Rachel Staunton conducts the London Youth Choir. Image: Belinda Lawley

1 February 2018

Sign up to our mailing list to receive our newsletter and updates

In just 5 years,  Rachel Staunton has created a remarkable family of choirs for London's most talented young singers. We asked her to tell us a little bit about the journey:

Where did it all start?

In 2012 I witnessed the London come alive during the Olympic Games. That autumn, off the back of seeing how the Olympics brought people together, I set out with my colleague Suzi Digby to found an organisation that could truly transcend social barriers and celebrate our shared humanity. Little did Suzi and I know when we met in Covent Garden for a coffee and a catch-up that we would end up plotting plans for the London Youth Choir! We each knew of the power of music making for young people and could both testify to how singing can raise young people’s aspirations, but could it be possible to use singing as a vehicle to inspire social change?

We decided that one of the USP’s of the choir would be to have members from each of the 33 London boroughs (we’re still committed to this five years on). We also decided that to raise aspirations, the members should always have a next level to aim for, which led to our pyramid structure of five choirs. We wanted to be a family of choirs that met in term time, so we settled on Monday evenings for rehearsals, which are now hosted by our generous partner, City of London School for Boys.

How much personal effort did it take to get things going?

“Speculate to accumulate” are the wise words from my father that ring in my ears at the start of any new initiative. As with any start-up business you have to give a lot of time and energy at the start and Suzi and I committed to setting up and conducting the choirs without drawing anything financially for the first two years. We raised funds from trusts, foundations, individuals and larger funding bodies such as Youth Music, who gave us our first substantial grant. We presented at The Funding Network and took part in The Big Give each year, and gradually we gained a stronger financial footing, but be in no doubt: it was very hand to mouth for several years! Cash-flow was  challenging, and the recent trend amongst funders to rebalance their funding outsid of London has also made us work hard. We’ve also deliberately made things challenging for ourselves, because we were passionate from the start about making LYC accessible and decided early on to have a generous bursary pot for those who showed musical potential but wouldn’t be able to take part without support – which of course puts even more pressure on the fundraising side!

What have been the standout achievements for LYC since its foundation?

One of our first ever gigs came about thanks to our Patron Gareth Malone who put us in touch with… Mick Jagger! When Mick rang, I recall Suzi nearly fainted with excitement. He asked if LYC would like to join in with the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary tour, kicking off with some gigs at the O2, and moving on to Hyde Park and Glastonbury. I will never forget conducting a choir of LYC members on each side of the pyramid stage at Glastonbury to a live crowd of 120,000, nor Suzi’s slightly impractical choice of high heels for the Glasto terrain! Since then we have had around 100 concerts, events, recordings and filming sessions. A recent standout achievement for me, and a huge honour, was the chance for LYC to perform at the British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Family and many Members of Parliament. It is these amazing opportunities that create lifelong memories for our members, so we do everything we can to find them and make them happen. 

What plans can you reveal for 2018?

Our Spring season sees us performing music inspired by space and other-worldliness. Our Chamber Choir will be performing Brahms’s gorgeous ‘Requiem’ at Tower of London Chapel on 10 March, and our upper voices will perform in Holst’s ‘The Planets’ at St John’s Smith Square on 25 March. Then on 26 March we are looking forward to a major event: our inaugural concert at our new home venue, City of London School for Boys. The programme will include a performance of ‘Stars’ by Ēriks Ešenvalds which uses 60 pitched wine glasses and Tibetan singing bowls! Beyond that, our Youth and Training Choirs will be performing in ‘My Great Orchestral Adventure’ at The Royal Albert Hall in May half term. All the concert information and ticket links can be found on our website.

How do you join LYC?

Membership of LYC is via audition, and for applicants age 7-11 this usually takes the form of a small group workshop audition which requires no advance preparation. Auditions for our Training Choir (school years 7-10) or Youth Choir (school years 10-13+) or our Chamber Choir (age 18+) are done termly and dates and requirements are on our website. Our audition panel are very friendly and want to get the best out of you, so it is not meant to be an intimidating process! Once a member, good weekly attendance is required and musical and pastoral support are in place to enable you to thrive!

Follow Rachel on Twitter
Follow London Youth Choir on Twitter