The 2016-17 Fellowship octet met to rehearse as an ensemble for the first time on Friday 23 September 2016. Four days later, they were broadcasting live on BBC Radio 3...

ROBERT BROOKS (Bass) -

In some ways, going into this first project with the Fellowship felt similar to the last round of our audition. I still didn't really know my fellow Fellows (can't believe I've succumbed to that already), or Ben, and there was the same cocktail of expectations/not knowing at all what to expect. As with the third round of auditions, I would be rehearsing with a group of very good singers, who therefore (and I include myself) probably had strong opinions (read egos) on both singing and choral technique. But not necessarily ones that would match. This uncertainty and excitement was intensified by the knowledge of how good this group could be, if it did all work.

The first rehearsal was extremely liberating. Very rarely have I had the opportunity to sing all day with an ensemble as talented as the other Fellows are. Yes there were odd mistakes, tuning and ensemble tweaks, etc., but essentially the nuts and bolts of the music/vocal production could be taken as read. It felt fantastic to bypass the mundane and go straight into music making, often in the first read-through. For me, the excitement of singing in a group like this - close knit, one or two per part - is the vocal freedom it can grant, and I think something that became quickly important to us was the discovery/ownership of our cumulative sound. We weren't that interested in emulating other choirs or groups, but instead in exploring the range of colours that our own soloistic abilities could produce in consort. The continuing struggle to achieve great overall cohesion without limiting individual expression/technique is obviously one that all ensembles face, but I think it is particularly prevalent amongst choral groups. We'll probably be starting to crack it just as our Fellowship comes to an end.

We were put to the test quite quickly. After spending two days rehearsing and getting to know each other (I couldn't spot the trouble-maker so it's probably me...) we were due to appear on BBC Radio 3's In Tune. On the one hand it was astonishing to stand less than ten meters away from Nicola Benedetti playing the violin, on the other it was ridiculous to think that we were supposed to be performing on the same show, with something even approaching that standard. Another slightly surreal element was the presence of a live audience, but the reality that we were actually performing to a set of microphones stood in front of us, and should largely ignore the people there. Having said all that, Sean Rafferty at Radio 3 and the NYCGB staff with us made everything as easy and comfortable as was possible.

After a nervy start, where I think the temptation was to sink back into a style and sound that we thought we should inhabit, we quickly relaxed, and were able to produce music that was more and more of ourselves, which is surely the point of a programme as ground-breaking and supportive as the Fellowship. I hope we can take that much further as our year progresses. I've already learned and enjoyed so much, and it feels as though we are already good friends. Cringe but true. I can't wait for the next gig.