“I’m part of the Busk in London scheme, meaning I have a license to busk in the train stations around London, but more regularly I go to Kingston Upon Thames to busk in the marketplace. It’s a wonderful space with street food stalls, shops and lots of people willing to stop and listen on a weekend.Josephine Shaw
There’s always the opportunities I get from busking. London is such a vibrant and creative city, and you never know when the right person is going to walk past and give you an incredible opportunity!”
At just 16 years of age, Josephine Shaw’s classically trained vocals are not what you would expect to encounter as you rush to London’s Waterloo Station or stroll the pavements of Kingston Upon Thames. But hear them you will, if you are lucky enough.
This young singer has a vocal maturity way beyond her years. Born in Chicago, USA, Josephine’s American parents moved to the UK when she was only three. She says her accent is Mid-Atlantic – “a strange mix of American and British that I’ve picked up from my parents.”
We invited Josephine to Busker What’s Your Story? so you could hear her beautiful voice and we could find out a little more about her musical theatre aspirations and her busking experiences.
You have an incredible voice. What drew you to musical theatre and singing?
I feel like I’ve always had a love for singing. I was that weird kid making constant strange noises or humming to myself, much to the annoyance of my family! When I was around eight or nine I started taking lessons, which made me realise how much I loved to express myself through performance.
I saw my first musical, Wicked, for my eighth birthday, and was obsessed! I listened to the soundtrack on repeat, and I loved how musicals expertly combine acting, singing and dance, and that such uplifting, moving and fantastical stories can be told through this wonderful art form.
Do you play an instrument?
I play piano, but when I busk I tend to use backing tracks to get that orchestral sound that fits really well with classical music. When I recorded my EP, titled ‘Nightingale’, Ben Robbins, the producer of the album, provided me with some really high quality backing tracks for some of my songs, that I now use when busking. They’re beautiful, and it really enhances the experience.
Do you write your own material?
I currently don’t, but I would love to.
Being a classical singer, most repertoire performed is already written unless you are a composer, and with musicals, most songs that I sing are from, well, musicals!
When I was in LA for the first time over the summer, I met up with musician and songwriter Justin James, he helped me write my first song, called ‘Pause’. It’s about taking time for yourself in such a busy, pressured and stressful world. It hasn’t been produced, but if you scroll back a little on my Instagram page to July, (or go to my IGTV), you can find it. It was such a great experience, and I feel like songwriting is a deeper way to express myself through music that I want to explore in the future.
Where do you busk and how many times a week would you busk?
I’m part of the Busk in London scheme, meaning I have a license to busk in the train stations around London, but more regularly I go to Kingston Upon Thames to busk in the marketplace. It’s a wonderful space with street food stalls, shops and lots of people willing to stop and listen on a weekend.
As I’m 16 and am still in school full-time, I busk once a week, generally on Saturdays and Sundays when the market is busiest at lunch. However if it’s during school holidays, you’ll find me busking a lot more often!
You’re not a ‘typical’ busker. Was it intimidating at first to sing on the streets?
I actually wasn’t that intimidated at first to go busking!
While I have a tendency to get nervous about small things in day to day life, performing is when I feel most at home and true to myself.
I feel like I was very encouraged by seeing other buskers performing, especially in Kingston, which is very close to my home. Not too long before I started busking, it felt like the streets were filling up with more and more buskers, and I was becoming more aware of them.
Christmas was on its way, and I felt inspired to try it out myself (singing Christmas carols and other songs to spread some Christmas joy). I did really well, and it was a very positive experience for me, so I’ve been doing it ever since.
What are some special moments so far from busking?
Something that’s very rewarding for me as a singer is to see the reaction I get from my audience when I busk. Music can be an incredibly powerful thing, and when someone tells me that my music moved them emotionally, it means a lot!
I also love when people tell me that they’ve started to enjoy classical music after listening to me sing. Classical-crossover is a genre I love, which combines classical music and other styles, and I really believe it has the capacity to reach a wider audience.
And there’s always the opportunities I get from busking. London is such a vibrant and creative city, and you never know when the right person is going to walk past and give you an incredible opportunity! Just from busking, I’ve been asked to sing for weddings, a yoga class featuring live music, and for the prestigious Coutts Bank on the Strand, London.
What is a favourite lyric from any song that means something to you?
One of my most popular songs is Nella Fantasia. It’s in Italian, and I absolutely love the meaning of the lyrics. One of the verses translates;
‘In my fantasy, I dream of a just world, where people live in peace and honesty. I dream of souls who are always free, that soar like clouds, full of humanity, in the depths of the soul.’
In this time we are constantly hearing news of wars, grief, unjustness and suffering. Yet this song encourages listeners to hope and act for a better world, to dream about how the world could be. I hope that people take some steps themselves, however small, to move forward despite the worldly struggles we encounter and get a bit closer to that dream.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received in your young life so far?
Something that has been very significant for me as of late is working on my self confidence, especially when interacting with other people in the music industry.
I feel my most confident when I perform, but when I’m talking to others I find myself diminishing my own achievements, in fear of sounding cocky or unrealistic.
My parents have been so wonderful in supporting my dream to have a music career, and they’ve really encouraged me to be confident in myself and clear in my communication with others.
Something that is also vital to remember is to be kind. Kindness goes a long way, and being confident in yourself doesn’t mean you’re putting others down! The music industry can be very competitive and sometimes even toxic, and it’s important to remember to support other musicians to help create the positive community we know the music industry should be. And when you’re confident in yourself and have a network of other lovely musicians who support you, it’s easier to face the risk of rejection from auditions, and maintain a healthy attitude to keep following your dreams even when it gets difficult.
You have such a mature voice for 16. Have you auditioned for stage shows yet?
Thank you! Yes, I’m currently 16 so it’s sometimes a struggle to balance all my school work as well as my music career at the same time, but I’ve managed to stay on top of it so far!
When I was younger I auditioned for the child roles in musicals, like Matilda, Young Cosette or Young Fiona from Shrek the Musical, but now I’m 16, I’m at that phase where I’m too old for child parts, but too young to be hired for adult roles.
I’m currently looking for an agent, so by the time I’m 18 I can audition for musicals. I am also passionate about being a solo artist, which means that while I can’t audition yet, I can work on producing another classical-crossover album, and getting more performance opportunities as a solo artist. I would love to open for another classical-crossover musician on a tour.
What’s next for Josephine Shaw? Will you busk for us here in Australia one day?
In the next few years I’m planning to get another album out, and by then hopefully I’ll have a bigger following of people who are invested in listening to the music I have to share.
It’s a dream of mine to be signed with a record label to help produce that album, and by the time I’m 18, I want to be signed with an agent for Film, TV and Theatre, and auditioning for musicals too.
I’m considering taking a gap year after I finish my A-Levels (More British exams taken across the country to get into university), so that I can dedicate time to developing my career and making connections – I’m even hoping to live in LA for a few months.
I’ve never been to Australia before, but I would absolutely love to go. Being a fan of Opera, Sydney Opera House is a must-see for me, and I have some friends who have moved over there that I need to visit. I would love to busk over there if I ever get the chance, and a gap year would be the perfect opportunity to try!