Today we are hearing from the wonderful trombonist Hilary Belsey. I met Hilary in 2020 where she was trombone Musical Director in Macbeth at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Hilary performs a wide variety of genres spanning centuries, from Renaissance to present day. She performs regularly with the OAE, several times at Glyndebourne, the BBC Proms and on Radio 3. Hilary has played in over ten productions at the Shakespeare’s Globe and MD’d several of these. She regularly works as a deputy in the West End and as a session musician. Hilary is a keen educator and enjoys teaching trombone and encouraging the next generation in music making.
Beth: Hi Hilary! Tell me a bit about what you do and your work?
Hilary: I do all sorts, actually! I studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which is where I also met Letty. I started working at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in my final year at Guildhall and I discovered this whole new world of lovely musicians and wonderful music. I was and still do a real variety of playing…early music, chamber music, theatre work, some orchestral stuff. A real mix, and I enjoy teaching which I find really complements performing. And obviously in amongst having kids it has slowed and sped up, and slowed and sped up…
B: I was wondering what your family life is like?
H: Well we have four children! We have an 8 year old, an almost 7 year old, a 2 year old and a baby nearly 9 months old. So it’s busy and chaotic and loud and noisy and messy! Each time I have had a baby the return to playing has been different. Sometimes quite intense patches of work and sometimes a slower start back. When I had my youngest, luckily my husband had a 5 month paternity leave which meant for me that if I did get anything in those first five months I could be like ‘yes, definitely!’ whereas normally it is more complicated. Things are changing which is good to see. Childcare is a real challenge for many reasons for freelancers.
B: Can you remember your first performance back after your first child?
H: I don’t after my first, but I remember feeling a lot of fear that I had been forgotten. I do with my second as she was born premature, and spent 6 weeks in hospital. It had been an intense time and to rejoin something that was so familiar to me was incredible. She was about 5 months old and I performed in a wonderful production of Richard II at the Globe with five trombonists in the band . . . it was a lot of fun.
Music is such a beautiful job, it’s a huge part of your soul and your life, so when you stop doing it for some time it’s like something is dampened, and when you relight it, it is a lovely, lovely feeling. I don’t think I could not work, for lots of reasons, it’s always been quite natural for me to go back. I think some people find it quite difficult to go back, it’s such a huge, personal topic which makes it hard to talk about. There is no right or wrong.
B: It is a sensitive topic. No one wants to be judged for choices they make surrounding their
H: There are also some very traditional views. It is such a male-dominated world and when you add kids into the mix it is really interesting. It seesaws very heavily in one direction. It’s very much ‘jobs for the boys’ - ‘he’s just had a baby, he needs the work’. I don’t feel it’s the other way round. It’s more ‘oh she just had a baby, we probably shouldn’t ask her.’ I’ve actually encountered that. I bumped into a composer and he said ‘it’s really nice to see you, I didn’t realise that you were back? We were thinking about getting you on the show but one of the guys said you had a baby and weren’t working.’ Which was a massive assumption. I think this happens a lot.
B: What would you rather happen?
H: It’s a bit like being invited to a party. I would rather always be invited, even if I turn it down.
I feel like some people on some instruments unfortunately think ‘I can’t announce that I’m pregnant as I want to be booked for work’, and people shouldn’t have to feel like that. It should be a joyful thing to tell people you are having a baby.
B: For example, if you were in another job where you have more security?
H: It’s not at all like that and it’s a really sad and common thing for female freelancers to hide [that they are pregnant]. That needs to stop. It’s depressing that for chunks of my career I have had to remind people that I am still working.
B: Have you ever taken one of your little ones to work?
H: Yes, I have. I took a patch on with Glyndbourne and rehearsals started when one of my children was 6 weeks old. My husband came with me and would sometimes take half days, they gave him a pass so that he could be nearby. It was Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which is great as I was just playing at the beginning then have an hour off and they have very long intervals, so I could go out and breastfeed. Breastfeeding can be an awkward thing, I’ve done some very odd things like pumping in cars before rehearsals…I doubt this will be odd for a muso mum to read, but it is to others maybe not so aware of this side of returning to work.
B: Are there more things companies could be doing to make this easier?
H: Yes, definitely. In an ideal world, you would be asked if you need a space to breastfeed in,
rather than women having to go into a toilet and sit there for ages with a dodgy pump noise going on! Taking the responsibility off of women would be good. This is part of a cultural problem and everyone needs to be on board with change from a foundational level for it to happen.
Hilary is currently performing in Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre alongside other
freelance work and teaching. She will be performing with the English Concert this summer at