Leicester medicine graduate helped Antiguan children’s orchestra whilst finishing studies

A student from the University of Leicester helped an Antiguan children’s orchestra whilst finishing her medical degree.

Mimi Bird, who graduated on Friday, 21 July, spent seven weeks teaching children the viola in her spare time between her shifts on placement at the local hospital.

Mimi, who is originally from Cornwall, chose to go to Antigua to experience healthcare in the country where her father was born and currently lives.

She said: “I went as part of my medical elective, which is part of the course where you choose a placement for six weeks, and you can arrange it anywhere you want.

“You don’t have to go abroad, but for me, it was an obvious choice. My dad is out there, and I have a stepmum, two younger sisters, my grandma and my aunties.

“I wanted to give back to the place because, without Antigua, I wouldn’t exist. The island is part of me, and it might be the only chance I get to experience healthcare outside of the UK.”

She was inspired to help the orchestra after a conversation with cellist Young Musician of the Year winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason after watching him perform at De Montfort Hall.

Mimi said: “I happened to know that Sheku’s father is also from Antigua, so we went backstage and met him, which was amazing.

“I was just chatting to him about Antigua, and I said that I was going out there for seven weeks, and he said that I should volunteer and help the orchestra out there.”

Antigua and Barbuda Young Symphony Orchestra (ABYSO) was founded by University of Leicester alumnus, Her Excellency Karen-Mae Hill, the High Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda to the United Kingdom.

Mimi said: “We spoke about University of Leicester and how she started the orchestra from nothing five years ago and how they would be delighted to have me.

“The whole time I was there I worked towards the younger years. The youngest was 7 and the oldest was about 20 so they were completely different ages and completely different abilities.”

For Mimi, helping young people develop a passion for music is extremely important. Talking about her own start in music Mimi said: “I started learning in primary school for two years and didn’t really progress at all. I was really awful.

“Then when I was in secondary school, when I was about 14, I found out that anyone who had free school meals can have free violin lessons for a year because nobody was playing the violin.

“I was like, you know what, I have an old violin in a box at home from when I was a kid.”

Mimi continued: “After a year or so I changed to the viola and from the ages of 15 to 18 I went from a relatively basic beginner to doing my grade 8.”

Mimi says that she played for a year when she was studying at University of Bristol but stopped for three years.

She said: “I was 23 or so and I wondered what am I missing in my life. I need to do some things that bring me some more joy and I realised that what I did really enjoy was music.

“And then I came to the University of Leicester and I was so lucky because there is so much music going on and it is such a nice environment where everyone is so encouraged no matter what your level.

“I joined the orchestra and then I met some people who told me about the University’s music scholarships.”

In Mimi’s second year at Leicester, she received a music scholarship which meant that she was able to continue to have music lessons which she says she would have been unable to afford otherwise.

Mimi said: “I can definitely say that I have surpassed where I was when I was 18 and now I can finally agree that yeah, I am a little bit good.

“It was really nice that I was able to do that with the help of the scholarships here because I honestly would never have been able to afford it all by myself.

“And to be able to do it alongside my medical degree has been so nice because you can get it into your head that medicine has to be your whole life and you can’t have any fun if you want to be a doctor and that’s not true.

“I actually found my viola was one of the most important things throughout my medicine degree because when I play it, it calms me it gave me a break from thinking and allowed my mind to work in a creative, different way.”

Mimi is starting her first job as a doctor this month in Yeovil, Somerset.