Two of a kind: Claire and Esmeralda

Categories: Behind the stalls

Claire Korner and Esmeralda Conde Ruiz, co-founders of the Borough Market Choir

Interviews: Viel Richardson
Image: Alice Mann

Claire on Esmeralda
For my day job, I’m Borough Market’s head of finance, and I first met Esmeralda when she was working at The Turkish Deli stall—but I really got to know her when we co-founded the Borough Market Choir nearly seven years ago. I remember thinking how open and friendly she was when I visited the stall, but I had no idea at first quite what a wonderful musician she is. Esmeralda works as a composer and conductor, and she is the musical director of our choir as well as being a wonderful performer in her own right. Her talent is off the scale.

I think Esmeralda enjoys the fact that as a choir we are willing to try new things, rather than just sticking to the standard choral repertoire. It is lovely watching her as a teacher—you can see the pleasure she gets from those moments when something we’ve been struggling with suddenly clicks. She is always challenging us, getting us to stretch our abilities. Learning Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen was very difficult—sometimes a real struggle—but you could see the joy in her face the day it all started to gel.

If Esmeralda was going to choose any piece of music, for us to sing, it would definitely be something from George Michael. She is slightly obsessed by his music, but his arrangements are very complex, so we’re not quite ready for him yet!

She has lots of phrases she likes, such as “sing like you have hot potatoes in your mouths” or “make a fish-face”. She talks a lot about posture, how you should think of your whole body as a musical instrument. It was a surprise to most of us what a physical thing singing can be.

Esmeralda is inspirational, inclusive and brings such joy to our rehearsals. Sometimes she gets frustrated with us and we see her stern side come out—she is usually so positive, so you feel a bit guilty for letting her down! The choir is what it is because of Esmeralda’s gifts for musical arrangement and teaching as well as her determination to keep pushing us forward. After our very first performance, the group was so small, we were not sure if the choir would carry on. Now we have over 50 members and we have performed in incredible places like Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre and the Barbican. And we have developed lifelong friendships in the process.

Esmeralda on Claire
I can remember the first time Claire came to the Turkish Deli stall—she was just like this ray of light, so happy and energetic with this really sunny personality. She made an impression on all of us.

Her relationship with the choir goes beyond the songs. She really likes bringing people together. Through the choir, we have all made friends with people we would never otherwise have met, people from different backgrounds, of different ages and cultures. Being part of that choir community is something that clearly matters to Claire.

Claire has an inherent musicality and a lovely singing voice. She is also an excellent student—she brings a great energy to the group, which is infectious, and she is very professional when it comes to learning the more difficult songs, which any choir director will tell you is not always universal! She particularly loves learning the choir arrangements to songs she knows. I don’t think I have ever seen her as happy as when we learned Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas. Like me, she loves George Michael, but she also loves Prince—in fact, if she was going to choose a piece for us to sing it would probably be something like Little Red Corvette.

I’m not sure there is anything negative about Claire; I have never seen her in a bad mood. I do worry about her back and posture, though, because whenever we meet she seems to be carrying at least two large bags and wearing heels.

I think Claire’s favourite thing about the choir is the people. She has a team spirit and enjoys those moments of togetherness that you get in any team enterprise. I remember when we played the Globe Theatre in period costume, Claire was just glowing. You could see how much she was enjoying the whole experience of performing there. These moments create special memories between friends. It is what she really loves about the choir and what makes it such a joy to have started it with her.