Wednesday, 29th September 2021

David Roper: Reflections on my first four months as Chair

And what an incredible four months it’s been!  One of the first things that struck me when I joined the board in May this year, was that I’d joined a great team and a great organisation.

The first thing we had to do was decide whether to go ahead with in-person courses this summer.  At the stage we made the decision, the status of the pandemic was still in flux and government guidance was constantly evolving, so any decision we made was not without its operational and financial risk.  But the team had the full support of the trustees to push ahead with planning the courses, and it soon became clear that there was enthusiastic support from our members.  In the end it proved resoundingly to be the right decision.

Some numbers to reflect on:

  • 6 full time residential courses
  • 47 days
  • 600+ participants
  • 80+ amazing conductors, coaches, section leaders, pastoral staff and course managers (including covid co-ordinators)
  • 400 minutes of inspirational and diverse music explored, learnt and performed
  • 4 world premieres, including three NYCGB commissions

I was so lucky to have been able to visit all but one of the courses and witness first-hand what goes on.  It was lovely to meet our teams and talk to our members, for many of whom this was their first experience of an NYCGB residential course – and, for nearly everyone, their first time away from home for over 18 months!  I also had the opportunity to meet some of our members’ parents and it was truly humbling to get such overwhelmingly positive feedback on the impact that the courses had had on their children and how much they’d enjoyed participating.

Photography: Ben Tomlin

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the challenges that were overcome by everyone in making the courses the success they undoubtedly were. Course logistics are hard at the best of times, but the overlaying of complex COVID-related restrictions and procedures took these challenges to a different level completely. However, our members were amazing and seemed to adapt effortlessly to the new way of having to do things.  Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, one course was impacted by the occurrence of positive cases, and I really feel for those members that consequently had to complete their course remotely. But what this also showed was the remarkable dedication and professionalism of our team in successfully repurposing a lot of the repertoire for performance by lower voices only in just two days, and the flexibility and talent of our members to relearn their music and end the course with such a moving and inspiring performance.

We’ve also been able to return to live concerts. In addition to a memorable evening to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall at which the National Youth Choir sang in a specially composed work by David Arnold, the Chamber Choir did a wonderful performance of Mozart’s Requiem with the Britten Sinfonia as part of one the BBC Proms.  To me, though, the highlight was a beautiful and very moving concert by the National Youth Choir at Worcester Cathedral where they premiered a specially commissioned work by, and alongside, the turntable artist Shiva Feshareki called Otherworld.  I have never experienced anything quite like this live, and it will long stay in my memory.

Photography: Ben Tomlin

So what have I learnt since coming on board?

Well, first, that NYCGB is a truly world class family of choirs supported and empowered by outstanding teams.  I’ve been bowled over by our team of Principal Conductors and their music teams led by the inspirational Ben Parry. No less amazing is our head office team led by Anne Besford, which has achieved remarkable things over the last 18 months to keep the choirs going (and even growing!) and we’ve an incredible extended team of coaches, section leaders, pastoral staff and course managers, many of whom are also past members.  Without the extraordinary efforts of every one of these very special people, the summer courses would simply not have been possible.

Second, that being a member of the NYCGB community and participating in the courses is about so much more than singing: it’s about being stretched and developing as an individual; it’s about friendship, fellowship, and teamwork; It’s about commitment, excellence and empowerment and it’s about trying new things, learning new musical styles and techniques and appreciating the importance and beauty of diversity.

I knew I was joining a special organisation when I came on board back in May; I don’t think I realised just how special.