Introducing: Caroline Modiba

“It doesn’t really matter what skin colour you are, if you’re talented enough then that’s where you should be”.

I got involved with classical music when I was still in school in South Africa. There were choral music school competitions and the finals took place in winter. And then the opera section was introduced and I thought “why not try my luck”. I made it to the finals and I made an impression to a few people who later introduced me to Sannie Streicher who was a voice coach. I took lessons with her while I was completing my high school diploma. After graduation I decided to study Bcom Management (business course) which had nothing to do with music but then music found me again. I was still taking singing lessons with Lorraine at this time and I heard about auditions for young artists training programme. I went to audition and got accepted in the 3 year training course with the Black Tie Ensemble which was an opera company with their own training programme. After completing the course I was accepted as a member and started earning money through my talent, which was great I thought.

There’s a lot of people of colour in the industry already, especially singers and for me it doesn’t really matter what skin colour you are, if you’re talented enough then that’s where you should be. It would be nice though if we could get more people of colour in the audience. I haven’t had any bad experiences as a black person in the industry and all the good experiences I’ve had I believe had to do with my talent and not my skin colour.

Caroline was one of the soloists in Verdi’s Messa Di Requiem performed by Birmingham Conservatoire. You can listen to her phenomenal voice in concert here and here.

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Birmingham Conservatoire

Sunday’s stunning concert was particularly significant not only for the conservatoire but also for the Birmingham music scene. The Adrian Boult Hall has been a prominent concert venue for the last 30 years and this farewell concert was the last before its demolition to make way for developments in Birmingham’s city centre.

If you missed the original broadcast on BBC Radio 3, don’t worry, it’s still available! Click here. The full concert  is also available to listen to on youtube. I had the absolute pleasure of working with one of the finest conductors in the business: Barry Wordsworth. His positive, uplifting and encouraging attitude along with his infectiously warm personality made rehearsing a breeze and an unforgettable concert.

After the resounding success of the “Requiem for a Concert Hall” concert and a brilliant review, I began to think about Birmingham Conservatoire as an institution and how it is viewed by those in the music sphere.

Birmingham Conservatoire was founded in 1886 as the Birmingham School of Music – yes 130 years ago. This really surprised me as the conservatoire is actually only 4 years younger than the prestigious RCM (founded (1882).

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This status says it all.

 

Having been a sixth former at a specialist music school, I have to say that there seemed to be a particular emphasis on students studying music in London. When I was auditioning for conservatoires, there wasn’t much conversation about Birmingham Conservatoire or many other music colleges outside of London. I almost felt like there was a pressure to gain a place in London just to prove my worth. For me, I had a pretty realistic idea of where I wanted to study so I didn’t actually audition to RCM or RAM. Initially, it turned out that I was the only person in my year that was going to study in Birmingham whilst the majority of the year gained places in London. Similarly to the Facebook post above, comments by others made me feel like I was joining a less prestigious and sub-standard conservatoire compared to others. I feel like people were only impressed about my place at Birmingham Conservatoire when I casually mentioned that I’d been offered an unconditional  place and a substantial scholarship. This is sad because it is a great achievement alone to be entering into a conservatoire seeing as there are only 9 in the UK!

There is an attitude floating around that the only reputable conservatoires are in London. This is simply INCORRECT. Don’t get me wrong, the music colleges there are brilliant. After my BMus course,  I would love to do a postgraduate degree there but studying music in London is not the be all and end all.

Since joining in September, I have found the conservatoire to be a vibrant and friendly  atmosphere overflowing with exceptional talent from all departments. Particularly with this concert, there was a strong sense of camaraderie and solidarity amongst the students. The academic teaching in addition to the music teaching is outstanding and there is support coming from every corner. Just recently, I was taken aback at the talent at the Junior Conservatoire and the high level of teaching it provides. Also, our principal Julian Lloyd Webber has been friendly, approachable and generally present and very involved throughout the year (which has been his first year as well as mine). Birmingham Conservatoire was definitely the right place for me to be and I truly believe that I would not have made the same progress at any other institution. Furthermore, I’m happy to say that in September 2016, there will be 6 Purcellians at the Birmingham Conservatoire (all with scholarships) so I think attitudes and perceptions are changing for the better. I’m positive that the new building (opening in 2017) will be an influence factor in bringing many more young musicians to consider studying at Birmingham as their first choice rather than 2nd or 3rd.

Don’t forget there a number of notable alumni  (to name a few):

  • Mike Seal
  • Laura Mvula
  • Richard Van Allan
  • Rhydian Roberts
  • Mark Gasser

To anyone who does not have an informed opinion about the college, please listen to the concert – it is a perfect reflection of the high standard of music-making that is achieved at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The recent concert has definitely confirmed the fact  I am very proud to be a student there.

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*Cover photos of concert by Greg Milner Photography

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