My Career: On song for the choral festival

Elaine Fitzgerald, Manager, Cork International Choral Festival, May 1-5, tells us about her role
My Career: On song for the choral festival
Elaine Fitzgerald is the new manager of Cork International Choral Festival.

Name: Elaine Fitzgerald

Age: 42

Lives: Wilton, Cork

Job title: Festival Manager, Cork International Choral Festival

Salary bracket: In any festival, funding is a precarious activity and varies from year to year, being dependent on grants from various government bodies, but my salary is commensurate with my previous salary in the private sector. Ultimately, the salary scale was not a deciding factor in my acceptance of the new role.

Education background: After completing my Leaving Cert I graduated with a Degree in Business Studies with Marketing from Cork Institute of Technology.

Hobbies: With three young kids, hobbies at the moment are slightly on the back-burner, weekends are a blur of kids’ activities, training sessions and €5 parties!

Describe your job in five words: New, Invigorating, Creative, Varied, Imminent (with the Festival being only around the corner)

Describe yourself in five words: Problem-solver, organised, leader, curious, enthusiastic.

Personality needed for this kind of work: So far, the key traits required to be festival manager are ‘people-orientated skills’ with a heavy commitment to organisation. I’m sure as we move from the planning phase into the festival itself I will need to be very calm and have the ability to keep the show on the road, no matter what obstacles are thrown in front of us.

How long are you doing this job? Seven months so far. This will be my first experience of the Cork International Choral Festival as manager, and my excitement is matched only by my nerves, currently!

How did you get this job? Since returning to Cork from Dublin in 2003, I worked at Cork’s 96FM & C103 as Promotions Manager. I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the job, particularly the management of outside broadcasts and promotional events. During those years I worked with almost all of the festivals in Cork and always enjoyed the experience. When the Festival Manager’s role came up it offered me an opportunity to try a new path, one which I am very excited to embrace.

It does feel quite a long way from where I started out. While I was studying in CIT I was employed as the Campus Rep for Independent Newspapers. This led to an unexpected offer to cover a maternity leave with the then Evening Herald in Dublin, after graduation. The Promotions Manager job was a great first job. The role was exciting and such a change from life in CIT.

The move to Dublin opened up a number of opportunities, and was great for getting to know others in the industry. After the Herald, I worked for a number of years for Creative Marketing Solutions (CMS). This was far from regular 9 to 5 hours, it was an event-led environment where client needs were front and centre. It was a perfect fit at that stage of my career, and the basis of a great social life too. The challenges I faced and conquered in the real time environment of event management were great for my self-confidence. This role really showed me that good planning and strong team work are the keys to a great event.

I have taken that lesson with me through my subsequent roles, and it will be tested once more during my first Choral Festival in the coming weeks.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? For this type of role, practical experience of event management is key. I know from experience that despite all the best plans, something will always crop up during any event, so the challenge is to plan for the unexpected!

The other challenge in running a festival like the Choral Festival is that despite the phenomenal talent that will be performing, you have to remain focused and remember you are responsible for the big picture: the environment for the choirs, the experience for the audience, the return for the sponsors, the reputation of the City, and the prestige for the Festival.

The planning for next year is already underway, but this year’s outcome sets the starting point for next year.

Describe a day at work: The job is very seasonal in its nature, with the whole year building to a crescendo of activity and song for the festival come the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Planning for the festival takes two years so there is always plenty to be taking care of.

No matter what time of the year, there are always enquiries from prospective participants and grant applications to be dealt with.

The weeks after the festival are filled with reviews and reports. As this is my first year in the role, I have not experienced this yet. Through the summer, the focus is on wrapping up the festival just gone, getting the funding reports written and returned, and organising the school programs for the new academic year.

As seasons change, so too does the focus. Autumn means working with the international choirs to confirm participation in the next festival. Winter then changes the focus to the Irish festival participants. The new year starts to tighten the focus on the upcoming festival, when the preparation work really kicks in.

The level of planning and attention to detail behind the scenes is huge. The festival program for instance is over 100 pages, and needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains true to the planned events. It also contains technical details of the music, composers, arrangers and performers which must be both precise and concise.

How many hours do you work a week? It is a full-time role, so for much of the year the hours are traditional, 9 to 5.30, but in the last few weeks in the lead-on to the festival the hours have increased.

What do you wear to work? It’s normally smart-casual, depending on the day that I have planned and the need to dress-up or dress down.

Is your industry male or female dominated? I’m still settling into this new environment, but from the meetings and interaction I’ve had to date, it has been a pretty even split.

Does this affect you in any particular way? Not particularly, it’s how you are treated and how you treat people that concerns me. No matter who you are dealing, you must always be professional.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: It can be! Getting the programme to the printer on time was a stressful week, and I’m anticipating a few weeks of stress ahead. So, going forward I’m expecting nine months stress-free and three months of full on, non-stop thinking about work, 24 hours a day!

Do you work with others or on your own? We are a small office for most of the year, with an incredibly supportive board, but as the work has picked up the team has increased over the past few weeks and we absolutely couldn’t run the festival without the fantastic teams of volunteers who come back to support the festival year after year.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? May Bank Holiday Monday! I am sure the festival team and I will all be ready for some R&R once the festival wraps, but the enthusiasm I can see in our board members, and our wonderful volunteers, tells me we will all be back here again eager to continue to grow the festival and enhance its reputation very quickly.

Best bits: I work in Civic Trust House on Pope’s Quay. It’s a beautiful early 18th century house shared by a number of Cork’s festival organisers. It seems there is always some event about to get underway and there is always energy and excitement in the air.

Worst bits: Cork has a wonderful array of festivals throughout the year, but this year, each passing one seems to me like a countdown to Choral Festival. As this is my first year in the role, everything is new and that brings its own unique pressure. I am really enjoying the new challenge but I have to say I can’t wait for the festival to start at this stage!

Advice to those who want your job? Volunteering for festivals would be a good starting point to see if the environment suits you. You need a wide variety of skills to be able to keep all strands of the festival in check. You will need to be willing to get stuck in and get your hands dirty and then step back and let it all unfold as you planned and not micro manage the entire event.

Any other comments? Cork International Choral Festival, from May 1-5, is focused on the promotion and development of choral music, and we protectively guard the its international standing and reputation. It is Cork’s longest running festival, this being its 65th anniversary, and year after year, the festival team set out to uphold and build on its high standard. However, we in the festival are also really proud of our great city. The festival promotes Cork worldwide, and our great volunteers and the wider Cork public capture the hearts of all visitors — national and international — year after year. Through schemes like Composers in the Classroom and the Choral Trail, Cork International Choral Festival gives back to the city, enriching Cork’s abundant arts scene. We are proud too of our impact on the local economy, annually the festival is now worth an estimated €10 million to the city.

I am really looking forward to the 65th Cork International Choral Festival, I hope readers will come along and enjoy and maybe even take part in some of our events. We have a broad and varied programme, including fringe and gala concerts, national and international trophy competitions, a choral trail around the city and events like the Big Sing in City Hall which are open to everyone, so come and join in the song!

For the full programme of events see www.corkchoral.ie

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