Composer in residence, choir master and queen of silly kitchen dances, to name but a few of her talents, we catch up with Rachel Burks…

 How long have you been at Lambrook and what do you do?

This is the end of my second year at Lambrook, although because of the pandemic, I have yet to be here for a full year. I am really looking forward to having a proper summer term here for the first time, and then hoping that next year, I will get to be in school entirety of the academic year.


What did you do before?

I taught music at the senior school Wellington College. There was obviously a really big difference when I moved to Lambrook, but I had always worked with younger children as well, as previously, I had a job at London Youth Conservatoire as their Head of Choirs.


What instruments do you play?

I play the piano and guitar, and ukulele, and I also used to play the violin – I still play it very occasionally at Christmas, but my main study, my first study, was and is, singing.


Is there an instrument that you would like to play?

I would love to play the ‘Cello. I think I have really missed the boat because strings are something that have a really long lead time in terms of being able to play, but I absolutely love the sound of the ‘Cello.


At what age should children learn an instrument – is there an age that is too young?

I think children should learn to play an instrument when they are able to focus a little bit and when they really show an interest in doing it. I think that if a child is really exceptional, and they want to do it very young, then that is completely possible, however normally, I think age six or seven, is a really good age to start.


How important is music as a subject?

This is one of my absolute favourite questions because I think that music is a vitally important subject and totally a core subject; music improves a child’s mathematical abilities, and it can improve their literacy and their reading. There are all sorts of studies about how music lessons improve the connections between neural pathways in the young brains of children, and it is also, just so much fun – the release that you see when children are singing and when they are playing instruments, is just wonderful!


What is your favourite chocolate bar?

I love Lindor and so the fact that they recently introduced a Lindor bar, is amazing! I absolutely love them so anyone can feel free to send me some Lindor bars anytime they like!


What things do you do musically outside of Lambrook?

I am lucky enough to be a part of an absolutely wonderful all female vocal ensemble called Corra sound, with some amazing other singers, from all sorts of backgrounds; we have an ex swingle singer, we have a couple of wonderful opera singers and we have an amazing folk singer in the group. We didn’t get a chance to do very much last year, but we have got lots of things lined up this year, so I am really hoping that we can get some concerts on the go! I am also always writing music and I am lucky enough that my husband plays music as well, and my daughter too, so we do lots of playing music at home, which is a lot of fun!


What is the best thing about your job?

Everything is the best thing about my job! I absolutely love what I do – I think I have got the best job in the world! At Lambrook I have the best job in the world, because I really love the people that I work with in the Performing Arts Department, I love the fact that I get to jump about from doing silly games (but really important games) with three year olds, and then two hours later, I am getting Year 4 children to write compositions and to write music on the stave. My job is so varied, and it makes me really happy.

When I went from teaching an older age group at Wellington, to coming to Lambrook, I loved it because with the younger children, you can really see the progression. When you are working with children between the ages of three and nine, I think the best thing is being able to see that immense progression that happens during those years, which ultimately the best thing about my job.


How has music been during lockdown?

I have been so proud of my pupils and what they have achieved. I was amazed with how well the children engaged during my Zoom lessons. We managed to do some really wonderful stuff and because the children were at home with their instruments, they were able to play these and we were able to also do some theory and really apply that theory, in their own homes, on the musical instruments that they are practicing all the time. This was such a great positive and an exciting progression to come out of the Remote Learning Programme, however, nothing compares to everyone being in the same room and making music together. It has been wonderful to be back.


When lockdown finishes, what would you personally, like to go and watch/listen to?

I keep seeing adverts from the Royal Opera, but I would just like to go and watch any opera at all. I really love opera! And also, maybe go to a jazz gig – go to Ronnie Scott’s or somewhere similar. I would love to go to some huge and wonderful opera, and I would also love to go to an intimate jazz gig in a small venue as well.


What is the best/most memorable concert or performance that you have been to?

I’m going to be cheeky and choose two things because they are so completely different. A few years ago, I got the chance to go and see Birtwistle’s Minotour, at the Opera House and it was phenomenal! In particular, there was a scene from the Harpy and the lead Harpies in the Minotour was such an exceptional singer, I was so inspired. I am now lucky enough to call the opera singer who sang the role, my good friend. And we now sing together in Corra sound. I had no idea when I watched that performance that I would then become friends with the star of the evening, an absolutely inspirational woman. The other one that I have to mention, is that a while ago, I was really lucky as my friend got me press tickets to one of the very first performances of Kae Tempest’s, Brand New Ancients. Brand New Ancients is a work of poetry over live music. I find it really interesting that I have chosen these two, as they are both about mythology. Except Brand New Ancient is about our modern lives, our every day lives, but treats them like mythology. Both of these performances made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, made me feel inspired and made me write more music afterwards.


You are incredibly talented at composing, do tell us about some of the works that you have done for Lambrook recently?

The Year 1’s have been working on a show which is all about Africa. We have been doing lots of African songs, but I wanted a song that would tie it all together at the beginning, so I wrote a song called ‘Sing a song of Africa’ which comprises of some of my composition and then the chorus is an excerpt from the South African National Anthem. I have also written a ‘Dinosaur Stomp’ for Reception and Nursery, and some little songs about eggs hatching.

I am just about to start writing some music for the choirs for next term, hopefully for a big joyous finale!


How do you switch off when you are not at school?

I love to go on a lovely long run. I love to read – I have just finished Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, and I also like to have silly kitchen dances with my family!


You can watch one of Rachel’s encouraging lockdown songs composed for our Lambrook children by clicking on the image below:

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