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.

From Banbury to York, from Essex to Aldeburgh: Ben Nobuto looks back at his journey of music making and reflects on the life his music will take on after the release of Young Composers 4...

It’s strange how quickly a whole year can come to seem like a blur. 2022 felt like a manic dream where I was constantly running around, moving from project to project, always-already late for a deadline, permanently flicking between tabs in my brain. Everything had a kind of delirious, unhinged energy to it. During this whole time, the various workshops, residential courses, recording sessions and concerts of the NYCGB would take place in short bursts of activity throughout the year. Looking back now, these moments feel a bit surreal, like someone intermittently hit pause on my life to whisk me away to some obscure, faraway land with outrageously stunning scenery: a school in Banbury or York, a studio in Essex, a house in Aldeburgh.

Aside from all the benefits of being on the Young Composers scheme, one thing I’m especially grateful for is that it provided a kind of through line across a sprawling and hectic year, opportunities to stop what I was doing to go somewhere I wouldn’t usually go, to meet new people (and the same people again) and to be part of a community that felt refreshing and different to what I was used to. The residential courses were fast-paced and full-on in their own way, but as composers tasked with observing/absorbing the activities around us, we often had the privilege of sitting back, listening and learning in a slow, unpressurised way. I have a warm, almost dreamlike memory of those few days in July on the Summer Residential in York, floating around the grounds to attend the different rehearsals and workshops, lying on the grass and hearing music across the lawn.

Early on in the scheme I remember Ruth Evans saying to me

don’t be afraid to bring ‘you’ to the table

and I think I held those words like a little mantra throughout the year. I find composing really hard, and the pressure to get things right the first time can often feel paralysing and anxiety-inducing – especially with choral music, which sometimes feels like a different genre of music entirely. What really helped for me is feeling how much the organisation genuinely care about supporting young composers and are open to taking risks with new music, an attitude shared not just by the staff but by the singers as well, who workshopped and recorded our pieces with so much warmth and empathy. The two pieces I ended up writing aren’t perfect, but I’m glad I allowed myself to try new things and experiment. It’s a testament to how supportive the environment of the scheme is that I felt able to do that.

You think ecologically tuned life means being all efficient and pure. Wrong. It means you can have a disco in every room of your house.

I used this tweet from philosopher Timothy Morton as a starting point for thinking about how to respond to the theme of environment. I’m not really sure what it means, but I like the idea that you can inject playfulness, weirdness and fun into a conversation that we’re used to treating with a lot of seriousness. With my piece for the National Youth Choir, The nearness of things, I wanted to pit multiple groups of singers against each other, like different layers of geological strata all moving at different speeds – a big, complex, messy ecological system. For Sol, my piece for the eight-voice Fellowship choir, I wanted to create something that felt more fluid and referential, drawing on jazz harmony, minimalism and spoken word elements – like the incredible dancercise sessions I’d watch in the mornings of the residential courses, somehow equally chaotic and choreographed.

I feel really lucky to have these pieces professionally recorded and released on NMC, it’s such a rare, amazing privilege and makes a huge difference to the kinds of opportunities that open up to you later on as a composer. Although all the pieces from this year’s scheme will be released together as one album, it’s just as likely that on Spotify or elsewhere people will take their favourite tracks and listen to them as part of their own playlists, recontextualising the pieces amongst other kinds of music. I’m excited to see what kind of life my music takes on after the release. I would love for someone not from a classical or choral background to stumble across it and find something they resonate with, the same way I remember listening to Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices for the first time and feeling like a door in my brain had opened that I didn’t even know existed.