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 Cameron Biles-Liddell, a white man with short brown hair wearing a light shirt

Photo credit: Belinda Lawley

Workshops - Jumpstarting the creative process

Composition workshops often bring a melting pot of emotions; excitement of hearing your music for the first time; nervousness about meeting the ensemble (or in this case, a choir) for the first time; and most importantly, the buzz of working with an amazing ensemble while they get a glimpse into our musical worlds. All in all, it can get pretty mentally and emotionally overwhelming for both singers, and composers. However, it cannot be overstated how rewarding and impactful workshops are on the evolution of a composition.

As part of this year’s National Youth Choir (18-25 Years) spring residential, we were asked to bring sketches, ideas, or score extracts of our commissions to be workshopped across two days. We each got around 30 minutes each per day, with time to make edits between each workshop in response to the feedback from the choir. As this was my first time writing for a choir of around 100 singers, I was somewhat daunted and overwhelmed walking into the rehearsal room with them absolutely nailing Nadia Boulanger’s Hymn to the Sun. The sheer sound from the choir was amazing and I was totally in awe of the commitment and versatility of the singers. From sitting in on these rehearsals, it immediately highlighted how I wanted to write for them. This is something that no amount of score reading will help with!

This leads me nicely onto why workshops are useful for us composers. Often, commissions tend to skip over the workshop stage, going straight for rehearsal – premiere (and / or recording) structure. However, times are changing, and workshops are now being included into projects. For me, the addition of the workshop allows me to try out and discuss my ideas with the performers. I find this exceptionally important in my work as I genuinely love getting to know what a performer loves and hates in their music. Every musician has their quirks, and an ensemble is no different.

Joanna Marsh and the four young composers strike a silly pose in a auditorium

Joanna Marsh with four very happy composers at the National Youth Choir (18-25 Years) composition workshops

What made National Youth Choir (18-25 Years) such a joy to work with is that the singers brought their own ideas and commitment to each piece. It always gives me joy seeing an ensembles’ eyes light-up when something in our music just ‘clicks’ with them. It’s those moments that make the lonely hours at a desk, scratching your head about the intricacies of why harmonic motion is not flowing, completely worth it.

Of course, the workshops were not just confined to the rehearsal room – often they are just the beginning of the process! Once our sessions had ended singers came up to us to chat about things, they liked in our pieces which was very touching. However, on a more practical level, we could have in-depth conversations about effects or colours we were trying to achieve on a more individual level. It was the ‘oh have you listened to this piece by ‘so and so’, that was just incredibly useful as I could just go away and listen to it on repeat!

I believe that as composers, we write for the players and their capabilities. We should always champion their strengths and individual talents

Since then, and as I write this blog post, I am in the final stages of their piece. While I changed a lot of what I had since then, I had a better idea of what type of piece I wanted to write for them and more importantly 18-25’s sound. While I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag for our Young Composers 6 album (coming out on NMC Recordings next year), there is a lot to be looking forward too. The sheer vibrancy and variety heard by Áine, Crystalla, Jamie and I at the workshop really highlighted the versatility found in choral music. Stay tuned to hear more!

Stay in touch! Follow Cameron on social media

Instagram @cameronbilesliddell
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Supporter logos for the 2024 Young Composers scheme including the Arts Council, Stainer and Bell, Dorico, NMC, PRS Foundation, The D