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  • Writer's pictureBetsy 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!

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