Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and pursue a career in music?
I was something of a surprise to a thoroughly non-musical family so my first singing heroes came from the world of TV and musical theatre; Michael Crawford, Michael Ball and particularly Harry Secombe. It wasn’t until I found myself at university – a second-rate pianist being nudged towards the vocal department – that I began to take my own voice seriously. I was taken in hand by an excellent teacher and found inspiration from the absolutely wonderful recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
At 32 my career is barely begun but the biggest influence across all the branches of my career is my membership of the BBC Singers. I’ve been a part of the ensemble for 8 years and I most certainly would not be the musician I am today without that experience. When I joined the group I was in no way prepared for what would be expected of me day in day out. The great beauty of the group though, is that it is the vessel in which is contained a near-century of experience and expertise and I found myself surrounded by older colleagues who have taught me by their own example just about everything I know today. As a singer, as a conductor and as a composer I have been shaped by the BBC Singers.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
As a non-singer turned cutting-edge contemporary choral musician I suppose getting over the horror of sight-singing was a big hurdle. These days I think I’m probably as able a sight-singer as most.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m someone who finds it very difficult to feel satisfied with a performance or recording. I tend to find all sorts of faults that I wish weren’t there. That said, there is a recording of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’ that I keep on the front page of my website that I think shows the best qualities of my voice.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
It’s not hugely fashionable to specialize in English repertoire but it’s where my heart is and I think that might well be the most important thing in the end. I’ve never been drawn to opera and although I love lieder it doesn’t hold my attention like, say, the songs of Vaughan Williams, Finzi, Ernest Farrar, William Denis Browne et al. I have a stack of songs by composers who perished in the Great War that I really must get onto disc.
Of course my first love has always been choral music. I’m very lucky to be a member of the BBC Singers, a group with the most astonishingly broad repertoire.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Most of my repertoire is chosen by other people, which is great – often I’ve found myself faced with an unknown piece that I’ve come to love.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I’m very fond of Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. It’s the most beautiful Norman mini-cathedral with wonderful acoustics and is the home venue of my own Romsey Choral Society. They’re a fantastic group and I love working with them.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
To sing or to conduct? Doesn’t matter actually, the answer is the Mass in B minor by Bach. It’s also my go-to disc if I’m in the mood for music at home. There is no greater music!
Who are your favourite musicians?
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett is a composer that I hugely admire. He was a formidably talented musician and it was he who first inspired me to put pen to paper. I remember singing his setting of The Holly and The Ivy and being amazed that his version kicked the old familiar melody right out of my head – Even now I’ll sing you his version if asked. That night I went home and composed my Op. 1: a setting of Silent Night. I tend to gravitate towards composers who are able – within or around the framework of tonality – to say something new and surprising – Notably James Macmillan, John McCabe, Judith Weir and Cecilia McDowall. I’m not hugely interested in the avant garde or the aleatoric.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
It was probably the occasion when my three worlds collided. I was able to bring my amateur choir to work with the BBC Singers singing, amongst other things, a piece that I had written: A movement of what would later become my choral song cycle ‘To Every Thing’ which the BBC Singers premiered earlier this year. Two very memorable concerts then.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
This is probably an observation that aspiring musicians don’t want to hear but the moment you cross the line between amateur musician and professional there are a huge number of obstacles that can dull your enjoyment. There’s nothing like being paid for something to suck the life out of it and you have to be a very determined sort not to lose the passion that you started out with. If you do find yourself pulled into the professional world, make it your business to make contact with amateur music makers once in a while. I find it hugely therapeutic to work with people who are there for no other reason than because they absolutely love it and they couldn’t imagine not being there!
What is your present state of mind?
Currently I’m in a state of anxiety! I’m anxiously promoting a charity project; #ChoirsAgainstCancer.
Having lost a member of my choral society to pancreatic cancer I wanted to do something to support Macmillan and hopefully to help other sufferers. I’ve written a very simple carol which I am giving to choirs for free asking only that they support the charity in whatever way they can. I’ve been absolutely astonished by the positive reaction to this. I’ve ended up writing versions for unison voices, for ladies’ choirs, male voice choirs and there have even been versions created by other people to suit their own community choirs. One choir leader asked if she could create a version for two parts and guitar – I was absolutely delighted!
To date I have around 40 confirmed performances all around the UK as well as in Geneva, Malta and even in Australia and New Zealand. I’ve no doubt that the reason for this success so far is the beautiful recording of the piece by The Queen’s Six that I’ve been able to use to promote the piece. It’s had thousands of views across social media and I hope many more performances will come in over the next month. I desperately want all of this work to lead to a serious bit of cash for a very worthy cause.
Dancing Day is a project for Christmas 2016 which makes a brand new Christmas carol by Jamie W. Hall available free and without any limitations to choirs everywhere who will then use their performances to support the amazing work of Macmillan Cancer Support.
Use the hashtag #choirsagainstcancer when tweeting about the project
VISIT www.justgiving.com/dancingday TO MAKE YOUR DONATION