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Cathy Al-Ghabra

Cathy Al-Ghabra, 25, works at British Council Arts, is on the board of the European Music Council and studied a BMus (Hons) at Cardiff University from 2006-2009 majoring in performance and ethnomusicology. 

The time I spent at Cardiff University has affirmed a life-long love of music and singing as well as carving a path for a varied and rewarding career in arts management and performing.

During my music degree I studied singing performance under John Hugh Thomas who continues to inspire me in my performing. I was lucky enough to sing in the chamber choir, run three of my own choirs, and was privileged to sing solos with the chamber orchestra and as part of symphony orchestra and choral society events. Cardiff is full of opportunities to sing with excellent groups outside of university, and I was a choral scholar at BBC National Chorus of Wales, and sang in Welsh Sinfonia Chorus, Cantemus Chamber Choir Wales, Swansea Bach Choir and others.

Aside from performing, my favourite subject was ethnomusicology, which opened my eyes to a world of musical cultures and traditions beyond my experience at the time. I opted to write an ethnomusicology project instead of a dissertation, focusing on South African choral music. I am convinced that if I hadn't taken ethnomusicology I wouldn't have ended up where I am now, especially with my current work in the European music scene.

After my degree I felt a little lost, as I'm sure lots of people do. The beauty of a music degree is that it gives you the freedom to choose a wide variety of paths, the difficulty being you need to make a decision about which path to go down! I was desperate to sing professionally but having been Lunchtime Concert Coordinator I also wanted to explore arts management, and running several choirs during my degree had also stirred a strong interest in teaching. I had fallen completely in love with Wales and didn't want to leave, but at the time job opportunities in all three of my interests were slim. I was facing a dilemma!

What happened next? long have you got? Through many ups and downs, my CV expanded with a patchwork quilt of qualifications, including a PGCE in Secondary Music and an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy, unpaid arts management internships and voluntary work, and a mismatch of paid work including performing, a director of music job in a secondary school, a peripatetic choral directing post, freelance producing and administration, international festival management and a job in concerts management at a professional chamber orchestra. My 'career' so far has been exceedingly challenging and has provided a plethora of experiences - there have been times when I worked 80 hours a week and there have been times when I have been unemployed.

These days I work almost solely in arts management and have the great honour of a permanent post on the music team at British Council Arts in London, where I work with a talented set of highly experienced music advisers to bring the best of British music to the rest of the world through intercultural dialogue and cultural arts management. In my spare time I am a board member of the European Music Council and a member of the Youth Committee of the European Choral Association, as well as a regular choral singer around London.

One day I hope to make choral performance a more permanent part of my working life, but for now I am keeping busy singing in a few London-based choirs who have recently offered me some insane opportunities including headlining Glastonbury, Hyde Park and the 02 with The Rolling Stones, recording with Duran Duran for their up-coming album and various work for Gareth Malone. 

I strongly believe that you make your own luck in life, and if you want something enough you will get it, though there will be many ups and downs to encounter first. As a fresh minded 18 year old entering Cardiff University music department there is no way I could have predicted the weaving path I have walked so far, but with continued advice and support from staff and peers I met at Cardiff University, I have always been able to refocus and motivate myself.

My advice to someone starting a music degree is to utilise every opportunity you get offered and on top of that, create your own opportunities. Network with everyone you can, keep in touch when you move on. Use the resources available to you in the city you live in, but most of all, when things don't go the way you'd hoped, don't give up, try a different path, you can achieve your goals.