Is the school choir still relevant in the 21st century? Anne Besford, chief executive, and Ben Parry, artistic director and principal conductor, of
National Youth Choirs of Great Britain discuss its importance
What do you believe is the importance of the school choir in today’s society?
(Ben): Singing as a group promotes good social and mental skills and is beneficial for wellbeing and mindfulness. It also offers the benefits of teamwork, understanding and collaboration. It’s so important for young minds to be stretched in myriad ways – whether it be through sport, drama or music – and choir can offer so many complementary benefits to a successful and healthy school life.
What benefits does choir singing have for mental and physical wellbeing?
(Ben): Heart beats synchronise and brain signals coordinate when singers sing together. Significant studies have been taken to prove the benefits of singing together, both for young people (even babies) and those of advancing years. The power and emotion of music can have a startlingly palpable effect on wellbeing.
What opportunities does being part of the choir offer to your members?
(Ben): We offer some transformational performance opportunities for all our members. In the last few years alone, NYCGB choirs have performed at venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall and numerous concert halls nationwide, as well as taking part in the BBC Proms and touring internationally. Recently the National Youth Choir performed in front of HRH the Duke of Cambridge and the Prime Minister as part of the First World War Centenary commemorations in Amiens, France. As well as performance, our choir members get to take part in recordings, and even make music videos.
What music do you cover in the choir?
(Ben): We pride ourselves on the broadest and most diverse range of repertoire in NYCGB, challenging and exciting our singers in exploring well-known pieces in new and innovative ways as well as offering the opportunities of brand new choral music through our Music Commission programme. We are able to sing music of all genres and styles, while educating our members in the wider contexts of the musical language and its history.
How many members do you have at the
National Youth Choir?
(Anne): We currently have over 750 active members in our five choirs, from across the UK. In addition we reach much wider than our membership, working with over 3,000 young people each year through our growing learning and engagement programme with Music Hubs, schools and music organisations.
What has your alumni gone on to do after the choir?
(Anne): Our alumni have gone on to do many things both within the music sector and more widely. Many of our former members are now professional musicians, singing and conducting in choirs, operas and in the West End and on Broadway. Others have gone into teaching music and are now responsible for nurturing the next generation of singers.
How can people join the National Youth Choir?
(Anne): For those just starting their singing journeys, look out for our learning and engagement work in your region. For those who would like to become a member, we hold annual auditions. We try and make the process as friendly and welcoming as possible – we want candidates to do their best and ultimately are looking for passion and enthusiasm as well as musical potential.
To find out more, go online to nycgb.org.uk.
ABOVE: The National Youth Choir in action