An Update from Barnsley Youth Choir

An Update from Barnsley Youth Choir

May 2020

Dear friend of BYC,

We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well.

Firstly a huge thank you for your invaluable support during this last year. In this climate the choir, in a similar way to all arts organisations, is extremely vulnerable. Whilst we are managing this situation carefully it does place us under a great deal of pressure financially. We remain a community choir and charity focused on inclusion and supporting all children in our community and we have a significant number who are disadvantaged. We do rely on the support of the local and wider communities to continue to function through generous donations, support through sponsorship and schemes such as the Patrons Scheme and the 100 Club which help the choir stay afloat. Whilst we are still operational, and are incredibly optimistic about the future, it would be wrong not to report that we are under significant financial pressure.

I do hope that you are in a position to support the choir in the 2020-21 season. The choir needs your support more than ever if we are to continue to provide exceptional experiences for young people in Barnsley.

I wanted to provide you with an update about the developments at BYC. Clearly the Covid-19 pandemic has provided some unique challenges to how we function as a choir. We have had to cancel the Spring Concerts, Patron’s Evening, the trip to the World Choir Games, the appearance at the Underneath the Stars Festival with Kate Rusby, the hosting of the World Choir Games Gold Medallists, the Defrost Choir from Norway, and the visit of the incredible Tuks Camerata from Pretoria, South Africa including the World Choir Games Experience Concert. So much preparation and hard work had gone into preparing these wonderful events, as well as financial commitments, and we were so disappointed to have to cancel them. Clearly this was absolutely necessary and we took steps quickly to communicate this to venues and all key stakeholders.

The choir took strong and decisive action and also made a firm commitment to provide as much support to young people as possible. We recognise that many will have significant challenges at home with the lockdown. We also recognised that many families are under significant financial pressure which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

All decisions we have made have focused on the welfare and wellbeing of our young people, but we have been quick to ensure that those that we consult with those who may have missed out because of these cancellations. The following decisions were made and acted upon:

1) We decided to provide extensive online provision to young people without seeking payment from them. Some have offered to pay but we have been clear that this is not an expectation.

2) Those who were kind enough to sponsor a child for the World Choir Games have been contacted and offered a refund or to defer their support to 2021 when we will compete

3) Those who were kind enough to support our Crowdfunder Project were also offered refunds but many, very kindly, were happy to defer any rewards

4) We made a firm commitment to support the music team that runs rehearsals by asking them to commit to leading online provision as an alternative – this has been extensive and of a very high quality.

5) The Grand Raffle has been deferred to Christmas. Any tickets already sold are still valid and, after seeking approval from the licensees, we communicated this to everyone.

Our mantra has been clear; we have chosen to focus not on what we can’t do, and instead focus on what we can do. We’ve needed to be innovative, creative and resilient – qualities that the BYC team has in abundance.

We have sought to engage the 450 children we serve, recognising that many may be feeling isolated and anxious during this really difficult time. We have worked tirelessly to provide support for them. We have set up the following activities:

Weekly Rehearsals

All 6 of our choirs have had weekly online rehearsals either via Facebook Live or Zoom at their usual rehearsal times – this has been a huge commitment to make. This has had very good engagement and children have been really active. Initially only the Senior Choir accessed Zoom rehearsals (whilst our other choirs accessed Facebook Live videos) but the Intermediate Choir has been accessing Zoom rehearsals during the last month and all 3 Children’s Choirs will access them next week. We have invested in subscriptions to a premium Zoom package that provides more security and safety. It’s fantastic to see children as young as 4 involved in these rehearsals and still getting so much out of being involved in BYC every week. We have delivered these rehearsals throughout school holidays (which we usually wouldn’t have done), recognising that young people need this regular structure and support.

I was involved in supporting rehearsals with Professor Thomas Caplin from Norway. This has been really helpful and he has mentored me in how we can use Zoom effectively. He has also attended our rehearsals and supported us in how to use Zoom effectively and talked to our young people providing inspirational advice.

Warm-ups and Technical Vocal Support

We have posted regular videos, often daily, on the Facebook groups for all 6 choirs. Sam Gilliatt and Luke Mather have worked tirelessly to provide these videos and we are indebted to them. The videos are usually only a few minutes long but are exceptionally well put together and provide high quality technical support to singers. They are also a lot of fun!

Eleanor Wright and Luke Mather and I have also posted a 30 minute warm-up video which mirrors what children would do with us in a face to face session. This means that they can use this whenever they like.

International Vocal Workshops

We were thrilled to welcome one of the world’s leading choral trainers and Kodaly experts, Susanna Saw from Malaysia. She delivered online training on Zoom to all of our music team and also led a workshops with members of the Intermediate and Senior Choirs. Both sessions were superb and provided us with lots of ideas about how we can make Zoom rehearsals really interactive and fun. There are plans for her to do this with our Children’s Choirs too.

