This interview took place online on 13 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus and MA graduate Sarah Innes.
Ian Pace: I’d like to welcome Sarah Innes. Sarah did her BMus at City, 2011-14, then also an MA in 2016-17, where she wrote a major dissertation on the promotion of Russian/Soviet music in the UK during the mid-period of the Cold War. She is now Chief of Staff at nkoda (a subscription service for sheet music). She has been working there pretty much since I graduated from hery MA, and has worked my way up from a musicology intern through various roles and teams.
Sarah, welcome, it is great to see you again! You have had a very close relationship with the department at both undergraduate and taught postgraduate level. What might be some of your most abiding memories of your time with us?
Sarah Innes: Hi Ian, it’s great to be speaking with you! As I was fortunate to have 4 years with the department there are an awful lot of memories… But I think one of my favourite memories would have to be the utterly chaotic performance of Hänsel und Gretel with City’s Opera Ensemble during my final year of UG (with an orchestra crammed into the storage cupboard at the back of the stage). The Battle of the Big Bands and several Christmas Cabarets are also up there.
IP: You were playing rather than singing in the Humperdinck opera? Who was organising the event?
SI: Definitely playing! I think I may have been covering about 4 different parts actually… the Opera Ensemble was a student led ensemble directed by Kenton Brigden in 2013/14 – Beanie Arkle sang though.
IP: I remember you taking my opera module during your time! What areas of music did you find especially interesting to study?
SI: Yes, I loved your nineteenth century opera module! I mainly took it to be able to study Russian operas in more depth – I was extremely lucky that so many of City’s modules allowed me to explore my specific research interests though (there was a module on Stravinsky and also Neoclassicism at the time), whilst also gaining a broader understanding of the topics in general.
IP: What was it which especially interested in you about Russian music, which did feature relatively prominently in the programme as a whole?
SI: To be honest, I arrived at City already intrigued by Russian music. My director of music at Harrow Young Musicians was a huge fan of Stravinsky, and we were also exposed to a lot of ballet music. So before I even got to City I’d already performed The Firebird Suite, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring! Once I started learning more about it at City, my interest just grew from there until I started looking at the promotion and reception of Soviet music during my MA.
IP: And you did your undergraduate dissertation on a Russian music subject, yes? And you’ve been studying the language ever since too?
SI: I did indeed – my undergraduate dissertation focused on the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Rachmaninoff’s orchestral music. Alex Lingas was a wonderful supervisor for that project, and his influence led me to start learning Russian for my MA. I wish I could claim I’ve been studying hard for the last 2 years, but I have taken a little bit of a break to focus on some other things. I’ll be picking it back up again soon though!
IP: Tell me some more about the work you are doing at the moment with nkoda, and how this relates to your earlier study?
SI: Well nkoda is a subscription service for sheet music and it’s a resource I really wish I’d been able to access while I was studying! I started out as a musicology intern before working with our sales and management teams. I’ve been really fortunate to get to meet and work with publishers, and contribute to the way parts of the app work. There have been lots of exciting projects, but it’s just been so wonderful to have the opportunity to use my musical knowledge to contribute to the library itself, and to discover new music along the way. I’m doing a lot more business admin in my current role, so I’m constantly learning new things. If anyone is interested in knowing a bit more: https://nkoda.com/
IP: So this was very much a job for a musicologist?
SI: It definitely was – it was so exciting to find a role that required the skill set of a musicologist that wasn’t in academia. It opened up avenues I didn’t even know existed. A lot of people considering a music degree think that teaching, academia or performance are the only options, but there’s so much more out there. Not that I’m not planning on returning to academia in the future – I did promise you that I’d return to do my PhD before I turn 35!
IP: With hindsight, what might you advise someone starting out a music degree now, or thinking of doing so?
SI: I think any music degree is what you make of it – it’s important to take every opportunity to get involved and push yourself out of your comfort zone. A lot of people outside of music don’t necessarily understand the really amazing skills and knowledge you can gain from a music degree (“what history is there possibly to study about music?” is my favourite question). Don’t be put off by those people!
IP: Sarah, many thanks for this. Do you have any further links you’d like to share, related to your work or anything else?
SI: Thanks Ian, looking forward to visiting the department again soon! Do check out nkoda and I’m happy to answer any questions on Facebook or LinkedIn.