About the artist(s)
Sacha Langton-Gilks was trained by Laura Sarti at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Roles included Euridice and Ilia (Idomeneo) as well as lieder and oratorio. She lives in Dorset with her family and ran the Primary School choir for twenty years. She teaches singing locally alongside work as a garden consultant, writer, and child health campaigner. Highlights from Sacha’s conversation with The Enormity of Now are below.
Who are you and what do you do?
I never thought I had to answer that question, because, I know who I am. But, I realize that I’m lucky that I know where I came from. So, I’m a bit of a muddle of Irish-Danish-English. And then, all of those divisions I never think about. I suppose I’d have to say – woman, writer, singer, gardener, country dweller, mother, wife, sister, auntie, daughter, godmother, friend, foodie, environmentalist, child health nut. That probably just about covers it. What I like about performing is that you can explore any number of different identities that are very far from the ones that you have! That’s what’s such fun.
Most of my income is from teaching singing. That certainly isn’t just what I do. I speak to health care professionals about children’s palliative end-of-life care. I also earn a bit of money as a garden consultant. A tiny bit of money from writing. But there’s an awful lot of mostly unpaid things, to be a useful member of our local community, the Brain Tumour community, palliative care community – all the communities that intersect in who we are.
How did you get here?
Very messily! I’d love to think that I’ve made these fantastic, impactful decisions, but I realize that things happen. Things happen and then you have to deal with them. In my case, my oldest child got a brain tumor. Then you spend your time, mostly as a full-time carer or nurse for a child who is critically ill. And the impact on the family. Certainly didn’t plan that.
From a singing point of view –from about 16, once I discovered you could be this thing called an opera singer, I was like “RIGHT! That’s it!” and I was obsessed with it. But I ended up, effectively, burning out. Had a sort of minor breakdown. At the time, it felt like I was driving an incredibly fast car. I loved the music and I loved the acting. Looking back, I realize there was very little balance in my life. I needed to just calm down, really. but I didn’t know how to do that. This fast car I was driving, it was like I didn’t know what most of the knobs did. It was a question of time before I completely lost control, crashed the car. But I got better. At the time of my burnout, I swore I would never sing again. I was really sick of being this sick, stressed-out, neurotic person. Which didn’t feel like me at all.
It lasted about two years. And I had my eldest and I realized that I couldn’t help myself. I am a singer. I don’t function properly unless I am singing. Having an actual career as a performer is a whole, different thing. I needed to sing, otherwise, I couldn’t function. But I didn’t need to be a professional performer.
How has the journey of your art/career engaged your voice – personally, artistically, politically?
Teaching taught me all the knobs in the fast car that I didn’t know what they did. Now, I feel as though I can properly express myself, even though I’ve lost some of the really high notes I used to have and the voice isn’t quite as flexible. (I’m a mature singer now!) Now, I can sing how I want, which I never could as a younger singer. That’s what teaching did. I’m very lucky and I do really enjoy the relationship I have with my students.
Personally – well, I need to. There was a point in my life when I completely lost my voice and I couldn’t even speak. The shock of how disempowered I was. I would have to blow a whistle to stop the children from doing something dangerous because I couldn’t shout. It was absolutely terrifying. It was terribly difficult. If you literally don’t have a voice…
Politically – when our eldest got very, very ill and then, unfortunately, died from his brain tumor – you’re trying to cope with the grief. You’re smashed – physically, emotionally, financially. In every direction. But you’re still trying to keep the family together and try and function. My singing voice enabled me to find joy in grief when I did not think I would ever find it again. Even though I promised my eldest who died, he said “you will be okay, won’t you?” I had to promise. I had to find a way of doing it. Singing Bach’s Wedding Cantata – you can’t help yourself. It’s like a short circuit to the brain. I would be in joy singing that piece.
Also, politically, it is still very difficult being not listened to and blocked by politicians when you’re trying to give a voice to children and young people who have died from brain tumors, children’s cancer, sepsis. Children are dying and they’re not listening. They’re promising things and then they don’t do them. Basically, you’re not being heard and it makes me very, very angry. I find that very hard to deal with. But, at least I can speak, I can write. I can still keep going and still keep pushing.
What is the voice that you found while finding your voice?
Mine! It’s nobody else’s! That is what’s amazing. Our voices are totally unique and they are a complete reflection of every aspect of us – our culture, religion gender, sexuality. Everything. I found mine.
Sacha Langton-Gilks was trained by Laura Sarti at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Roles included Euridice and Ilia (in Idomeneo) as well as lieder and oratorio. She lives in Dorset with her family and ran the Primary School choir for twenty years. She teaches singing locally alongside work as a garden consultant, writer and child health campaigner.