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'How to keep your cool in front of 30m people? Be OK with failure' - Irish woman conducting Oscars


DREAM ROLE: Galway-born Eimear Noone will be the first woman to conduct the orchestra at the Oscars. Photo: Steve Humphreys

DREAM ROLE: Galway-born Eimear Noone will be the first woman to conduct the orchestra at the Oscars. Photo: Steve Humphreys

DREAM ROLE: Galway-born Eimear Noone will be the first woman to conduct the orchestra at the Oscars. Photo: Steve Humphreys

When Eimear Noone was 15 years old, she would stand in her bedroom, eyes closed, arms waving wildly, in front of an imaginary orchestra.

Tonight her teenage dreams become a reality, when she steps up to the podium before Hollywood's elite and 30m viewers, the first woman ever to conduct the orchestra on Oscars night.

In a world of pressure and perfection, when mulling over how she will stay calm, the Galway woman gives a piercingly humble answer: she is OK with failure.

"You would have to be dead inside not to feel something," she says on her pre-show butterflies. But the challenges she faced down in the early days of her career have built a steely resolve.

"There are naysayers in every career and I had to break through a huge amount of that - much of it gender based - in the early days," she tells the Sunday Independent.

"That was the hardest time - when you need the resolve to keep going and keep planting one foot in front of the other."

But, as with mastering anything in life, she says she learned that "failure is so much a part of the learning process".

"You have to get to a place in your mind and your heart and your spirit that you are OK with failing and failing better. That's a very hard place to get to."

Being thrown in the deep end as a young conductor helped Eimear learn how to accept the possibility of stumbling in front of an audience: "You can practice technique by yourself but the real practice is done with an orchestra in front of you, God bless them. They may be playing for decades but they have a conductor who is learning on the job because that is the only way to learn."

Over the years she worked her way up to become a conductor before the biggest orchestras in the world - including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, l'Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne, the Sydney Symphony, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and several other national orchestras.

She then went on to write award-winning scores for World of Warcraft and Warlords of Draenor, earning a global reputation as ''the Irish Queen of Game Music'.

Asked if conducting is a male-dominated industry, she says: "Yes - and it still is."

On the reasons why, she says: "It's a question I have asked myself many times... it starts at the educational level with a dearth of encouragement so we need to go back to the beginning and ensure young girls are being encouraged as much as young guys are."

She says she has been on the receiving end of sexism "both subtle and overt" but this weekend her mind is only on the strong men in her life who have cheered her all the way: "There are amazing men who are my champions such as Rickey Minor [the director of the Oscars and Whitney Houston's long-time musical director] and Craig Stuart Garfinkle my husband and co-composer.

"In this moment in time I have so much support from my male colleagues so that is where my heart is now."

Describing how a woman who succeeds lifts another woman with her, she says each woman's success creates "a little positive moment we can build on".

In the words of Marian Wright Edelman, "you can't be what you can't see'' - and Eimear points out that the opposite works too.

"There is the Turkish-American composer Pinar Toprak who made history by becoming the first woman to score a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and then there is Hildur Guonadottir [the first solo female to ever win a BAFTA Award for Best Original Music for her work on Joker].

"It's amazing to see these little moments become more moments and we want to continue to build on it."

On her own Oscar night performance, she says that it has been helped by the fact that two women are producing this year's Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles: "This has very much got to do with the work and philosophy of the two producers of this year's awards, Lynette Howell Taylor and Stephanie Allain.

"They are using their big moment at the Oscars to give an opportunity to another female colleague and I am the beneficiary of that." And she has passed on the baton to another Irish woman. "I get to wear an outfit by Irish designer Clare Gavrey so that's another Irish female artist represented at the Oscars. And so the chain continues."

Sunday Independent