Singing loud

Lancashire Life - - Family - WORDS: Freya Mil­lard

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

ABOVE: The Na­tional Youth Choir in ac­tion

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