Messages of Support / Vocal Technique Sessions

We have engaged with some of the world’s most outstanding musicians who have posted videos of support for our young people. It has been wonderful to see their fantastic messages and tips on how to improve singing technique. Sincere thanks goes to:

Michael Barrett (South Africa), Peggy Detwiler (USA), Elena Sharkova (USA), Elena Volodina (Russia), Alexander Solovyev (Russia), Ellie Sperling (NYCGB Fellowship), Greg Link (Apollo 5), Jacob Ewens (NYCGB Fellowship), Danni O’Neill (NYCGB Fellowship), Marit Bodsberg Weyde (Norway), Christoph Mac-Carty (Holland), Tony Margeta (Sweden), Christian Santos (Gibraltar) and Paul Phoenix (Kings Singers).

BYC Zoom Quiz

We have held 3 Zoom quizzes that have been well attended and a LOT of fun. We have had up to 58 families taking part in each quiz. The quizzes have been very interactive, focused on fun and enjoyment and also have involved the full family in a series of challenges. We will continue to hold these whilst ever we have lockdown restrictions.

Signposting to quality Resources

We have been signposting members and their families to other resources regularly including the fabulous daily challenges from the National Youth Choir of Scotland and challenges from our resident drummer, Keith Ramskill, who is posting short videos of him playing drum patterns for BYC songs and members are being asked to guess the songs.

Covid-19 Message of Hope

We noticed that members were sending each other lovely photos with messages of hope written on paper. We invited members to do this and had around 400 sent in total. We collated them (a huge job) and turned them into a card with the support of our friends at First Class Design. We sent these cards to all singers (450 of them in total), Volunteers, Patrons, Sponsors, Partners, 100 Club Members and those who have supported BYC in some way. Each were hand written, around 1000 in total!

We then went a stage further and produced the most amazing video that is available on YouTube and had over 2000 views in the first week – wow! It’s been shared all around the world. It was a huge piece of work to do but we know that it’s worth it. It is available here - . Please have a look at the video which is on the main Barnsley Youth Choir YouTube account. It’s so good to see our young people being so supportive and positive.

Inspiring Insights

We have set up a series of 1 hour Q&A sessions via Zoom with some of the world’s most important musicians and members of our Intermediate and Senior Choirs. The list is overwhelming! I contacted a number of them expecting a poor response. The vast majority got back in touch with me straight away and offered to be interviewed by our young people which is wonderful! At the time of writing this the first two sessions have already happened and have been hugely successful. Our children left both sessions completely inspired by Elena Sharkova (USA) and Dr. Michael Barrett (South Africa). The list of those that have provisionally agreed to do this for our young people is as follows:

Elena Sharkova (USA) Internationally award winning conductor and educator

Dr. Michael Barrett (South Africa) One of the world’s finest conductors, composers and educators

Simon Halsey CBE (England) One of the world’s finest choral conductors and educators

Myguel Santos e Castro (Portugal) A fantastic choral leader and charismatic system leader in choral music

Ola Gjeilo (Norway) One of the most famous composers in the world

Eric Whitacre (USA) One of the most famous composers in the world

Paul Phoenix (England / Hong Kong) Former Kings Singer

Paul Mealor (England) World famous composer who has written music for the Royal Family

Ralf Schmitt (South Africa) His choir, Ndlovu, were finalists in America’s Got Talent

Greg Beardsell (England) Presents the Proms for the BBC and leads the NYCGB Training Choir

Beverly Shangkuang-Cheng (Philippines) A world authority on choral music and a fantastic conductor

Johan Rooze (South Korea) An Artistic Director of Interkultur and an outstanding choral leader

Mia Makaroff (Finland) One of the world’s finest composers – has written for the Kings Singers

Paul Holley (Australia) Gondwana Voices – Australia’s outstanding youth choir. Superb leader.

Renette Bower (South Africa) A master technician and stunning choral leader – Johannesberg Uni Choir

Christoph Mc-Carty (Holland) His choir, Dekoor Close Harmony, are perhaps the world’s leading Jazz Choir

Rachel Staunton (England) An outstanding choral leader – runs London youth Choir

Andre Thomas (USA) One of the finest choral educators in the world. Conductor / composer

Amy Bebbington (England) A very important choral / conducting trainer – works for ABCD

Beyond this list we have another 10 of the world’s best choral leaders and composers that we are in discussions with and hope to secure their support too. It is really incredible that they are prepared to do this for our young people and I have already learnt so much from the first two sessions myself. I just wish I’d had this opportunity when I was their age! It’s a huge amount of work to organise but we know that it is worth it. We are sincerely grateful and humbled by the support that they are offering our young people at this difficult time. We’d like to pass on sincere thanks to all who have agreed to do this for our young people – it is the most wonderful gesture of support at a challenging time.

Virtual World Choir Games

The Senior Choir has held its own World Choir Games via zoom. 102 members were separated to form 12 international juries. We listened to 4 outstanding choirs from around the world and then marked them all individually. A host of heated jury meetings ensued where young people discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each choir and medals were awarded at the end. It’s led us all to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses – a fascinating evening where we learnt a great deal.

