January 29, 2019

An African Experience

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The Visit of Dr Michael Barrett 

27th October – 4th November 2018

During the half-term holiday we welcomed to Barnsley one of the most important choral conductors in the world. Dr. Michael Barrett is based in Pretoria, South Africa, and is a multi-award winning conductor, composer and choral trainer and is recognised as one of the very best in the world. He is in demand and regularly leads workshops and adjudicates international competitions with the most elite choirs throughout the world.

I met Michael in the 2016 World Choir Games in Sochi, Russia, where we were both on the International Jury. We struck up a friendship and promised to support one another with our choirs. In 2017 Tuks Camerata and BYC rehearsed and performed a special Friendship Concert together at the European Choir Games in Lativa. In March 2018 Michael then invited me to go to South Africa to work with the incredible Tuks Camerata. I led rehearsals, workshops with various choirs, workshops with choir leaders and conducted Tuks in 2 big concerts – a huge honour. He also asked me to write a new piece for his choir – ‘What About Us’ that BYC will perform tonight.

Michael agreed to come to Barnsley and work with our choirs and we certainly kept him very busy! He had just got married and travelled to Barnsley almost immediately afterwards. The volunteer team took him for special dinner on Saturday evening and then he led a fantastic workshop for around 40 choral leaders at the Town Hall on Sunday morning. He was captivating and so engaging and everyone involved learnt so much and had the most wonderful time.

The following day, on Monday, he led workshops with BYC Children’s Choir Central, BYC Intermediate Choir and BYC Senior Choir at Emmanuel Church. It was a very long day for him and he worked incredibly hard. The quality of the workshops was breath-taking; almost instantaneously changing the sound of each choir. He discussed the physiology of singing and gave some incisive and clinical advice to our choirs that they really appreciated. What was perhaps most impressive was his ability to communicate so effectively with children of all ages. He had the Children’s Choir eating out of the palm of his hands and the Intermediate and Senior Choirs relished an opportunity to be really stretched by one of the very best.

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On Tuesday he visited York University and met with one of the country’s leading authorities on choral singing, Robert Hollingworth. He visited York Minster where he went behind the scenes to see how the choirs there operate and also had a short time sightseeing. Luke Mather has links in York and we are grateful that he managed to organise this. In the evening Michael led a fabulous workshop with our sister choir Barnsley Singers that they really enjoyed.

On Wednesday he had a civic reception with the Mayor and also had chance to visit Experience Barnsley before setting off to Honley to work with Steve Roberts and Honley Male Voice Choir for a rehearsal. Thursday and Friday were busy rehearsal days before 3 incredible concerts on Friday evening (BYC Intermediate Choir and BYC Senior Choir), Saturday afternoon (BYC Children’s Choir and BYC Junior Choir) and Saturday evening (BYC Intermediate Choir and BYC Senior Choir). Michael also had an opportunity to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Cannon Hall Museum and York with volunteers who really welcomed him and looked after him so well. I am so grateful to those that contributed to making the visit such a success. Organising these visits can be complicated but so many people supported. I’m really proud of the extended BYC team.

Watching him work with our young people had the most profound impact on all of the Musical Directors, all young people and also audience members. We learned so much just by watching him work and the children really fell in love with him. It’s not often that you find someone who has such integrity and depth of knowledge and skill coupled with the most incredible communication skills. It will be a week that we will never forget and I feel so proud that BYC were able to secure this opportunity for our children and young people. We can’t wait to welcome him back in June for the 10th Anniversary Celebrations!

Mat Wright
Artistic Director