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.

Loren Kell on the uplifting and challenging experience of working with a younger generation of singers to perform Youth Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

On the 7th December, over 1,500 students drawn from the UK and the rest of Europe descended on the iconic Royal Albert Hall to form this year’s Scratch® Youth Messiah. Voted ‘Best Classical Music Education Initiative’ in the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence, this performance brings together schoolchildren and professionals alike for an afternoon of Händel’s legendary Messiah. Amongst the hubbub of unknown faces was a welcome familiar one – that of Ben Parry, NYCGB’s very own Artistic Director, who was to conduct the English Festival Orchestra, all choirs and all four professional soloists.

Members of the NYCGB Chamber Choir were present in a new capacity: in addition to fortifying the chorus, we were each assigned the role of ‘Youth Messiah Mentor’ (with an official polo shirt to boot) and, as such, were seeded (mostly in pairs) amongst the school choirs to assist and guide the children throughout the rehearsals and performance. In many cases, however, the students were entirely unfazed by the performance ahead – both myself and co-soprano, Rachel Hayden, were amazed to learn that some of them (as young as six or seven years-old) were seasoned Messiah-performers, and that this was just another gig at the Royal Albert Hall, likely as a result of the work of the Scratch® Youth Messiah initiative.

Nevertheless, we spent the morning going through the different movements, focusing on a few small corners for touching up. Soon enough, our curtain call came, and it was truly heart-warming to see so many parents and families had come to watch our performance. The soloists were superb and certainly wowed the schoolchildren with their expert navigation of the infamous coloratura passages. What I really enjoyed about this performance was its relaxed nature: in the interval, parents came up to the chorus’ seats to greet and congratulate their children, and it allowed for a real sense of unity and community between performer and audience. This was highlighted by the other aim of this concert, which was to raise money for WaterAid as part of their Sing for Water collection of events, which has already raised £1million for the charity’s endeavours.

Overall, this event was as uplifting as it was challenging, and it was a joy to work with a younger generation of singers as we entered the festive season.

The NYCGB Fellowship Programme is supported by Principal Programme Supporter ABRSM with additional generous support from the Ofenheim Trust, and by programme partners Making Music and AOTOS (Association of Teachers of Singing).