Emerging Professional Artist programmes

The National Youth Choir exists to provide exciting and inclusive creative opportunities for all young people. 

As part of this remit, our Emerging Professional Artists programme, supports young singers, composers and conductors as they emerge into the professional world. It aims to address inequalities in the music industry by creating professional development pathways for those who are under-represented in choral music. Participants in our Emerging Professional Artists programmes work closely with the National Youth Choir (18-25 years) and our other choirs.

Headshot of Emily Varney, a white woman with shoulder length brown hair and a fringe

Photo credit: Ben Tomlin

The mentorship and guidance I have experienced as part of this Fellowship have been instrumental in my training as a performer and choral leader.

It has been a jam-packed year on the Fellowship scheme. I have written this as a whistle-stop tour of our cohort’s busy summer and autumn and to give an insight on the variety of opportunities we have shared together.

Looking first at the summer term, the Fellows (Emily, Sarina, Chris, Antonio) and Young Composers (Alex, Emily, Millicent, Will) were invited to attend the National Youth Choir (18-25 Years) summer residential course in Rickmansworth and Snape Maltings. Alongside receiving mentorship from Ben Parry, Lisa Graham and section coaches, we spent the course observing, singing with and conducting the National Youth Choir.

Restaurant selfie of Emily Varney with other young composers and fellows

Whilst preparing for performances and recordings, the choir took part in composing workshops, led by Emily Dickens, where the Young Composers explored and tinkered with their commissions before revisiting later on in the course. Fellows and Composers also spent time with vocal coaches Richard Edgar Wilson and Carys Lane exploring our vocal ranges and colours, sparking ideas for the composer’s newest commissions written especially for the Fellowship.

After a collaborative week of exploring our skills as singers and vocal leaders, the Fellows split off to observe and assist on residential courses for Boys' Choir, Girls' Choir and Training Choir. Much like the National Youth Choir courses, the members worked in detail on repertoire for recordings and performances in sectionals and full rehearsals, with added musicianship training and social fun!

Emily Varney in a friendly groupshot with other NYC staff wearing pink polo shirts Emily Varney conducting a singing workshop for young singers

Following on from previous opportunities with the Learning & Engagement team, Antonio and I made our way to Newcastle to assist on the National Youth Choir free Summer Vocal Day as part of their SING! programme in the North East. As during the workshop day, the participants learnt new music, played musicianship games and talked about what it means to belong as part of a choir.

Soon autumn rolled around, which brought National Youth Choirs (18-25 Years)’s Discovery Weekend, focusing on welcoming new cohort of members and acted as the culmination of the Young Composers pieces for the choir. Equipped with skills we had honed over the last year of training, the Fellows spent time leading warm-ups and sectional rehearsals before the repertoire was brought together by Emily Dickens. The choir were treated to recording a huge array of compositional styles and stories, including microtonal ornaments, The Shepherd scale, woodland soundscapes, Persian folk music, and fizzing extended vocal techniques.

Our second recording day was a real highlight of the Fellowship and Young Composers programme. Tucked away in the green Essex countryside, we were joined by Fellowship alumni and Ben Parry to record the final commissions for the Fellows at School Farm Studios. Each composer continued to write in styles distinct and unique to their voices. The recording booth was full of jazz scatting, extended techniques, ornaments and even speaking, curated from rambling voice memos.

Group of 8 singers and Ben Parry recording in a barn-style recording studio with exposed beams Emily chats with other fellows and composers around a kitchen table

I am eagerly looking forward to one of our last projects as Fellows, where we join with National Youth Choir (18-25 Years) for their Carols at the Royal Albert Hall. However, there is a tinge of sadness as it begins to mark the end of our year long scheme.

The mentorship and guidance I have experienced as part of this Fellowship have been instrumental in my training as a performer and choral leader. I feel particularly grateful for the community and support from Sarina, Chris, Antonio, Alex, Emily, Millie and Will, who have been so generous with their knowledge and time. Best of luck for the new cohort in 2024; I hope you enjoy it as much I did!

- Emily Varney

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyVarneySop

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