Icenian Interview – Rebecca Birks

Rebecca Birks

Rebecca Birks

1) What year did you begin and leave Langley?
I was at Langley to do my A Levels between 2004 and 2006.

2) Which A Levels did you gain?
I did A Levels in Music, English Literature and Psychology, and an AS Levels in Critical Thinking and Biology.

3) During school, did you know what career you wanted to pursue?
I was a Music Scholar and throughout my time at Langley I knew that I wanted to study Music at university. At that time, I assumed that the only career options for me in music would be to perform or to teach – I was very wrong on that front!

4) Which of Langley’s co-curricular activities were you involved in?
Unsurprisingly, as a Music Scholar most of my time outside lessons was spent in the Music department. I was a member of the choir, orchestra and Dixie Band, and we were always preparing a performance of some kind. As well as all the school events, including House Music, the carol service, the cabaret evening and Prom in the Park, we also regularly performed at the Royal Norfolk Show, in the Norfolk Music Festival and at other events.

I was heavily involved in the production of two school musicals, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in my first year, and Me and My Girl during my second. As a new pupil, getting involved in a large musical production in my first term was a great opportunity to get to know staff and students from across the school.

What I loved about Langley was that I also had the chance to take part in activities that weren’t musical. I had never been particularly sporty or athletic, but for the two years I was at Langley I played netball for one activity session a week. I was by far the weakest member of the team, but I was encouraged to take part by both students and teachers and I turned up every week and even started to enjoy myself! One of my proudest moments at Langley was when I was awarded the “most improved player of the year” cup at the annual sports dinner – the trophy is still on my shelf at home now. I was never going to be the strongest player, but to have had my commitment and tenacity recognised taught me an important lesson.

5) Have these activities helped you since school?
I think the most important thing I came away from Langley with was self-belief and a willingness to give something a try and be open to new things. At Christmas of my first year, I was challenged by the Music department staff to take up a new instrument and to enter my Grade 1 that summer. I chose the saxophone, and as well as passing my Grade 1, by the end of my time at Langley I was playing the saxophone in the jazz band and orchestra. By taking on this one simple challenge, I was forced out of my comfort zone; I went right back to being a beginner on an instrument again, but it opened up so many opportunities I would never have otherwise had.

Time management was critical to my time at Langley, and is a skill that I rely on daily. The demands of juggling three A Levels plus taking part in all of the co-curricular activities forced me to make the most of every spare second.

6) What did you study at university?
After leaving Langley I went straight to Royal Holloway, University of London between 2006 and 2009 where I got a first-class degree in Music.

7) How did you career begin?
When I arrived at university I was convinced that I wanted to either be a full time professional performer, or a music teacher. However, I quickly realised that professional performing life wasn’t going to be for me, and that there were so many other ways that I could have a career in music without teaching. I was lucky enough to have a university tutor who pointed me in the direction of music festivals and summer schools where I could volunteer and spend time learning more about the roles that were available in music “behind the scenes”. I volunteered for two summers at a variety of places across the UK, building a network of contacts and making life-long friends. These volunteering experiences helped me to secure an internship in a major artist management company straight after graduating.

After three months interning in London, I landed my first job in Cambridge as an Assistant Artist Manager, working with international choirs and classical musicians. Then, in 2011, I took a position as Concerts and Tours Manager for The King’s Singers, supporting 120 concerts across the world each year. After five years working in music, I decided I wanted to use the organisational and management skills I had developed in the charity sector. I worked for an educational conference centre in Windsor Great Park for two years, before I secured my dream job as Events Manager at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in 2016. In April 2021, I was promoted to Head of Events and Ambassadors for the charity.

8) So far, what have been your post-school highlights?
As Head of Events for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, it is a highlight of my job that I am responsible for events that take place in Royal Palaces with Members of The Royal Family in attendance. I am honoured to regularly deliver events in Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace and I never want to get to a point where I take my job for granted.

I also felt hugely privileged to have the opportunity to meet and speak to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh when I first started work at the charity in 2016 and to subsequently watch him interact with young people at presentations – his commitment to young people was inspiring and he was always interested in exactly what they had done to achieve their Award and what they had learned from the experience. Following his sad death earlier this year, the charity received more than 2,500 testimonials from people who wanted to share how much the DofE had impacted on their lives, and it was amazing to see how his vision from 1956 had made a difference to so many lives.

I have been short-listed for the 2021 Rising Star Award at the Third Sector Awards. As national awards for the charity sector, it is great to be recognised as an emerging new talent and to be seen to be making my mark within the charity sector.

9) On reflection, did your time at Langley help your attitude towards career choices and progression?
One of the most memorable opportunities offered was when the Royal Military Band of the Dragoon Guards came to Langley for an education day and a concert. As well as hearing them perform I had the opportunity to work with them for an afternoon, spending time with several of the band members and being able to learn from them. Following this day, I was invited to join them as a dep for a couple of concerts across Norfolk which gave me my first experience of playing in a professional orchestra, and they also put me forward to attend a week at the Royal Military School of Music. Although I chose not to pursue music through the Army in the end (although it was a serious consideration for a while), through that initial afternoon at Langley I discovered that Army music could be a career option and was given the chance to train and perform alongside professionals.

10) What advice you would give to students considering Langley, their A Levels or careers?
I came to Langley on a scholarship having previously been at a comprehensive school, and I was really worried that I wouldn’t fit in. I couldn’t have been more wrong – I learned on day one that background didn’t matter and that Langley was there to offer everyone an opportunity to thrive, whatever their interests or strengths. Langley is somewhere you are valued and nurtured as an individual and the staff work tirelessly to give everyone a chance to shine.

The school motto, perseverando, is in essence what Langley taught me – to keep going, even when the going gets tough, to always try my best, and to embrace whatever opportunities come my way.

For those people who are now embarking on their career – be open to the opportunities that might come your way and don’t think that previous decisions you have made have to define your path. Always be nice to everyone and build networks wherever you go – you never know when you might cross paths with someone again! If there is a chance to learn something new, grab it with both hands.

For those who are now picking A Levels, choose subjects that excite you: don’t pick a subject you’re not interested in because you think it will be good for you. It is so much easier to work hard if you enjoy what you are studying, and you are going to spend two years getting very well acquainted with the subjects that you pick! Make sure that you also take time to make the most of the broader opportunities that Langley offers – there is so much available to you.

11) Your fondest memory of Langley?
I was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform a concerto with a professional orchestra at the end of my second and final year at Langley as part of the annual Prom in the Park. I had been asked if I would perform about nine months before, and to have had that level of belief in me demonstrated by the school, and to perform as a soloist to over 1,000 people is something I will never forget.

12) Final thoughts
Langley is a school full of people who care. I am so grateful to all of the staff who supported me through my two years, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without their belief and commitment and all the opportunities they provided me with.

There is something unique and special about coming up the driveway to Langley (particularly on the day you pass your driving test and drive yourself for the first time!), and I hope that sense of excitement and safety will be one students are able to experience for years to come.

Published On: September 16th, 2021Categories: Icenians, News