How Jane Maudsley tuned into the performing arts industry with Little Voices

By focusing on imparting confidence and soft skills, Jane Maudsley is helping kids become stars with Little Voices

How Jane Maudsley tuned into the performing arts industry with Little Voices

If it weren’t for a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, Little Voices may never have come to be. Jane Maudsley was sitting a Blackburn coffee shop and a chance comment from Holly Hammond, her former head of drama at school and future co-founder, provided the cue for the idea for Little Voices, the kids drama and singing lesson franchise, to emerge from the wings. “She said: ‘We offer so much to children that as a teacher, even though I’m teaching these big classes, they still want more’,” Maudsley recalls. “Within six or seven weeks of having that conversation, we had opened Little Voices.”

Growing up as a child in Blackburn, Maudsley certainly had enough exposure to entrepreneurs building their own companies: both her father and grandfather had been business people and this definitely had an impact upon her. “I was really inspired by their journey,” she says. “Business was always in my blood.” However, even then, Maudsley wasn’t one to dance to somebody else’s tune: rather than following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, from a very young age she demonstrated a predilection for performance and music. “I demanded to have piano lessons from the age of three: I was one of the youngest that had ever taken them,” she says. “I had tiny little hands and had to stack books up to be able to even sit on the stool.”

But while the young Maudsley evidently had a huge appetite for learning about performing arts, she was underwhelmed by the experience of studying it at school. “I was quite disengaged from music and drama academically: it didn’t inspire me,” she says. “I had fantastic teachers but it was more the people surrounding me that weren’t really interested in music and drama: they viewed it as a doss lesson.” However, it was outside of the school curriculum that Maudsley’s passion for performance was allowed to take centre stage. Not only did her additional tuition give her a chance to master her melodies and hone her harmonies but appearing in productions like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Phillip Schofield whet her appetite for appearing in the limelight. “The extra singing lessons I had, the performances that I did outside of normal school hours were what engaged me,” she says. “They gave me the hunger to do more.”

Having grown up around working professionals and yet having developed real prowess as a performer, when Maudsley came to make her decision about what to study at university, she found herself in two minds. “I had to decide whether I was going down the academic route and going to Durham University to study to become a lawyer or going to follow the music route,” she says. And while Maudsley feels her father would have preferred her to choose the former, it was her mother’s advice that finally encouraged her to pursue her passion for music. “She told me I should follow my heart and that was really important,” Maudsley says. “She said: ‘do what you’re passionate about, do what you know will make you want to jump out of bed every day.'”

While Maudsley had been excited by the prospect of studying music at the University of Sheffield, the reality fell a little flat. “My first degree wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” she said. “Once again I was a little bit disillusioned and thinking ‘have I made the right choice?'” With just four hours of contact time a week, Maudsley felt the course failed to engage her and while a module in her final year to create and manage a musical or performance event allowed her to stretch her wings a little, she had grand ambitions she felt unable to fulfil within the course. “I was still headstrong in wanting to be an opera singer and sing professionally,” she says. “I’d done loads of performances outside of university and that’s what I wanted to do really: put on my dress and perform.”

Fortunately, after graduating and spending a year working at her family’s business, Maudsley finally got her shot to do just that when she went to study for a master’s degree in performance at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. “I loved that I was in college every single day; the hours were full on and you learned a lot,” she says. “It gave me a much better understanding of opera, classical music, myself and my own strengths and weaknesses.” The fact that the course gave Maudsley the chance to find her voice as a singer and build up a broader perspective of the industry was invaluable, although she did begin to notice that she and other people on her course weren’t always singing from the same hymn sheet. “They were very much happy to sing the Messiah on a Saturday and do choral societies, which is the bread and butter of the industry,” she says. “I preferred the commercial side but you wouldn’t speak about that publicly: in the culture of classical music and opera it wasn’t considered fitting.”

 /></p>
<p></p>
<p>While Maudsley was still eager to pursue a career in opera once she had her master’s, the budding performer also realised she had to find a way to make ends meet while she did so. Given she’d already done quite a lot of teaching during her time at university, that seemed like the obvious choice. “I wrote to my old school, as well as all of the schools in the area and music schools across the county,” says Maudsley. “Basically I went for every interview that I could and ended up with four or five different jobs working as a singing teacher.” Coming back and teaching singing at her old school was an opportunity Maudsley relished, particularly as there hadn’t been much provision for singing lessons in the local school system when she had been growing up. But the way music tuition was viewed in the wider education system began to bother her. “The way you were viewed by the greater school community was quite harsh,” Maudsley says. “The value it gave a child wasn’t really appreciated and that was highly frustrating to me.”</p>
<p></p>
<p>And as the curriculum has become increasingly fixated with STEM skills and training kids solely for their future careers, this is an attitude that has only become more prevalent among politicians and schools boards. “They only see performing arts as use for someone who is maybe aiming to go on the West End stage, end up on television or be a famous actor,” says Maudsley “It’s not about that. It’s about the confidence and life skills that it gives to a child.” While it’s unlikely that every tyke who treads the boards will end up in The Book of the Mormon or appear on the BBC, performance can prove invaluable in allowing them to practice all manner of skills. “It’s not about the performance element really,” Maudsley says. “It’s about the things that children learn that they can transfer into other areas: life skills like eye contact, posture, breathing, handling anxiety and nerves, effectively communicating with the spoken word, good diction and pronunciation.”</p>
<p></p>
<p>And this is the insight that lead to Maudsley’s conversation in the coffee shop, kickstarting her and Hammond’s consideration of how they could create a model that would help deliver some of these overlooked elements. “It’s absolutely about the fully rounded development of children,” Maudsley says. “Every child’s got something really special and amazing to share and it’s about giving them the confidence to hook into that to the best of their ability.” And while this focus on softer skills may sound a little philosophical, Little Voices also offers much more concrete benefits for kids. “You’re building a child’s CV from a very young age so they’ve got something to show for all their years of commitment to singing and drama,” says Maudsley. “Every child goes through the exam syllabus with the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art; children who are 15, 16, 17 or 18 get extra UCAS points from the exams they take so it helps them to get into university and college.”</p>
<p></p>
<p><img decoding=

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Russell
Josh Russell
RELATED ARTICLES