world. Every time I watch the Orchestra give a concert I feel humbled by the musicians’ astonishing talent (and the hard graft I know accompanies it). The LSO is always involved with something thrilling, be it playing in the 2012 Olympics ceremonies or recording the music for the latest Harry Potter films. But I get as much joy – if not more – out of the one-on-one relationship-building at the core of my job. I love getting to know and looking after volunteers, donors, local residents, audience members and VIPs. The look on someone’s face when they experience the Orchestra at full force is priceless. I enjoy telling stories that open up people’s minds through articles, videos and photography. I believe ardently that classical music is not for an elite and have found great pleasure in championing best practice as regards engaging family audiences.
What are your future career plans?
I would like to work in a comparable organisation abroad – Sydney, New York and Paris are all calling to me. I sometimes get itchy feet and consider moving to another art form but music has been my life since I was four and I don’t quite know what I’d be without it. I’ve found immense pleasure in volunteering for a number of good causes in the past few years and wouldn’t rule out a move to the charity sector. Likewise, I still have a dim and distant dream of being a Proms presenter… One thing I know is that good working conditions, open communication, women’s rights and proper work/life balance will loom large in my future. Professional development is non-negotiable too. I am not motivated by money – I want to live a life I am proud of and content in.
What do you cherish most from your time at Univ?
I cherish the friends I made there. There are eight of us Univ girls who are still extremely close – Oxford does that to you. I miss Ahmeds, being allowed to don fancy dress and act like a complete idiot, cycling with no helmet (don’t judge) and living on Logic Lane. Talk about idyllic!
What part of your experience at Univ was most useful to you?
Oxford either makes or breaks you. In reality, I think it does both to most people. I found the academic work a real struggle at times, coming from a very average state school, but the day I learned I’d got a decent 2.1 and a first in more than one paper was probably the best of my life. Univ gave me confidence in my intellect and made me see what I was really good at, never mind what everyone else was doing. Through college, I met people I never thought I’d get on with and as such was made to challenge my ingrained prejudices. Lord Butler was a kind and avuncular Master who supported extra-curricular activities, like Univ Orchestra. To have someone as smart and esteemed as him give you the time of day, i.e. at Master’s Collections, forces you to believe that you have potential and a responsibility to actualise it.
What did you do apart from studying while you were in Oxford?
Like most students, I just loved hanging out with my friends – eating together in the main hall, ‘revising’ on the lawns come summer time, gossiping in the college bar, flirting with Blues and drinking tea in each other’s rooms. I played the violin in OUO and OU Phil and led the college orchestra. My friend Jess, who’s now a successful composer, wrote music for a number of University plays and I loved being in the pit orchestra for those, as a clarinettist. During the holidays I waitressed with a staffing agency to earn money and in summer 2006, spent a month traveling around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with my Univ buddy Emily, an E&M student.
Did you receive scholarships, grants, or prizes while at Univ?
I received an instrumental scholarship from Univ for my clarinet playing, which paid for a lesson with a top local professional clarinettist to prepare me for my first year recital, and some books. I went on to give a recital in the Master's lodging for other students. All in all, it was a helpful boost.
What do you do when you're not working?
I have a lot more interests now than I did as a student – but then if my friends still lived next door I probably wouldn’t. Fitness is much more important to me now: I do spin, zumba and aerobics classes every week. I take myself away on yoga retreats – important when you live in an always-on city like London and have a job with exacting standards. Underneath my effervescent (not my word – my Head of Sixth Form came up with that) exterior lies a big worrier. Yoga, acupuncture and meditation have drawn me down a very good path in that respect, as have philosophy evening classes (I’d be tempted to study it properly but am put off by memories of my former Univ boyfriend, a PPE-ist, tearing his hair out over Logic). I’m a founder member of the Young Univ committee, help a little boy with his reading and am part of a befriending the elderly scheme at a wonderful charity called North London Cares. I’m an auntie to two beautiful boys and Mum to two amazing cats who may as well be my children.
Why do you think it's important to support the College?
Karma. Univ gave to me so I give back to it. People often don’t realise that they would be happier giving than getting; the latter fosters short-term satisfaction whereas the former builds long-term contentment. It’s hugely satisfying to share your skills and resources with others who need them, whether that’s money, time or friendship. I’m looking forward to the Univ community being a part of my life until I’m old and grey. And in practical terms, I’d like to support the brilliant minds of today create an intelligent, thoughtful world for tomorrow.
Careers in Music Symposium
Fabienne was invited to speak at the Oxford Music Faculty on 20th February at their Careers in Music Symposium. She appeared alongside the Observer's Chief Music Critic Fiona Maddocks and Managing Director of Boosey & Hawkes music publishers Janis Susskind.