When I first began studying at AUB, I gave myself one rule: to look outside the box. I’ve always had multiple artistic interests, summed up concisely through my A-Levels of Music, English Literature and Textiles at school (they’re definitely my Roman Empire). University is a place where we gain knowledge of not only our chosen discipline – BA (Hons) Costume, in my case – but also experience new things, meet new people and start to form our own perception of the world around us. It’s the time to explore who we want to be as people; for me, this has included investigating how my creative passions can combine.
Now, a key fact about me: I’m a classical singer, currently working on my second post-Grade 8 music diploma alongside my degree, through the University Music scholarship scheme. I’ve always loved how music can evoke emotion – transcending time and language to share a story. It’s from this idea that my interest in costume stemmed: both use the medium of art to say the unsaid. Choosing between music and costume in terms of my future career path has always been a challenge for me, but I’d love to be an example of how your varying interests can complement one another and celebrate you as an individual.
My most recent university project sought to do exactly this. I collaborated with Lisa Timbs, a.k.a. The Square Pianist, a fantastic historical re-enactment musician who I met by chance at a rehearsal in 2018 when, it just so happened, she was in need of a singer who was also handy with a sewing machine. After starting out performing pieces from Jane Austen’s music collection over the past few summers (living out all my Elizabeth Bennet dreams), we had a fantastic opportunity arise: a commission from Shibden Hall Museum to perform music from Anne Lister’s personal collection in full period costume.
Lister is a fascinating character that many across the world fell in love with through the recent BBC series Gentleman Jack (Wainwright, 2019–22). As one of my first professional live jobs, this was a big deal, and I knew my costume would need to be special. After discussing with my uni tutors, I decided to create the costume as part of my final year degree coursework. So, over the 2023 autumn term I was fully immersed in ‘Lister-land’ – researching not only her life and story, but the wider context of 1830s Yorkshire and how fashions of the period varied.
Whilst Lisa curated a costume reminiscent of Lister’s eccentric style, mine had the brief of contrasting in every way possible: reflecting popular, feminine styles of the era. This project pushed boundaries in terms of skill and time management, and felt the very definition of unconventional – traditionally, the music and costume of a production are approached from separate angles, by separate people. However, it showed me that the best experience you can bring to your studies is, ultimately, yourself.
Returning to my (slightly cliché) box analogy, ask yourself this question: do we even need the box at all? As artists, our job is to push boundaries and respond to the world around us. For me, that was frolicking around Shibden Hall in an 1830s cotton day dress. But for you, it could be anything at all. That’s the most exciting thing about education – it’s for you to discover.
If you’d like to find out more about this project, there are several updates on my Instagram and Lisa’s website. Lisa and I will also be performing at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this September, where I'll be wearing a hand-made Regency era costume. When the Anne Lister project fully launches later this year, the recorded music videos will be available on the Shibden Hall and Calderdale Museum websites, as well as on site at both museums in static displays.