Betsy Cook Weber
The BBC Symphony Chorus...without the Chorus!
The Choir Crawl kicked off this week from Houston with a Zoom call with the BBC Symphony Chorus Director (Neil Ferris) and Manager (Helen McLeod). We were joined by Houston Symphony Chorus Manager, Brian Miller. The four of us had a great time comparing notes.
I was keenly aware of the contrast between my Texas drawl and their elegant British pronunciation and decided that, at the least, I would try to speak in complete sentences, something at which I failed completely.
Neil Ferris, Director of the BBC Symphony Chorus
(I couldn't find a picture of Helen, but am working on it!)
There are a number of similarities between our two groups.
Our rosters are about the same size (around 200+).
They sing a lot — about six or seven sets of repertoire during a normal season and then, typically, add five Proms concerts in the summer.
Their primary venue, the Barbican, can only hold 118 singers at the very most, so they, too, assign singers to various series much as we do.
Their auditions consist of a classical song, vocalizing, and sight-singing. Like us, they try to make the process as painless as possible.
Some interesting differences:
They rehearse twice a week. How would HSC singers feel about that?
They only perform a particular piece once. One thing I love about our HSC/American model is that we typically perform our rep three times.
Over the course of a season, their vocal coach will have one-on-one fifteen-minute sessions with members during rehearsals. Sometimes they work on a particular passage in the repertoire. Other times, they simply vocalize. Neil and Helen describe it as an investment in their singers.
Their vocal coach also sits in on auditions.
They re-audition every three years.
The BBCSC sometimes performs with the BBC Singers, the BBC's top professional choir.
Inspiring Take Aways
Neil and Helen articulated a responsibility to help all singers on their journey. If a singer auditions and doesn't qualify for the BBC Symphony Chorus, they help that singer find a choir that fits.
Neil said something along the lines of, "We want everyone who comes into contact with the BBCSC to have a good experience, even if the result is a rejection email."
Can't wait to meet these folks in person and can't wait to hear the BBC Symphony Chorus in action!