In this interview Ella Roberts tells us about her interesting career working in music and museums, including her previous role as Communications Officer for Handel and Hendrix Museum, and currently as Communications Manager at the Britten-Pears Foundation, the home of composer Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears.
Describe your career path
My background is in classical music rather than museums but I think music and history go hand in hand, especially when I have worked in a few historic buildings. My first job was in the box office team at the beautiful 18th century venue St. John’s Smith Square, Westminster and that is where my love for baroque music began. I then worked as an administrator for the London Chamber Orchestra where my role was wide ranging but really gave me good grounding and inspiration to focus on marketing. I then went to work for the Royal Over-Seas League, a commonwealth organisation that held a prestigious music competition every year as well as many events including a series during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which was pretty amazing). It was my next role at Handel House, now Handel & Hendrix in London, that was in the heritage sector and where I feel most at home. After nearly five years and the opening of the Hendrix Flat in February 2016, I decided to move on and am now settled in the Suffolk coast in Aldeburgh working for another composer organisation, the Britten-Pears Foundation, the home of composer Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears. The foundation is based in their home, The Red House, which is open to the public for visitors to explore. There is also an archive which houses an outstanding collection of manuscripts, letters, photographs and so much more.
What have the next 12 months got in store for you?
Plenty of exciting projects are in the pipeline! I’m developing the Britten-Pears Foundation’s website which will hopefully go live in June and there are some exciting events planned to complement our latest exhibition ‘Queer Talk: Homosexuality in Britten’s Britain’ that marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decrimalisation of the sexual offences act.
What Museum (other than the one you might work for) would you like to be locked in overnight?
There are so many museums to choose from but if I had to stay overnight in one, it will need to have a bed, so I think it would be Kew Palace. What a beautiful building with stunning interiors! And I like how they tell stories of the many people and families who lived there as you make your way up the floors of the house. Last time I went I even got a chance to see the attic.
What’s the most encouraging thing a visitor has ever said to you?
I’m pleased to say that I have had many lovely interactions with visitors but I particularly remember seeing their reactions when seeing the Hendrix Flat for the first time when it opened last year. Their excitement was infectious and many would share their stories of seeing Hendrix play or how his music made a huge impact to their lives. Being there to see that was really special.
If you could highlight one Museum Object, either in your own museum or elsewhere, what would it be?
Because of my musical background, it has to be the concert D Steinway housed in Britten’s Library at The Red House. Britten purchased it after his previous piano was lost in a fire that burnt down Snape Maltings concert hall after the opening night of the 1969 Aldeburgh Festival (which Britten founded with Peter Pears and Eric Crozier back in 1948). I love the fact that this instrument is still in use and loved by pianists who play on it with concerts we now hold in the Library.
What would you have been if you hadn’t been an arts marketer?
As a child you go through many phases and dreams of what you want to be when you grow up. From a very young age I always wanted to be an opera singer. That hasn’t really changed but it took many years for my voice to develop and work inevitably took over. I would have liked to have tried to see where it would have got me, but to be honest, I’ve been so lucky in the places I have worked and the people I have met that it hasn’t felt like I have missed out at all!