Louise Clare Marshall, Photo: Melanie Gail

Former NYCGB member, Lancashire-born Louise Clare Marshall, was immersed in music from her youth, with piano lessons at five and music theory lessons at seven. She was a member of a number of choirs, played the church organ and won a place at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester before joining The National Youth Choir of Great Britain in 1990.

Whether performing on tour with BBC’s Jools Holland or Roxy Music, (Louise sang in the New Year on this years’ Jools Holland ‘Hootenanny’ on BBC 2), playing piano, performing with The BBC Big Band singing Ella Fitzgerald or Aretha Franklin’s American Songbook, Louise’s sonic skills span across genres from Jazz, Pop, R&B, Electronic, Classical to Gospel music. Louise has worked with Beverley Knight, David Gilmour, Michael Ball, Robbie Williams, Bryan Ferry, Ronnie Wood, Van Morrison, Sheila Ferguson, Sam Brown, Steve Winwood, Paul Young, Don Blackman, Solomon Burke, Karl Jenkins and John Rutter, to name a few.

In the run up to Christmas 2020, Louise created a new arrangement of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire) for NYCGB Alumni to sing and record from their homes. With over 200 taking part, the piece was a huge success, reaching audiences across the UK when it featured on BBC national news on Christmas Eve and has received more than 45,000 views via other platforms.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

I’ve been very blessed to be able to do what I have been doing since I was 15 months old, ...singing, working in music and always listening to the music of the world. Being born into a musical family surrounded by the talents of my parents, brother and sister performing all the time, there was no doubt what I was going to be doing for my career. I can be performing in front of 5, or 5,000 people or in these days, on Zoom and other platforms. I always present myself well in everything I do.

How long were you part of NYCGB and which choirs were you involved with?
I joined the NYCGB mixed choir in 1990, the Durham course, then the Manchester course and onward to one of the best times of my life, the 1992 World Tour. After that, I moved to London to study MORE glorious music, but continued friendships with many singers from that time.

How has being in NYCGB impacted on your career / future life?
The skills and levels of discipline that we all had to adhere to on those courses, strict routines of singing in sectionals, (smaller groups), aural training and sight reading, was essential and I lapped it all up. Fun and games at end of course concerts with many silly jokes and activities meant we saw many choir members in a more relaxed state.

The warm-ups will stay with me forever, because they were the core of learning to sing properly and warming up the voice and body is required to sing well in everything we do. Being mainly a backing singer for many different artists doesn’t require reading music as such - a lot of that work is done by ear - but I use all the references I have learnt over the years in order to relate to the piece I may be learning/singing. The beauty of the choir sound is unique to any other, vowel sounds and pronunciation are vital, and that is something I always refer to in any style I sing in. The choir can be split into so many parts, 4, or 8, or more, we have to tune into the harmonies all the time, not only making sure that your part is right, but to blend with other parts around you, and this continues in my work now. 3-part harmony for Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody needs careful working out to get it right, and that’s one of my strengths, I LOVE harmony and contrapuntal work.

Do you have a favourite piece of music or outstanding memory of a performance from your time with NYCGB?

There are so many gem tunes, Crucifixus by Lotti, wow, Le Roi Salamon from some big pieces we sang and recorded whilst on the World Tour. Also Beati Quorum Via by Stanford, which I had at my wedding, conducted by John Rutter and sung by some members of NYCGB, but my favourite moment of joy is my own arrangement of Precious Lord which was sung around the World. The most amazing performance was when we all arrived back from the tour at Heathrow Airport and sang several pieces for our parents and friends waiting for us all, including Precious Lord, (I’m getting tingles of warmth as I write this now). 

Tell us a bit more about the recent NYCGB Alumni recording of one of your arrangements, how that went and what it has meant to you.

When the NYCGB Alumni recorded Shenandoah virtually over Zoom during lockdown it went so well, that I approached the Alumni Committee with the idea of doing an arrangement of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). I loved working on the piece – it was a task of true enjoyment and brilliance. Knowing the sound of the choir already and being able to write so many contrapuntal lines, meant showcasing the vocal wonder of all those alumni who were stuck at home. My homework, which took about a month to perfect, included all the parts being tidy and easy to read for the singers who would be learning their parts at home. It was a labour of love.

With Zoom rehearsals throughout the World, the organisation from the Alumni committee members was second to none. Charlotte Dougan got the plans into shape and one Sunday evening, we had a Zoom where I talked about the finishing touches required for the choir members to put on their Christmas attire in early November and film themselves singing my piece. When the final edits came through, I cried with the emotion just listening to it.... amazing. The work put in to mix the sounds by Ben Leigh-Gosart was tremendous, and the camera work is just phenomenal, plus the madness of all of us in lockdown, indoors, going stir crazy, the nation not knowing if Christmas would happen, all of these thoughts were shared in the performance of the piece. When it went live via all the social platforms and it was well received, with over 5000 views on Classic FM. To get a slot several times on the National BBC News on Christmas Eve, well, that’s Christmas beyond all Christmas gifts and presents.

Well done to all! We as a team are amazing and one Christmas, I would love to conduct and sing my arrangement of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire) with the choir at the Royal Albert Hall. Roll on this pandemic and live performances which must return someday soon with safety first of course, when we shall sing again loud and strong as a nation. Blessings to all and long live the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, THE BEST!


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