Q&A with Beth Schofield, Circus Musician, Traveler, and Former Head Tech at Tedgroup
Photo courtesy of Beth Schofield
Beth Schofield is a traveling musician. Originally hailing from a small town in Cornwall, England, she is currently living in her seventh country and loving life on the road. Classical training at the Royal College of Music in London was the starting point for a life of exploration in the musical styles and technical concepts that she constantly strives to assimilate into her work. In 2013 she earned a Master of Arts in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) at Berklee’s campus in Valencia; the following year, she remained to pursue a Master of Music in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation. Most commonly found on tour with international circuses, Schofield also enjoys training in aerial arts and is currently working on her own music. She’s also taken on the task of converting a van into her own little house and studio.
Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in Berklee’s Contemporary Performance and Music Production, Technology, and Innovation programs at the Valencia campus?
By the time I graduated from the Royal College of Music in London, I had acquired solid training in classical technique on clarinet and recorder (yes, the one you learn in primary school). I also had a nice portfolio of teaching jobs in and around London and really enjoyed the outreach work I was doing with all varieties of people. After five years in London, however, I started to think about other possibilities. One day I saw an audition call for circus musicians and thus began this wild journey.
I spent two years with the United Kingdom–based Giffords Circus in a motley band of musicians of all backgrounds. I realized that my rigorous technical training could only take me so far, and soon I started looking for places where I could soak up a much wider influence of styles, techniques, and attitudes towards music—particularly folk and jazz. I knew that Berklee College of Music was the place to be, but I had a rough idea of the costs involved in studying in the U.S. I also couldn’t commit another four years of my life to an institution. Of course I visited anyway and, as if in answer to my conundrum, right at the end of the tour I saw a little flyer for Berklee’s campus in Valencia. Several emails and a Skype audition later, I rolled up into Valencia to join the inaugural class of the Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) graduate program.
That was an incredible year. The people and the facilities were like nothing I had ever seen before, and it gave me a taste for more. I spent my final semester delving into an exploration of show control and live electronics with Stephen Webber, who encouraged me (I didn’t require much encouragement) to apply for the new graduate program: Music Production, Technology, and Innovation.
Beth Schofield (second from the right) was part of Berklee's Scratch Ambassadors band.
How has your Berklee experience influenced you as a professional, and what from the experience do you carry with you now?
Berklee is an intense experience. Every atom in the air contains something new to learn. My first year was liberating in that I could spend all my time exploring new styles and cultures, but this also presented a challenge: to find the ability to absorb everything while not losing yourself. This is a skill I’ve used daily since. When your eyes and mind are open, you are bombarded constantly with new, exciting, terrifying, wonderful things - the trick is to observe all this, retain, and even assimilate it while keeping a solid grip on your own self.
My second year was even more vigorous. School was open for longer hours, and we were in it for all of them. Sleep was a thing of the past, coffee replaced food, and my mind was being introduced to concepts and technologies I had previously only been able to daydream about understanding.
I left Berklee’s campus in Valencia swimming in ideas, new skills, and understanding, also having vastly increased my global network. Two years later, I am still working through assimilating all of this, and I’m not sure that will ever be completed. That’s fine by me. The experiences I had in those two short years will keep me going for a lifetime of discovery and exploration.
What about working as a head tech at tedgroup was most fascinating and enriching as a professional for you?
I rather fell into working for tedgroup. After my internship semester in New York City (working at Virtue and Vice Studios and Harbor Picture Company while living the broke-student-in-Brooklyn dream), I was applying for anything and everything. I was set on going into a technical role and being seen as something of a career-change candidate. Having studied abroad (the U.K. is a bit snobby about that for recording arts), it wasn’t the easiest. So I was rather taken aback when tedgroup called saying they wanted me to run the show (literally) on the Greek island of Crete. It was a very educational experience. Having learned all these new things at Berklee, the one area I hadn’t done much in was live sound. I quickly learned that live sound is a lot about damage control and mitigation rather than the pursuit of perfection. I also had to learn lighting and visuals on the job. I learned that delegation can be hard but necessary. I managed to shed a lot of my mask and ego, realizing that I was in a world I knew so little about. That can be a painful process but so very worth it. I loved the idea of the role, but working for a large company was less satisfying, and after moving to Tenerife with them, I had to decline the offer to continue in Egypt. I had to come home and reassess.
Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you are currently working on and how those experiences are enriching you as well?
After tedgroup, I was feeling a bit lost. I wanted to be playing again, but I loved live theater so much. One day, an innocuous Facebook message popped up. It said that a friend of a friend of friend knew a guy who was looking for musicians to tour with a circus in Denmark for six months. I knew straight away that this was meant to be. I called a circus musician friend, easily persuaded her to apply with me, and a few weeks later we were on a plane to Copenhagen to join Cirkus Arena. Our little band toured with 30 articulated trucks, 12 dancers, 11 acrobats, 10 horses, six camels, five llamas, three elephants, two sea lions, one very large tent, and a small army of men who kept the show on the road, moving the whole affair every single day.
This winter I will be with Herman Renz Wintercircus in Holland and have every intention of staying on the road for as long as I can. In fact, I just bought a van to live and work in. She’s beautiful—her name is Nana. Between circus tours I’m using my time to expand horizons even further. I’m currently in Belgrade, Serbia, on holiday, relaxing, learning Serbian, playing music, teaching aerial yoga, and eating all the food.
What are the tips you'd give to current students who will be entering the professional world this year?
If you feel a little overwhelmed with information and ideas right now, that’s okay. Embrace it, and use it as fuel to go and do. Don’t expect to assimilate to everything right away; rather, take the opportunity to explore one or more avenues further. If you find that your first route is not for you, give it a chance, but also look to move on and evolve. Consider saying yes to everything (but know when to say no).
And let go of that ego; it’s just holding you up. Remember: wisest is he who knows that he does not know.
Is there something else you want to share with us?
My favorite quote, an Einstein classic: ‘Life is like riding a bicycle: to keep your balance, you must keep moving forward.’ (I’m terrible at riding a bicycle, but I like to think I’m all right at life.)