What are you up to in your creative work at the moment?
I am the Communications Manager for the London concert venue, St John’s Smith Square, and for the London Festival of Baroque Music. I’m also a Trustee for the charity Youth Music. I’m really proud to support and promote Youth Music’s fantastic work, and as the first care-experienced person to graduate from the University of Oxford with a degree in music, I understand firsthand just how music can shape a life.
In terms of my own music-making, I’m the saxophonist in the Jess Fitz Band. Jess and I met at University and were founding members of Oxford’s first all-female funk band, ‘Sisters of Funk’. We recently released a lockdown music video of Jess’s latest single ‘Saturday Night’, which you can watch here.
Away from music, I spend my time advocating for people who have experience of the UK’s foster care system. I run a YouTube channel called Care Leaver Sophia, where I talk about my own experience with care, and I also work as a Digital Coordinator for the IMO Hub, a platform for young people with care experience, managed by the Children’s Commissioner of England’s Office.
What are the highlights of your arts career to date?
Good question! Here are my top 5:
Working as a runner for the BBC and getting my debut TV credit on the BBC 1 broadcast of the ‘Last Night of the Proms’.
Getting to travel abroad as a touring musician - I toured to America and Thailand with my former band. Sitting on a rooftop in Harlem watching the Fourth of July fireworks go off right above me after playing the final gig of a New York tour was pretty surreal…
Combining my love of politics and the Arts by getting to talk about BOTH as a panel speaker at the World Government Summit in Dubai.
Hosting ‘Sophia’s Big Band Corner’ on the Jazz London Radio (my professional radio presenting debut) and getting to interview a range of guests, from saxophonist Bob Mintzer, to Orange is the New Black star, Lea DeLaria.
Being invited to Buckingham Palace last year for my ‘services to Children in Care’ after starting a YouTube channel dedicated to educating the general public about the UK’s foster care system.
Which level(s) of Arts Award did you do, and how did you use it to develop your creativity or skills?
I took the Gold Arts Award when I was 16. My main project was organising a concert at the Conway Hall in London. The concert raised £1,000 to help send my classmates on a musical outreach tour to Sri Lanka with the charity ‘The Commonwealth Resounds’. The concert was the first time I had single-handedly organised an event, and I loved every second of it. I think this was the first time I realised I wanted to become an Artistic Director.
As I completed the award, I documented my progress using vlogs, which I recorded on my laptop’s webcam. Flash forward 7 years later, and I’m still making vlogs, but this time they’re for my YouTube channel...and now I use an iPhone.
During my Arts Award, I also volunteered my time helping to run musical outreach projects in local schools and music centres. This was the beginning of a love for volunteering and since then I have volunteered across the world in a variety of roles, from a Surfing Instructor in South Africa, to a Turtle Midwife in Costa Rica!
Thinking back, so many of the skills I take for granted today such as presenting, concert management, event planning, videography and working with young people, all started with my Arts Award training. I’m really grateful to my school (The Purcell School of Music) for offering the course and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in the Arts to do it too.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years time?
At the end of last year, I reached out to one of my biggest idols in the music industry, who I’m now chuffed to say is my mentor. They’re the Artistic Director for one of the most prestigious venues in the UK and in the space of just a few months, they have already taught me so much.
In the next 10 years, I want to become one of the world’s youngest Artistic Directors at an internationally renowned music venue. I’m aiming for this type of career so that I can use my platform to:
Promote accessibility; I believe a musical education should be for everyone
Support and widen entry into the music industry for people from all backgrounds
Challenge the stereotype that ‘people with a history involving the foster care system can’t be successful’ (because guess what - they can).
What advice would you give to young people doing the Arts Award who want to follow in your footsteps?
Stalk the people that inspire you on LinkedIn. Seriously! I wanted to know how my idols got where they did, so I researched their career paths. It might sound basic, but if you want to know how someone got somewhere, LinkedIn is usually your best bet at finding out.
Also, don’t be afraid to slide into those LinkedIn DMs. The messaging feature is there for a reason! This is how I first contacted my current mentor, who was good enough to agree to meet me for coffee, and our relationship started from there.
If you’re interested in a certain career, research WHO is in that career right now and reach out to them. Ask them questions, ask for advice, ask to meet up. Never be afraid to ask. The worst thing they can say is, “no”.
Where can people find out more about you?
You can find me @sophiahallsax on both Twitter and Instagram. If you’d like to learn more about me and how I got where I am today, check out my YouTube channel here youtube.com/careleaversophia.