I have always loved to sing. When I was in primary school, Friday assemblies where everyone sang together were my favourite thing. I once got moved to the front of the group while rehearsing for a school play because I was singing so enthusiastically. I jumped at the chance to join my high school choir, and at sixteen I fell in love with Glee and Gareth Malone. When I joined university I couldn’t wait to join the choir. I was really surprised to be the only non-music student there. I had joined as an “enthusiastic amateur”, the person who loves something without understanding it. I couldn’t have told you what the musical terms meant (I’m a little better now) and if you asked me to sing you a G sharp I’d have no idea (still don’t!) but it was there that I first fell in love with choral music. It was divine, passionate, emotive, and utterly moving. I loved it.
When I graduated university in 2013 and moved back to my home city, Leeds, I was looking for a new choir. I did some googling of Leeds choirs and was disappointed but not surprised to find so many choirs were either up to the age of 18 or didn’t have a specific age but consisted of people who were in their 50s, 60s, 70s…where was the choir for young adults? Luckily, I happened to find one that fit the bill – Leeds Vocal Movement.
Leeds Vocal Movement would generally be considered a small choir – I think the most we’ve ever boasted is roughly 35 members. But what has never been small is the passion! While my university choir introduced me to the wonders of choral music – Handel, Faure, Britten – this choir has introduced me to a much wider range since then – folk songs, contemporary covers, traditional pieces and modern choral music (Eric Whitacre is a choir staple!). It’s hard to pick one favourite piece because there have been so many great ones, but a standout piece for me is one called “Name That Tune” by Grayston Ives. It’s a mashup of multiple classical pieces – Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss. It took the choir a good six months to perfect it, and there were so many laughs along the way as we fluffed different parts. We really made it our own, and that’s one of the most special things about being in a choir to me – taking a piece, adding unique touches to it and having a lot of fun along the way!
I was asked to manage social media not long after I joined the choir and it was a really fun challenge thinking about different ways to sum up rehearsals with pictures, videos and tweets. It’s no easy feat trying to raise the choir’s profile without the money for a marketing campaign but over the five years I’ve been working on it I think our name is gradually becoming more known through Leeds and hopefully will continue to do so.
During my time in the choir we’ve worked hard to give something special to our audiences, whether that’s creating a Christmassy atmosphere and bringing a smile to passers by as we carol to raise money for different charities, or our own concerts that we strive to fill with a variety of musical styles so that there will be something for everyone to enjoy. As much as we get out of performing for others, we also gain so much ourselves, from learning different musical techniques (such as Kodaly) from our conductor, to understanding more about what we really love to sing as a choir and as individuals. So much of the fun is that you never stop learning and growing!
Leeds Vocal Movement has been a wonderfully unique choir to be part of – relatively new (less than ten years old), young adult, secular and unauditioned – brimming with people of different skill levels and musical experience but all bursting with the same musical passion. I’m proud to have watched it grow and change over the years and I hope it will long continue to provide a place for young people in Leeds who love to sing with somewhere to go and express themselves and share the joy of music with others, both members and an audience.
I wasn’t always into choral music – I grew up loving jazz and spent a lot of time listening to Ella Fitzgerald in our family kitchen. I also started composing when I was 12, because I didn’t like practising scales on the piano and I used to turn them into different motifs and write lyrics to them. My mum encouraged me to join Stockport Youth Orchestra, where I messed around a lot because I didn’t like the screechy sound I made on the violin – but I met a friend there who convinced me to audition for the Hallé Youth Choir in Manchester which was where it all started.
Going to the Hallé was like getting an overdose injection of the musical bug. We were regular performers at the Bridgewater Hall and sang everything from Poulenc’s stunning ‘Gloria’ to Elgar part-songs to Mahler’s 2nd symphony. I remember sight-reading Bruckner’s ‘Locus Iste’ at Ampleforth College surrounded by friends, breaking into Lambert’s ‘The Rio Grande’ at regular intervals on a tour bus to Italy and marching through the streets of York singing a swingle singers arrangement of ‘I’ll Be There For You’ at the top of our lungs. Jamie Burton was our wonderfully eccentric and hugely inspiring director, who taught us to read music using Solfege sign language and who intrigued us with his knowledge of the composers whose works we were performing.
It’s because of this exposure to so much gorgeous, life-changing music as a teenager that now as an adult I feel determined to bring the same experiences to others. I found myself volunteering to direct LUUMS Chorus whilst at Leeds University and now I devote my time to teaching Kodály music in schools and leading children’s and youth choirs. As my personal experiences of music have been of high quality but also highly social, I believe choirs should be joyful and create community – whether they are amateur or semi-professional, young or old, sacred or secular – because that’s what lasts. Leeds Vocal Movement does just that, and it’s becoming part of a choral music revolution in our up-and-coming city which I want to help fuel.
Music, and the friends I’ve made through music, has been there for me in some form throughout the best and darkest moments of my life. There is a big difference though between experiencing music by listening to CD or going to a concert and actually being the music itself. It is far superior to share music with others and we can create much more variety as singers in a choir than alone. On that note, if you want to be part of a vibrant musical community which sings for pleasure and experiences a range of music from all genres, styles and periods, come along and sing with us on a Wednesday evening!