City music alumna Zara Lim starts new post at the Philharmonia Orchestra

Zara Lim, BMus 2014 graduate

Two years on from graduating from City University’s fantastic Music Department and I find myself an employee of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Personal Assistant to the Managing Director no less! Had someone told me while I was at university that I would be working in one of the most prestigious orchestras with a possible career in Orchestral Management ahead of me, I may have laughed it off.

I didn’t simply fall into this amazing role of course, but I did fall into the role of manager for the London City Orchestra, which was the beginning of this journey for me. The previous manager had to step down and the orchestra needed someone in the interim to take over and see that things kept running. As a recent graduate, I had plenty of time on my hands and thought that it would be a bit of fun and some good experience. Little did I know, I quite enjoyed it and two years later I’m extremely proud to be a part of the orchestra’s growth and development since its inception in 2013.

It has been a steep learning curve, with lots of incredibly proud moments and some very trying times thrown into the mix but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. While I still manage LCO, I have had a fair few other experiences that have contributed to getting me where I am today. A highlight that I will never forget (and still definitely the best 6 months of my professional life) was my time as Projects and Education Trainee with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment which showed me that I could TOTALLY do this full time and love it. Was it hard to do an unpaid internship for 6 months? Yes. Was it worth it? YES! I can’t emphasise enough how amazing an internship can be. If you find yourself in the position of being able to take one on, grab the opportunity with both hands. Not only did I meet some amazing people who I’m still in touch with, but I learned some invaluable skills – some even as basic as how to write a great CV and covering letter (after having mine constructively torn apart by my line manager, for which I am eternally grateful)!

I came out feeling like orchestral management was something  I could do with my life, should all my wilder aspirations fall through. I continued managing LCO with all the things that I had learnt and kept building on my experience. Next I undertook a placement with the John Lewis Partnership Music Society, working closely with their Managing Director, Manvinder Rattan, who is now not only a fantastic advisor but a trusted friend.

Then I tried my hand at concert administration with the wonderful young business ‘Bach to Baby’ (founded by concert pianist Miaomiao Yu) which put on concerts for little ones and their adults. It was an amazing experience to be able to see things working from more of a business perspective, and to be in closer contact with audiences and musicians. But I also found myself craving an orchestral setting once again, which led me to apply for the position at the Philharmonia (which I was stunned to have won following interviews, of which there were many)! I have already learnt so much in my role there, working closely with David Whelton, who is in the process of stepping down as Managing Director after an incredible 29 years with the orchestra. I can see the impact that he has had on countless people and organisations over the years, and am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him and the orchestra at this major milestone.

To all of the recent Music graduates at City, and those of you graduating this year, I want to say: it hasn’t entirely been plain sailing from two internships into two fantastic jobs – there have been hours and hours of job hunting, cover letter-writing, interviews and rejections, and less than thrilling retail jobs along the way to keep me afloat – but whatever you’re aiming for, don’t give up, and don’t do things that make you unhappy for too long. Stay in touch with those who help you along the way and be prepared for your aspirations to change! Good luck!