Choral Development Workshop

Thanks to Caroline Wainwright (S1) for the following report:

On Saturday 24th February we were privileged to welcome Neil Ferris, son of Phil (tenor section), to host an all-day choral workshop at the United Reformed Church in Jewry Street. What a treat this was! It was quite clear from the outset why Neil has recently been selected to lead the BBC Symphony Chorus as their choral director; his positive engagement and innate ability to connect with singers right to their core (literally... although "ladies, yours is lower than the men's!"), combined with a healthy dose of really infectious humour, kept us all on task (and awake) throughout, and the development of the sound was clear by the end.

On a personal note, I have never before been warmed up to a top D flat. I think this was psychologically important; being able to drop onto the higher notes, rather than squeeze up to them with a lot of "gripping", was a distinct advantage.

The emphasis on breath control, ("blowing the breath", " splat and start") was a useful reminder, as was the work on vowels. I think the frisbee throwing was helpful too, as was the "meat and potatoes" image.

Perhaps the most useful thing was the fact that Neil got us to reflect on what we do and ask ourselves questions:

"It goes flat. That's not your fault. It goes flat because..."

"That was in tune. Why was it in tune? Because you put the breath behind it".

"What a lovely sound! Couple of little tips...".

Another quote that made an impression: "One of the first things for choirs to realise is that they don't need conductors".

And finally: "The sound is sparkling, you can feel it in the room".

I don't know whether anyone else felt it, but there was a distinct vibration in the room at the end of each of the last two pieces we sang. Quite special!

It is always a privilege to encounter people with such vast amounts of dynamism and passion for what they do. I think Neil did us a power of good and hope that we will have the chance to work with him again.