I am curious about other people and what they do. This is down to a childhood spent singing in a church choir and playing the tuba when I really wanted to be a karate master, a skateboarder and – for a week – a fighter pilot. I was an enthusiast (my family would say an obsessive) but without permission to explore. A couple of decades on and this curiosity, or perhaps this childish “always want you can’t have” mentality remains, a feeling that I’m just one more question away from true enlightenment. Thank goodness I’m a conductor now and can act on it, rather than when I was 12 and I just stayed in my room sulking.

Greg Beardsell
Greg Beardsell

The flexibility and emotional range of the voice are two things we are keen to develop with our singers at the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. I work primarily with the NYCGB Training Choir, arguably one of the best teenage choirs in the country. The members, of course, all have their own back-story and their own hopes and dreams, but when on our residential courses, they all seem to possess a similar thirst for exploration. In a time when the pressure of testing and choosing careers is applied earlier and earlier in their school life, giving rise to an education culture of anti-generalism, perhaps a week of blue-sky singing is just what is needed. This is where offering a different perspective through collaboration has the power to transform lives.

In the past five years, the NYCGB Training Choir have worked with the National Youth Jazz Collective, folk musicians, dancers from Trinity Laban Conservatoire and SAMYO, the National Youth Orchestra for Indian Music. On 18 April at Birmingham Town Hall, they will perform side by side with world-renowned beatboxer, Shlomo, working together to create new music, including performing Shlomo’s first choral commission “She Lost my Crossed Heart”. The purpose? At a basic level it is to broaden their appreciation of different branches of music and the arts and to help them to develop their sense of curiosity and how to feel free to act upon it. But more importantly than that, cross-genre collaboration offers guidance in how to be pluralistic, understanding people.

Shlomo
Shlomo

The most successful collaborations occur when shared goals are identified early on, not “what do we want the results to sound like?” but rather “what do we want them to feel like?” What artistic and educational value does the project have? These questions need to be kept close throughout the planning, rehearsing and right up to the performance. The participants need to be genuinely interested in the process and the outcome and have the belief that they are creating something extraordinary. Collaborative partners needs to be generous, and willing to accept that with the partnership will come with a certain amount of compromise.

My first goes at it were sullied with disappointment; “yes, but the choir aren’t making the right sound”, until I realised that due to the professionalization of choral music I, like many, have become swept up in a culture of brilliant but heartless performance; the objective overpowering the subjective. I was listening for a difference rather than feeling for it. To work within a genre I don’t know much about gives me new appreciation of my abilities and a fresh perspective on what it is to be free to create rather than recreate. I hope sincerely that it gives all the young people in the NYCGB choirs a similar thing, even those who are 12 and a bit sulky.

 

Greg Beardsell is a leading light in music education and performance. He is Deputy Artistic Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, Musical Director of the Irish Youth Choir and Ulster Youth Choir He works freelance as a conductor, singer, adjudicator, workshop leader and presenter.