The Oamaru Mail is catching up with the new teachers throughout the Waitaki district. This week, Waitaki Girls’ High School teacher Sophie Pilbrow chats to Kayla Hodge about her love for the arts.
Q Tell me about your background, Sophie.
I grew up in Hawke’s Bay and studied at Iona College, where I found my love for performing and the arts. I was cultural prefect in year 13 and also, at the time, the only student to be taking music in my senior years. I moved to the Waikato to study at the University of Waikato for a bachelor of music in classical performance, voice. I graduated in 2019 and decided to continue my studies in 2020 by doing a graduate diploma in secondary education, music. In 2021, I balanced my time by working on a polo/pre-training stud and being a relief teacher in two schools.
Q And you’re working at Waitaki Girls’ High School now. What are your roles at the school?
I started working at Waitaki Girls’ at the start of this year. I am the music, drama and performing arts teacher. I teach year 9 performing arts — and we usually put on a showcase at the end of their rotation — year 10 music and drama, and year 11, 12 and 13 NCEA music. I lead the school choir — we are heading to Big Sing in June — and I’m a part of the Oamaru Youth Orchestra and have just joined Musical Theatre Oamaru.
Q Do you come from a musical family? What attracted you to music?
Actually, I don’t come from a musical background, unless you consider my mum playing the radio thinking she’s musical.
At school, I had always taken piano lessons. I was given an upright piano and I thought I better learn how to play it. At high school it was compulsory to be in the intermediate choir and I remember getting the opportunity to go and watch the opera The Marriage of Figaro and thinking, ‘Wow, I want to do that’. It was magical, not only the performance but the singing, the costumes and the connection the singers were giving to the audience. That’s when I started singing lessons.
Q I hear you’re a very good opera singer. What attracted you to that genre?
I think I started learning opera when I was roughly 14-15. I was fascinated by singing in different languages.
Ultimately, I couldn’t actually sing, I sounded terrible, but I just kept working at it and then my voice kind of just came. I joined this group called Project Prima Volta, where high school students were given the opportunity to perform on stage with opera singers. It honestly was a dream come true. I actually was in a horse accident right before I started university, where I lost most of the hearing in my right ear. The journey to being a singer was never easy. I love what I do, so losing my hearing didn’t stop me continuing.
Q Any memorable performances you’ve been involved in?
Being involved in Project Prima Volta — I performed at Food and Wine Classic events, basketball and rugby games, at rest homes, the Blyth Performing Arts Centre and Napier Opera House many, many times. One of my favourite performances to date would be the opera Elixir of Love by Donizetti. We got to work with international opera singers. I got to work closely with an Armenian opera singer throughout this time, and she gave me lessons, advice, and the confidence needed to be able to perform on stage. This really grew my confidence and positivity of how I saw myself. A few of my other favourite performances were on my 21st birthday, I performed a Telemann cantata in St Peter’s Cathedral in Hamilton and then straight into singing Haydn at Clevedon Presbyterian Church in Auckland. For me it’s not about where you perform but the audience you connect with.
Q What do you enjoy about drama?
I enjoy being able to step into different characters’ roles and portray a sense of emotions we may not have in our everyday life. I also love being dramatic, so drama really works for me.
Q What are your thoughts on Waitaki’s art scene so far?
I think I’ve been into the Oamaru Opera House three times already, just to see the stage. I can’t wait until Covid has fully settled and we start seeing more events throughout the community, such as the MTO showcases and the opera house back in action. I want to also get my students out performing in the community, just to give them performing experience. If anyone has any opportunities, please let me know.
Q Outside of work, and the arts, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m a bit of a horsey girl — half my life I’ve been involved in the polo scene. I’ve just joined the local Young Farmers Club — which I’m so excited about. But in all honesty music and horses balance me out and I wouldn’t change that.