Under normal circumstances, we have a Choral break in the summer, unless we are lucky enough to be involved in the BBC Proms. I never much enjoy this break as I miss my weekly sing with about 150 fellow choristers and cannot wait for the ‘new term’ to begin again in September! But, as we know, this year (and last) have been far from normal.
Our fabulous professional team, led by Greg and supported by Martyn, Joyce and the committee, has worked hard throughout the lockdowns in many ways to keep us interested and connected, still part of the Huddersfield Choral family, even when we are apart. The two highly successful online Choral Workshops in February and March 2021 attracted nearly 1,000 singers between them from around the world and showed us what can be achieved over Zoom – what a revelation that has been!
Not everyone has got on well with Zoom, but I have persevered, though I still don’t enjoy singing to myself in the dining room and the neighbours really do think I have reached a new level of madness when I do my warm-up exercises. I’m definitely in the ‘Zoom is better than nothing’ camp.
We started our summer break early this year and it seemed it would be a long time until our return to ‘proper’ rehearsals in September. Imagine my excitement when the Summer Masterclass ‘Find Your Voice’ was announced! This was a five-week series of online workshops featuring five different world class conductors in July and August, via our now tried and trusted Zoom. I did wonder whether the £10 per session charge might put some people off, but no – more than 100 people signed up for each masterclass, over half of them Choral members! (The bundle and Choral discounts were good sweeteners, particularly for a Yorkshire-based choir.) Even this proud Mancunian living in Yorkshire was impressed with that, so I signed up for the bundle and put the dates in my diary. One of the dates clashed with being away on holiday, but of course with Zoom you can access the workshop from anywhere, so I remembered to pack my iPad with my sun cream so I didn’t miss a thing.
All the sessions had a similar format: introduction from Greg; a vocal warm-up from our own Joyce Tinsley or Polly Beck; the masterclass with a world-class conductor, including some chat and plenty of singing, ending with a short Q&A session and thanks from Greg. A lot to fit into seventy-five minutes!
The first masterclass on 13th July was with our friend, Bob Chilcot, who conducted our Christmas concert in 2018. The session started with some vocal warm-ups from Polly Beck, a vocal coach based in Scotland. She had some interesting physical (warning to the neighbours!) and vocal exercises to get us ready to sing. Bob told us about what he had been doing during lockdown and led us through singing some of his own compositions. The workshop flew by and ended with a quick Q&A session. A great start!
On 20thJuly, Suzi Digby joined us from the Caribbean! She was in quarantine after visiting family and a new grandchild in USA. So, Zoom does have its advantages! I had never come across Suzi before and I was fascinated listening to what she had done, and was still doing, in terms of promoting choirs and commissioning choral works. She led us in singing some Byrd and Tallis and introduced us to some of her own work, which had been influenced by these composers.
The third masterclass was with Hilary Campbell, who gave us some interesting insights into the works of Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams. These are composers we know well at Huddersfield Choral and it was lovely to sing some more familiar works and learn more about the men who wrote them.
We were joined on 3rdAugust by the lovely Simon Halsey who has worked with us at times in the past. Again, we were treated to a more familiar work, Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem, with plenty of singing and some great top tips for singing well. Together with an excellent warm-up, this should mean we have no excuses for when we can meet in real life to sing!
The final session with Neil Ferris concentrated on Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a piece which would have been familiar to many participants and a firm favourite with many Choral members. What a great way to finish the Summer Masterclasses!
So, what did I learn?
· That Greg and his support team have worked incredibly hard to put together this series of masterclasses
· That these top choral conductors have been really busy throughout lockdown, learning new skills and doing new things, including choral workshops, mainly online
· That seventy-five minutes is no time at all when you are interested in what is being said and done
· That singing with Zoom is definitely better than nothing and actually enables you to do more singing, even on holiday
· That we are so incredibly lucky at Huddersfield Choral to have such a talented team of professionals
If you are already a member of Huddersfield Choral, congratulations. If not, why not join us? If we can have this much fun during lockdown, just think what we can do in real life!
As Greg said in his introduction to Find Your Voice, ‘singing is one of life’s great joys and privileges’. I must agree!