POW!er Profiles : Emily Peasgood

emily peasgood pow thanet

Today we chat to composer and POW!Thanet contributor Emily Peasgood.

Emily will be known to many in Thanet for her choral installation,  ‘Lifted’, where 70 people and a beat boxer performed in the lift at Turner Contemporary. She also recently explored issues around migration and home inspired by the anniversary of the Zong Massacre in Crossing Over. Emily explains ‘I moved to Thanet in May 2015 from Whitstable. However, I’m a Northern lass from Grimsby in Humberside. I found myself ‘down South’ after completing University in London, wanting to get on the property ladder but not being able to afford the smallest bedsit in London. At the time Whitstable was affordable. I lived there almost ten years but got itchy feet. Moving to Thanet was in part due to a desire for a new experience and in part a financial decision. My mortgage in Whitstable was expensive and I needed somewhere bigger. The house I moved into has space for studio which is what did it for me in the end.

Thanet also has a lot to offer me. In addition to my work in Margate and Broadstairs I loved the art community and the many great musicians that live in Ramsgate. I’ve always liked the architecture of Ramsgate and the harbour. Ramsgate reminds me of my home town, but considerably nicer. I have to be near the sea, otherwise I feel trapped. I feel at home here, have friends who just pop by for a cuppa, and love my view of the sea. It’s inspirational.’

Regeneration is often spearheaded by artists, but can cause other issues. ‘Since I moved here in 2015 house prices have risen and I’m glad I moved while I could afford to. There has also been an influx of artists and musicians which has brought about new opportunities to work with interesting people and expand what I do.’

Emily wrote ‘Birds for POW!Thanet in 2016; ‘I think International Women’s Week is an important way to celebrate the achievements of women. I’m a feminist at heart, and in the arts particularly there has been a history of hidden female composers. The “greats” as we know them do not include many women because it wasn’t the done thing to compose music back then, or women couldn’t find support, patronage and publishers. Now things are different but there is still a disparity - right down to the male-composer-dominated music curriculum. Thankfully, many organisations are successfully addressing this.

There are many issues facing women and girls today. Issues that have particularly impacted upon me are gender disparity in the job market, body image, and my choice to live a non-conventional, non-married and childless lifestyle. I’m focused on creating art and music, and this is what gets me. There is pressure on women to do the traditional thing and for some, life happens in the way it does and it makes sense. However, people frequently feel sorry for my lack of children. They needn’t - I’m quite happy with my life, and there are plenty of children in it that I can spend time with and then leave with their parents! I’m also happy with my overweight body, don’t follow fashion trends, and avoid reading magazines and adverts that might tell me otherwise. Regarding the pay disparity, I stopped working for dribs and drabs years ago, and decided I was someone who was worthy of a great pay check regardless of my gender. It was a scary choice, and for a while I was struggling, but it paid off in that I receive a fair fee for what I do and people respect that. I’m not embarrassed of asking for decent money for my work and no one should be, whether male or female.

In 2015 I was commissioned by POW! to create a piece of music in celebration of women’s week. I created BIRDS, a piece that explores how women are compared to birds - in the style of a documentary about the rituals of birds. This year I have been commission to extend this piece to include men. I’m quite excited about this challenge, and have some ideas brewing.  I think POW! has had a great start and will only go on to do bigger and better things. The camaraderie and support between the committee, artists and participants is supportive and inspiring. I hope that commissioning female artists to make new work inspired by women’s week might become an annual feature.

As well as composing, Emily is doing a PhD and works with a number of choirs; a very busy life! ‘To be honest, I’m often late on self-imposed deadlines (and some non-self imposed) but I’m honest about my lack of ability to do everything at once and people are usually forgiving. In these situations I find it best to communicate and be honest. I am busy and pull 70-90 hour weeks on average. I have started saying “no” to job offers since the second year of my PhD. This is my final year of study and I’m hopeful a decent work-life balance will happen once l complete. When I work on my PhD, a new composition or sound installation I block out entire weeks. I can’t compartmentalise between roles as I get tunnel vision, obsessing until the work is complete. During these periods of time I can often be found working in pyjamas, living off cheese and pickle sandwiches and drinking far too much tea. Occasionally I’ll take the dog for a walk, play with a rubik’s cube or drive to the shop - all in pyjamas. Nothing gets done, other than the work. And pyjamas are clothes anyway. I prepare for these periods of time by planning in advance, so I don’t have to worry about preparing for my choirs, as I’ve already done the work.’

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Photograph by Lee Thompson