Amy Bryce. Photo: Ben Tomlin

Look at how much we’ve gained!

“What on earth are you doing?” - the words of my bewildered partner coming into the kitchen to make breakfast at 10am on Tuesday 14th April.

“Dancercise”, I replied between breaths, flailing my arms wildly and kicking my legs high into the air with the enthusiasm of a small child, and about as much grace as an ostrich.

“Dancer-what?”

“Dancercise!” I said, this time gesturing to the laptop on the countertop, which showed countless tiny figures on screen, all participating in the same choreography from various locations across the UK.

It was the start of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain’s Spring Courses, which due to the reality we were all sharing, had ceased to be the residencies we’d hoped for in Banbury or Warwick, but had instead transformed into a week of unforgettable digital activity, experienced from wherever we had found ourselves in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown.

I say ‘transformed’ instead of ‘reduced’ to digital activity, because what we experienced in this week was by no means a reduction and will forever stick in my mind as the way I first ‘met’ NYCGB. Dancercise was just the beginning, as we segued straight into a vocal warm-up led by the fabulous Nicki Kennedy, and then onto a four day long, jam packed schedule including everything from a Q&A session with NYCGB’s President John Rutter, workshops with the renowned Swingles, and even pasta making tutorials! 

Before lockdown, I was expecting to participate in the Spring Residences in a very particular way. I had it all planned out! My experience would have been mostly passive: observing, listening, thinking. Then I’d start conversations and engage with the choirs I’d be writing for to get to know the individuals and the personalities. I’d ask questions to gather their thoughts on life, music and the world. Devising is an important part of what I do, particularly when working with young people, so these spontaneous conversations and ideas were a long planned starting point.

Like everything though, my plan of how to engage with the different choirs had to be drastically rethought. Luckily, this is nothing new as a composer, in fact, there is often so much to be gained! I was quick to get in touch with the conductors of the Junior Girls’ and Boys’ Choirs - Joanna Tomlinson and Lucy Joy Morris. My plan was to create a questionnaire to circulate round the members of the Junior Choirs, from which I would draw some themes, narratives or even words to initiate a collaboration. We assembled the questions carefully, looking to draw on their thoughts and experiences during this period, included a not-so-daunting-afterall video introduction, and off they went! 

I had guessed that I was dealing with an extraordinary group of young people before sending anything, but they still managed to blow me away with their profound outlook on the world, their creativity and pure wit.

These interactions with the Junior Choirs had been such a success that an idea was conjured for a session with all the Principal Conductors, Joanna Tomlinson, Lucy Joy Morris and Greg Beardsell, Composers and Fellows to learn about writing more personally for their respective choirs. These conductors have a magnitude of experience between them and learning their personal ‘do’s and don’ts’ for choral writing was invaluable. An unforeseen benefit of navigating such unknown territory, as we all are at this time, is the ability to make the more impulsive ideas come to life. I’m certainly grateful for the experience, knowing that residencies we were expecting to partake in this season would not have provided the right atmosphere for a masterclass of this nature! 

So, moving forward, I’m excited to unpick my questionnaire responses and see what creative inspiration it ignites. I don’t think I would be speaking the truth if I said that this has been an easy experience that rivals the original spring residencies we’d eagerly anticipated. This time has made everything tough and it’s a credit to the fantastic team that we’ve been able to retain that instantly recognisable NYCGB spirit, even through a screen. As an establishment built from head to toe of people who recognise that there is no greater joy than singing your heart out in a big group together, I don’t think there is a single person who would not reiterate just how much we miss that at the moment. But as the clouds hopefully begin to clear on this uncertain time, let’s take a moment to say: look at how much we’ve gained!


Programme Digital Partner: NMC Recordings

 

Programme Innovation Grant Sponsors:

Steinberg Media Technologies (Technology Partner) and Stainer & Bell (Publishing Partner)

             

Supported by The Garrick Charitable Trust, RVW Trust, The Michael Tippett Musical Foundation, Lord and Lady Lurgan Trust and PRS Foundation's The Open Fund for Organisations.