As a complete newcomer to the UK Choir Festival, I was intrigued by what the Manchester event would deliver and how a room of 300 individuals could feel included. The answer is simple: energy, and by the bucket load. From Russell Scott, the event founder, and his team of assistants, to all of the workshop leaders and the abundance of choirs, everyone was there to get involved, have fun and raise the roof.
It’s been some time since I performed in a choir, but it all came flooding back the minute our first workshop leader took to the stage. Musical Director, Emily Dickens, provided an hour long lesson on the a cappella orchestra, how to use your body and voice techniques to create the sounds of the ensemble. With one slow beat she broke it down, and with layer upon layer she soon had the 300 strong crowd bringing the sounds of an orchestra.
Without a doubt my absolute favourite workshop of the day belonged to Mat Wright. The Musical Director of Barnsley Youth Choir, Mat established the choir in 2009 as a volunteer to provide opportunities for young people from deprived areas. They are now ranked 5th in the World Rankings and it’s easy to see why.
Mat spent his hour with us focussing on the Kodály method of teaching, which puts the onus on the expression and creative skills of using your ear. Within a very short time the 13 different choirs sounded almost Royal Albert Hall worthy, no mean feat considering the varying degrees of styles and talent in the room. The emotion and energy that he extracted from everyone is what made his hour so compelling and I left feeling in awe of Mat and what he stands for. I might even say that I’m a little bit in love.
The day broke for lunch and all of the choirs were given their slot to rehearse on the main stage and separate spaces to get together to run through their chosen songs for the final performances. Now I know it was a choir festival, but believe me when I say that Dominic Ellis-Packham grabbed all of our attention with his silence.
Dominic’s workshop was based around vocal health and ensemble singing. I mentioned energy earlier and Dominic had it in abundance. He jumped about the stage in a silly and candid fashion, encouraging everyone in the room to mirror his actions and sounds. With everyone obliging you would have to be a complete miser to not have a smile on your face and feel uplifted. The lesson was to listen, follow direction and use your body, use it to breathe properly. His unique approach caught everyone’s attention and I’m sure his techniques went home with all of the choirs.
Gospel and energy go hand in hand, so it’s not a surprise that award-winning vocalist and Choir Director, Carla Jane, had everyone dancing to her tune (quite literally) and clapping in unison. She delivered her style impeccably. In her own words, ‘gospel ain’t pretty’, she wanted a big sound, with emphasis from the heart and she wanted everything we had left to give – and she got it. The room was bouncing with good vibes and high energy, it was the perfect way to end the day of sessions with everyone on their feet.
The day ended with each choir sharing their prearranged performances in a supportive and non-competitive environment to each other and before we knew it, it was time to leave. I took a lot from this day and I would absolutely encourage choirs to share this experience by getting involved at future events. I really wasn’t surprised at all to read that American Express Essentials hailed the festival as “one of the most awe-inspiring choral festivals of the world”!
Russell Scott delivers what he promises, you will learn and you will make great music and you will leave feeling inspired, ready to return the next year. I for one can’t wait.
Blog courtesy of Leigh Rafferty, Rayburn Tours Concert Tours Consultant