Why one mother in north London says: ‘Thank you for the music’

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Why one mother in north London says: ‘Thank you for the music’

Musical training has helped Katie Hainbach manage one of life’s biggest challenges. Now she is teaching the same skills to children

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

Katie Hainbach and her daughter Leia
Katie Hainbach and her daughter Leia

When Katie Hainbach’s daughter Leia, 5, was diagnosed with a rare mitochondrial disease in 2019, life turned upside down. Leia’s condition affects her brain, heart, hearing, vision, digestive system and kidneys.

What followed – and will continue – was a series of hospital visits, treatments, surgeries and wading through the red tape that goes with all of that. And yet Katie finds time to be head of music at North Western Reform Synagogue in Alyth Gardens and to launch Little Voices North London, which runs lessons and holiday camps for primary and secondary aged children.

Katie, 36, says the skills she gained through performing arts lessons as a child have helped her navigate the complexities of Leia’s condition, giving her the confidence to speak up for her daughter and herself when applying for (and sometimes having to fight for) essential therapies, home adaptations, grants and care hours. Singing and drama have also been vital in managing her mental health.

“I think so much of why I’m a strong, confident person, and why I’ve been a good advocate for my children, has been because I learned to speak and use my voice and not be afraid, especially as a woman. I am not afraid to speak and stand up for myself or to onstage and present and talk. And I realise that was from my training as a child, from stage school.”

Katie in her days as a professional singer

Katie wanted to give other children the chance to improve their confidence and mental health through singing and drama but with the right ethos “I didn’t want to start something that says ‘you’re going to be in the West End’  like, maybe they will, but that’s not the aim. I wanted to give children what I had. Because I’ve realised in the last five years, since I’ve become a mum to this special little girl, how important that training has been for me. No one wants to be in a position where you’re having to make big decisions, having to speak in front of panels for medical trials but doctors always talked about me being articulate and its highlighted to me how I am not afraid to use my voice. So much of that is down to my training and Little Voices is my way of giving something back.”

Little Voices is a national company that believes in the power of performing arts to help with life skills that children can transfer into other areas as they grow up: mood-boosting singing sessions to improve diction, breathing and relieve stress, and drama to promote communication, team building, and the ability to express themselves. Katie says that these skills will carry them through their teenage years into adulthood.

Katie grew up in Dublin where singing and drama were a huge part of her life. She moved to London in 2013 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for a masters in vocal performance. She then embarked on a career as a freelance opera singer and singing teacher. She was also a function singer as well as performing with choral societies. “I love singing musical theatre. I love singing jazz. I love singing pop. I just sort of… yeah, I just love music! I love being on stage.”

The Hainbach family

Katie and her husband Tom live in High Barnet and have two other children – Robin, two and half, and Dylan, eight months. Tom is not Jewish “so it was a really big learning curve for him when we met but he came with me to classes to learn about Judaism and we had a Jewish blessing when we got married.” Tom, 42,  gave up work as a freelance singer to be a stay-at-home father and work one day a week teaching English as a foreign language.

Since Leia was born, Katie has spoken on behalf of her family on national campaign videos, and national television and has been the keynote speaker at many charity fundraising events. She has also spoken on Sky News about accessibility for children and playgrounds.

“Having a child with complex needs is extremely taxing on one’s mental health and performing arts have been a huge release for me at the most difficult of times. Singing has also been important to my entire family; we sing together when times are tough and it bonds us and relieves stress.”

In 2022 Leia needed a kidney transplant and thank fully Tom was a match but it was a rollercoaster time. “We had two last-minute cancellations of the surgery, one because Leia had Covid and then because she had a seizure. Leia had a number of complications post-surgery but she still managed to find the energy to smile and laugh. She inspired us all to keep going even on the worst days. Tom recovered well at first, but then developed an infection and had to be readmitted for a week for intravenous antibiotics.”

Katie has performed in many shows

Life has settled somewhat since this and Leia is now in full-time school. The family receives wonderful support from charities such as Camp Simcha, The Lily Foundation and Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice.

Katie leads the choir at Alyth and last year when the shul celebrated its 90th birthday she organised a jazz concert. “The community has been a huge support for my family. Throughout all the stress they have held us and cared for us. I’m very liberal in my Judaism but working at Alyth has made me connect to it in a much deeper way.”

Leia is nonverbal but “she’s been having music therapy since she was a few months old and we saw an immediate response. So we’ve really, really worked with it. She likes music with a strong beat – like Abba – and I use percussion with her. I use music to make her happy or to soothe her in difficult times. It’s also a great way for my older son to connect with her. I’ll get my guitar, and Robin will be singing. It’s just such a nice way to bond us all together.

Little Voices North London runs weekly term-time lessons for primary and secondary children in Mill Hill and will be opening another centre in Hampstead Garden Suburb in September. This August Little Voices North London will be running a Theatre Week holiday camp, open to primary-aged children.

At the end of the summer camp the children will be putting on a Matilda-inspired show for their parents. “We will also do a presentation where I will stand up and say something about every single child because it’s about building their confidence and making sure that whether they didn’t say anything by themselves, or had five lines to say solo, they all worked hard. I want the child who sometimes stands at the back and doesn’t always have the loudest voice to feel as important. That’s what’s really important to me.”

Katie’s next project is to work with schools delivering workshops and teaching staff how they can use singing and drama to empower children, help them with public speaking and improve their posture, their breathing and their mindfulness. “It’s all about trying to reach children in different ways,” she says.


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