The distinctively clear-toned voice of English soprano and early music specialist Dame Emma Kirkby can be heard on hundreds of recordings. But while she became a pioneer of historically informed performance, Kirkby forged her career not through the standard conservatory route, but almost incidentally through a love of singing in choirs and amateur groups.

When I catch up with the soprano over the phone from London ahead of her performances with lutenist Jakob Lindberg in Melbourne, Bermagui and Sydney, she explains that there was “nothing special at all” about her introduction to music, she was simply a “typical small child singing in the family car.”

Emma Kirkby Emma Kirkby. Photo © Mary Roberts/Decca

“I went to a series of schools because my father was in the Navy,” she explains. “So we moved a lot, and I was rather lucky with those, some of the earlier ones. Certainly from the age of eight I was aware that singing was fun, and from the age of ten I really loved it – but only as a choir singer, it never occurred to me that solo singing was a big deal.”

That love of communal singing would follow...