Launched in 2015, the National Youth Choir Fellowship Programme aims to create the most highly skilled and multi-talented choral singers in the UK. Each year, 4 singers aged 22-25 are selected from an intensive three round audition process to benefit from a comprehensive, remunerated training programme which develops outstanding skills in performance, education and leadership.

Clare and Sam earn their stripes in rehearsal.

Learning to learn and learning to lead

The 2018-19 Fellows hold Section Leader roles in the 2018-19 National Youth Choir as part of their programme. At the end of November, they met to rehearse and prepare as an octet before taking charge of their sections for the first time at the National Youth Choir's 'Discovery' weekend at Trinity LABAN. Danni O'Neill reports on the Fellows' preparation and Ailsa Campbell describes the weekend with the full ensemble.

Danni: We began by each throwing a warm up into the mix, be it vocal or physical, and then got singing almost immediately. We were in the groove in no time, leanring where each of our voices fits with each other's, and the different sound worlds needed for each piece. The Christmas spirit took us (perhaps a bit too keenly for the 16th of November!) with 'In Dulci Jubilo' and we worked particularly hard on finding a more upbeat tempo, so as not to drag when the notes become longer, with an internal pulse kicking throughout the group. We then tested ourselves further by moving from the church hall into the body of the church, getting a boost in terms of listening to one another and becoming aware of how our sound as a group, and our perception of our sound, change in a different acoustic and scenarios.

The collaborative nature of the group meant that everyone fired off ideas and became quite immersed in the rehearsal progress, all as leaders and supporters. I was lucky enough to stand in the centre of the group with my eyes closed as they sang 'If Ye Love Me' by Thomas Tallis. The ‘surround sound’ gave me clarity of each voice part and insight into how the balance and different vowel sounds were really starting to connect through the group.

It's early days but the group already has some clear favourites: Judith Weir's 'Love Bade Me Welcome' and Toby Young's arrangement of an Angélique Kidjo song, 'Kelele'. The Weir presented its challenges with some scrunchy chords and notes that didn't sit particularly well at the start so we broke these down, part by part, and built up the tempo until we had finally settled into the right place. It is a piece that, once you've cracked it, becomes a very rewarding sing with a storyline full of contrasting dynamics. 'Kelele' on the other hand was challenging in terms of balance but we settled into tempo with ease and were bopping from the first ‘HUH’ clap. Again, we built this up part by part, and also broke it down and slowed it down again to really isolate and own some of the particularly fun chords that normally pass so quickly - a great way of falling even more in love with the music!

To be part of a group that is so ready to learn and be mentally in tune with one another is very exciting and I am so looking forward to seeing where this year takes us.

Ailsa: What an exciting first weekend! Meeting my section for the first time was something I had been looking forward to for a long time, and it did not disappoint. Luckily, we didn’t immediately need to rehearse any music in sectionals, so there was time to get to know everyone, learning names, favourite drinks and what we had been binge-watching recently.

The 'Discovery' weekend gave us all some great opportunities to learn about different styles of music and singing, led off by Bazil Meade, the leader of the London Community Gospel Choir. He ran an invigorating workshop with us that really got us moving and gave tenor Fellow Ben Munden a chance to show off his belting abilities. Then Chithra Ramakrishnan showed us the basics of Carnatic singing from South India. The whole choir were in awe of her beautiful voice and all the ornaments she was able to do effortlessly. Next up was a very active session on stagecraft with director Tom Guthrie, introducing us to the importance of taking responsibility as an performer on stage. This session got us connected, grounded, and for me, inspired to perform and communicate in everything that I sing! Nicki Kennedy gave us a great vocal health session, featuring a surprising number of gorillas and a lot of great tips for keeping us all healthy on these intensive courses. This was really helpful for me as a section leader so I can remind or help my section if anyone is feeling vocal fatigue. We also voted for our new member representatives, who will work with the NYCGB staff to make sure each section’s opinions and feedback are heard.

As my first experience of section leading, it wasn’t nearly as stressful as I thought it would be, thanks to the relaxed atmosphere for the weekend and all the lovely people in each section. It was a great introduction into the role and I can’t wait for the next course!

Gallery: National Youth Choir 'Discovery' weekend