Blazing A Trail: Anna Lapwood Returns to OHS

13 November 2019

Oxford High School was delighted this term to welcome back Anna Lapwood (2013) as part of the Senior School careers programme organised by Dr Strobel.

Anna is a trailblazing musician: she was the first female organ scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, and was appointed Director of Music at Pembroke College, aged just 21. Today, alongside her work as a Director of Music and conductor, Anna hosts a live, weekly classical music show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, appears as a regular contributor on Radio 3 and continues to perform an extensive programme of organ recitals on some of the greatest instruments across Europe.

Perhaps the first thing to say about Anna’s visit to OHS is that, right from the start, she identified as the very epitome of an OHS girl. That’s because, far from using her visit as a platform to list her own achievements or recite platitudes of encouragement, she used the hour she had with Years 10-13 as an opportunity to deliver a stirring, at times eye-opening and yet always heartfelt message of support and encouragement to the girls.

Clearly recalling the days (not so long ago) when she herself was up on the benches in the main hall, Anna told a selection of anecdotes that illustrated the amazing highs, but also some of the setbacks, she has faced as a young woman seeking to establish herself in the traditionally male environment of classical music. Some of the measures Anna has resorted to as a consequence of this prejudice – such as changing the way she dresses and deepening her voice to a less ‘girly’ register – were genuinely shocking to the girls.

And yet this became the real ‘take-home’ message of Anna’s visit. During the Q&A, it was clear from the girls’ questions that the idea of having to change one’s dress and identity to fit in or avoid unwelcome attention, was genuinely shocking to them. But Anna was quick to find the positives here. She made it clear that this is the job facing all of us: to create a world in which those prejudices will no longer impede the progress and fulfilment of women. It’s a vision inspired by this school, a community of girls and young women, as well as teachers both male and female, who are all committed to creating a genuinely equal, meritocratic society.

We’re not there yet, Anna admitted. But judging by the sense of determination and excitement at the end of her session, it’s only a matter of time.

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