Young Composers

Photo: Ben Tomlin

Read our latest blog by Composer Anna Disley-Simpson who describes her experiences in the latest phase of the Young Composer scheme. Discover how Anna saw her work come to life during the 2021 heatwave with brilliant friends and inspirational teachers.

The hottest week of the year was upon us as we, the Young Composers, descended on the National Youth Choir Residency in Banbury back in July. Much of the Choir had been there for days already and were on a high having raised the roof at the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th Anniversary concert just the night before. Here we were! Sketches of our very first NYCGB pieces in tow. Ready to hear the music we’d written that thus far had existed only in our heads. 

Set up on the stage at Tudor Hall in a distinctly Britain’s Got Talent judging panel style formation, the four of us Young Composers were plunged in at the deep end, launching straight into workshopping our ideas after a brief and smiley introduction. It had been a while since many of us had done anything like this in person, so there was definite apprehension from where I was sitting, but that quickly melted away when I was struck by the sheer enthusiasm and talent emanating from the choir members. They were immediately so receptive to our musical ideas, and even brought several creative and technical suggestions to the table too. It was a strikingly warm and creative space to be in. Following these initial sessions, we squirrelled away to add more material to our scores. I made the executive decision to set up camp under a shady tree in the beautiful leafy grounds in order to stay cool in the July sun. Very apt considering my piece sets the text of The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling...

But that’s not all that was in store for us over those next few days! At any NYCGB Residency there is so much to get stuck into. As a singer who had felt stifled by a year of remote rehearsals and virtual performances, I was super excited to moonlight as an alto in the rehearsals with Ben Parry, NYCGB's Artistic Director, in the lead up to a recording of some fantastic Christmas repertoire at the end of the week. Observing each of the Fellows do what they do best leading their sectionals was also incredibly inspiring. They truly captured the attention of the choir members with such clear direction, exploring intimate levels of detail within each piece of repertoire.

The days were punctuated with dancercise, energising warm-ups, centering warm-downs, social time, and who could forget the NYCGB News - a tradition to which we Young Composers were initiated for the first time. Shout out to choir members Louise and Peter who undoubtedly have fruitful television-presenting careers ahead of them.

I know I speak for all four composers when I emphasise just how beneficial these few days were for us. For me, the second workshop instalment is where everything clicked. As suggested by the Choir themselves, my piece now opens with a soundscape of woodland sounds which lead into the groove-influenced textures I’d devised, then followed by a sumptuous chordal passage which brought a breath of vivacious energy to the room when brought to life by the choir for the first time. Having recorded the piece in its final form just a week ago at Cecil Sharp House, I can honestly say that the evolution of this piece is as much down to the Choir and to Ben as it is to my composing alone. The many conversations had by all throughout the process will absolutely stay with me as I continue to write more works for voices. Thank you NYCGB.

Reeling with creative energy, I was also very fortunate to visit the National Youth Training Choir in Framlingham, Suffolk back in August. Straight away I was made to feel exceedingly welcome by the incredible pastoral staff and section leaders, many of whom are NYCGB alumni. Even from the very first rehearsal, it was clear that this was a very special group of singers indeed, led by the astonishing Training Choir Principal Conductor, Greg Beardsell. The repertoire was varied in style, mood, and even languages: it was particularly lovely to hear former NYCGB Young Composer Nathan James Dearden’s I Breathe which incorporates both English and Welsh. Between discussions about vocal health with Nicki Kennedy and Carys Lane, conducting taster sessions, and musicianship games with Greg, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to observe at such a wonderful week.

Many many thanks to Ben Parry, Greg Beardsell, Ruth Evans, Elizabeth Curwen, Anthony Harris, Emily Sanders, the NYCGB Fellows, my Young Composer colleagues, all the dedicated NYCGB singers, and many more, who made these experiences an utterly brilliant and unforgettable time.