Artists in Quarantine: Lizzy Humphries, singer

21 May 2020

The new blog series throws the spotlight on Genesis artists in lockdown: directors, writers, actors, musicians and artists, who have had to figure out ways to stay creative and practise their art in a completely new way, sometimes in extremely challenging circumstances.

The Foundation wants to give the Genesis network an opportunity to showcase what they have been up to, to share the challenges they face and to show, with the intention of inspiring others, how they find resilience and creativity in lockdown.

Lizzy Humphries

Lizzy is a soprano and began her career as part of the Genesis Sixteen V. Her highlights include performances with The Sixteen, The King’s Consort and Britten Sinfonia Voices. Lizzy is a ‘Making Music UK Selected Artist’ meaning she regularly performs as a soloist with UK choral societies. Solo highlights include singing Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa at the NCPA in Mumbai and performing arias at London Handel Festival.

My time in Genesis Sixteen was the catalyst to my singing career – it was what made me decide that singing was what I wanted to do with my life and so I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. I’ve enjoyed singing professionally for the last three years but, like many other musicians, in the middle of March all my work disappeared and everything started to look a little bit different.

It was a very peculiar experience watching all of the work I’d been looking forward to and working towards just drop out of my diary. The first thing I learnt was how easy it was to see nothing but the negative. I was (and still am!) a selected artist for Making Music UK and had seen my work as a soloist really start to pick up. I had planned for this season to be the one where I made my first steps into the world of being an oratorio soloist and losing it was really hard.

My first decision was to come up with a plan to move forwards so life didn’t grind to a halt. Like many young couples, I boldly decided to move in temporarily with my boyfriend. He’d had to move out as he was living with a vulnerable person so we thought ‘why not give it a try?’. We haven’t killed each other yet (despite a heated discussion over the deserved winner of a game of Wii Golf) so I feel very happy with my confinement situation.

Musically, it’s been tricky to carry on working as I was before. It certainly took a few weeks of adjustment. It’s been exciting to learn new skills, and found that this time has particularly helped me improve my technological skills. I’ve been blown away by the kindness of people I’ve previously worked for and the creativity they’ve shown in finding new ways for me to carry on working. I’ve recorded solo pieces in my living room with an organ playing through headphones which has been a bizarre experience, particularly when I imagine it being used for a virtual church service, but it’s been very rewarding. I’ve even been able to sort an online recital in June.

Without having the day to day gigs it can feel like your career is slipping through your fingers, but every time I get to sing something for someone, I remember why I’m doing it.  It reminds me that I love singing and that’s why it’s worth still pushing forward and working hard. Besides, at some point, the work will return and I want to be ready for it. Luckily, my singing teacher is running weekly zoom group lessons so that her pupils can all share their experience of learning while in lockdown. Hearing the opinions of other singers and acknowledging their work ethic has really helped to push me forward at a time where it’s so easy to be stagnant. 

I also have something a bit different in my life that is really helping to get me through this time. Last September I decided that I needed to find some sense of routine in my routine-less life as a freelance musician. While I was busy, nothing was ever repeated week on week and I felt it was affecting my productivity. I’ve always loved animals and in a moment of madness I thought I’d try out volunteering at Vauxhall City Farm. The farm is a charity that exists as a community project enabling people in the local area to see animals in the city and educate them on nature.  Alongside my musical career I now spend time caring for the animals and running education workshops for children from local schools. 

While seemingly everything else in the world has stopped, the animals still have to be cared for. So, twice a week, I’m still cycling over to Vauxhall looking after all the animals. It’s a busy time at the farm and we’ve had the arrival of two beautiful baby goats and two lovely lambs not to mention a chattering of chicks! 

Lizzy and one month old Hemmy

For me, switching up my life and including something completely different to singing has been a hugely positive experience. If there was any advice I could impart to other young artists it would be that while it is so important to dive head first into your musical career, finding the time to do something a little different can spark inspiration in ways you’d never expect.

For me, the fresh air, the exercise, the new people, the bond I’ve made with the animals and the brand new skill set have all helped to keep me mentally active which continues to push me towards improving myself and my music.

I come back from my days at the farm tired (in a good way), refreshed and more energised which always means I get straight back to music.  Having something different in my life has also helped me get through this difficult lockdown situation.

It can be so hard to motivate yourself when you’ve been left with an empty diary and I think musicians too often beat themselves up for not spending hour after hour practising. Taking a small amount of time to learn a different skill can really help you reset and restore your love for your art.

I don’t think that I’ll be earning a proper living from singing for a long time and so I am applying for jobs that revolve around caring for animals in the interim.  I feel very lucky that I have picked up the practical skill set in the last year that has enabled me to apply for these jobs as it gives me hope I’ll still be able to earn money doing something that I enjoy.

Being fairly new to self-employment has meant that I’m not getting very much money out of the self-employment scheme as it’s based on a three year average, so I absolutely have to get a second job for now. I don’t have the option of saving money by moving back with my parents as I am on a fixed-term contract so unfortunately I have to keep finding ways to pay my rent.

Obviously I never intended to have to find another job, and in some ways it’s heart-breaking, but I’m trying to see it as a really exciting opportunity to live out the common question of “what job would you have done in another life?”, just for a little bit. It will be an excellent story when I’m famous, right?! Jokes aside, I truly believe that the only way to get through this is to find the positives, and take every unexpected change as a great opportunity. For me, that is the best way to stay motivated and committed to my art. 

Once this is all over I hope to hit the ground running, auditioning for a Masters at music college and branch further into opera than I had before lockdown. I’ve been using this time to learn as much repertoire as I can, getting creative with technology and improving my keyboard skills. I’ve been very fortunate that people have thought of me for their concerts next year and I hope to do that kindness justice by not letting my practice routine slip while we’re in isolation.

I’ve found moments of extreme calm during this time and I’ve really appreciated the space to reflect on the things that work and the things that don’t.  I want this to be a positive point in my career, not a negative one. I intend to look back and know that I used every day to my absolute advantage and above all, I need to make sure the momentum that I’ve built up since lockdown started is continued when it is lifted.

Find out more about Lizzy here and about the Vauxhall City Farm here.

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