NYCGB Fellowship – update June 2021

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Update from Nicki Kennedy, June 2021

The partnership between the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and AOTOS continues to grow, and despite the challenges we all face currently, the mentoring programme is thriving. For those who may not be familiar with this arrangement, it is the reciprocal agreement between AOTOS and NYCGB in which an informal mentoring relationship is offered voluntarily by some of our generous members to the Young Composers and the Fellowship members of the National Youth Choirs organisation. The young mentees are given free membership of AOTOS for the year, offered discounted rates on activities and are encouraged to participate in any masterclasses or conference activities that may be relevant. In return NYCGB share their expertise in a number of ways, for example, making contributions at conferences and live events.

We have made some changes this year, and after some initial head-scratching about how we might include the four young composers who join the four young choral leaders on the Fellowship programme, we embarked on the business of creating the mentoring partnerships.

The engagement by the Fellows and Young Composers has been highly encouraging, and judging by the early feedback, the majority of the mentoring relationships are thriving. We are so grateful to this year’s fabulous team of mentors, who are Ed Pitt-Mansfield, Carrie Birmingham, Rob Lines, Anita Morrison, Jo Edworthy, Berty Rice and Paul Keohone.

I met the new Young Composers and Fellows early in their programme, firstly in my role of a singing teacher with NYCGB, to contribute to their couple of days of ‘induction’ activities, and the second time, with fellow AOTOS member Berty Rice, to deliver a session on language and conducting on behalf of AOTOS. Ed Pitt-Mansfield joined us and we met online in April, spending a couple of hours chewing round thoughts about, amongst other things, the language that we use to communicate with singers in choral settings from the perspective of singing teachers. We know this can be a thorny subject and one that often comes up in discussion on our social media threads! We aimed to provoke thought and raise awareness, and to shine a light on some of the pitfalls of ambiguous or possibly even unhelpful ways that a conductor, MD or composer can engage with singers, whether professional or amateur, with children or the elderly etc. We hoped to get them thinking about positive ways they can encourage healthy singing and participation, and also thinking about how well they may need to inform themselves about vocal technique and pedagogy in their profession. This was a discussion forum designed to provoke thought rather than give answers. (As well, of course, as to show them the immense value and support that a vibrant community such as ours can provide!)

Some of the feedback we have received from our mentors and mentees includes this from Derri Lewis, a composer, who commented on working with Jo Edworthy ‘it is an amazing opportunity to speak with Jo one-on-one and observe her choir rehearsals...the work that Jo does with choirs for singers with disability and how she tailors her practice to get the most out of her rehearsals and concerts....it was endlessly inspiring to see her talents in practice’.

Mentor Berty Rice spoke about his conversations with composer Kristina, ‘Kristina and I just chatted over Zoom and we had a wide-ranging discussion; topics included compositional style, intonation, singing tuition, balancing components of a career, vocationalism vs professionalism and many other things. She’s such a tonic and I’m loving chatting with her’

Despite a tough year, it’s good to see that behind the scenes, there is still so much going on. NYCGB have worked with real imagination and vigour to keep young people engaged and on track with their singing from the very youngest members of their boys’ and girls’ choirs right through to this senior end, where transition into the profession is being facilitated, so we are more than a little bit delighted to be working in partnership with them on this. We’ll report back at the end of the year with a picture of how the rest of the year pans out, as we return to in-person events!

Nicki Kennedy
AOTOS Partnership Co-ordinator
nycgb@aotos.org.uk