Virtual Choir Projects

We were invited to take part in a very prestigious international virtual choir project featuring some of the finest choirs in the world – around 20 in all. 12 members of the Senior Choir took part and submitted individual recordings – both audio and video. It was incredibly challenging but also really exciting to take part. This will be promoted in this country via Classic FM and the BBC, and will carry a similar profile in other countries around the world. We will release more information about this project in due course. We anticipate that the video will be released mid-June which is really exciting. We are also embarking on a Virtual Choir project with the fabulous TUKS Camerata choir from Pretoria where we will perform a piece virtually together and will make a video with our members singing together. Around 100 members of our Senior Choir will take part. It’s going to be fantastic!

Sing with Mat Wright

Earlier this month we set up a daily 30 minute singing session at 10.00am for children not at school, following a request from BBC Radio Sheffield. This was very much aimed at children who had done very little singing before and was focused on fun and engagement rather than technical development. We were thrilled to see that nearly 1000 people chose to follow the page and the videos were accessed by over 40,000 people from all over the world. It certainly wasn’t our intention for it to be as big as it became. When key international conductors and Interkultur were sharing this it gained a lot of momentum. Lots of BYC members accessed these singing sessions with their families which was brilliant.

Other Partnerships during Covid-19

At BYC we always pride ourselves on being outward facing and seek to learn from but also support the choral community in any way we can. There has never been a more important time to connect and support one another. I have been involved in calls and video conference calls with colleagues around the world seeking to learn from them but also share the work that we are doing in the hope that it is helpful. I have had a session with Tuks Camerata in Pretoria and have also delivered a workshop to a choir in Sri Lanka as well has having calls with experts in Asia and Australia. I have also been involved in a network group organised by Thomas Caplin (Norway) of international choral experts which has been incredibly helpful. The Association of British Choral Directors also asked me to be involved and present in a Webinar about Youth Choirs with choral directors which was well attended and really positive.

Internally we have held regular virtual meetings with our volunteer, music and steering group teams to ensure that we are clear about the work that we are doing and how we can support each other to provide the best for our young people.

Plans for 2020-21 Season

The trustees, steering group and volunteer team have discussed plans for the next BYC season. Important decisions need to be reached about some key events and BYC now plans up to 2 years in advance. You will appreciate that this is very difficult to do at the moment. We have already committed to taking part in the Underneath the Stars Festival with Kate Rusby on August 1st 2021 – this is likely to involve Children’s Choirs, Intermediate and Senior Choirs. We are in discussions with TUKS Camerata about a visit to Barnsley which we hope will be in the summer term of 2021. We have spent a great deal of time discussing plans for major tours. Some time ago we committed to going to Stockholm in February 2021 with members of the Senior Choir to work with the Adolf Fredriks School and the Stockholm Cathedral Choir, and we are keen to honour this commitment as long as it is safe to travel. Our initial plans, before the pandemic, was to take a large team to the Edinburgh Festival in August 2021 – the biggest and most important arts festival in the world. This would include members of all 3 Children’s Choirs, the Intermediate Choir and the Senior Choir (around 250 in total). In order to make this possible we need a full year of very careful planning and significant fundraising. The instability of the current climate makes this work very difficult. If we did travel to Edinburgh in August 2021, we would have to scale this project down significantly. It would be highly likely that younger members would not be able to be involved which is something that we are really concerned about.

We will defer our trip to Edinburgh to August 2022 which will leave ample time to plan and prepare, fundraise and do full justice to the trip – allowing younger members to be involved. BYC will take up the invitation to represent GB in the 2021 World Choir Games in July. Fundraising has already started to take place and, whilst there is still so much to do, it will place much less pressure on the organisation.

We still plan to still deliver our exciting and extensive programme in 2020-21 including Christmas Concerts, the Unplugged Charity Concert, Spring Concerts, Gala Dinner, Singathon, Workshops with leading international choral directors, hosting of International Choirs, the Underneath the Stars Festival and many other exciting events. There are a large number of outstanding British and international choirs and conductors that are keen to come and work with us which we will explore when we are clearer about how this can work logistically. I am sure that you will appreciate that all plans will be dependent on the Covid-19 situation being resolved and we will continue to monitor the situation carefully.

We are very much looking forward to another exciting and busy year with all our young members, and we hope that you will be able to continue your support for the upcoming season. I hope that this information is helpful and gives you an insight into the work that we are involved in. We are working harder than we ever have to support young people through this difficult time and provide a positive focus. I am incredibly grateful to the BYC team for working so tirelessly in the face of these challenges. Their moral purpose and leadership has been extraordinary. We also would like to extend thanks and support to all members of the wider choral community who are working so hard to manage the challenges that Covid-19 presents.

Thank you again for your wonderful support.

Best wishes

Mat Wright MBE

Artistic Director

Barnsley Youth Choir