For the past fortnight, I’ve been working in Belfast on the residential courses of the Ulster Youth Choir (UYC) and the Ulster Youth Training Choir (UYTC). The age of the singers on the courses ranges from 14 to 22. It’s been a wonderful time for me, and it’s really pushed my thinking about my project through The Ideas Collective.
My role has been as a Pastoral mentor, which involves child protection training, dealing with homesickness or physical injuries, bullying (thankfully there have been very few problems!), enforcing course policy, etc. I find it really interesting work because I’m learning so much from the young singers themselves – about how they respond to the music, about what experiences they enjoy, and about what musical theory/knowledge is required to sing at this musical level.
Of course, I'm also learning a lot from the music staff on the UYC course: about how to approach a large group of young musicians with demanding repertoire and about what they’re looking for in the UYC sound. Every day I spend here, it brings me back to my time in UYC.
I joined the choir first when I was 14 and did a second course aged 15. I loved it and I took away so much. It was the first time in my life that my eyes were opened to the effect that collective singing can have on a group of people. To be honest, one of the main things I remember is the confidence it gave me. As a young man, I was working out my own strengths and weaknesses. As young singers, we engaged collectively in a way that we will never forget. Chris Bell, the conductor in my first year, commanded so much respect from the group that everyone tried to win his favour at every moment of rehearsal.
Even if we don’t remember people’s names (or their faces!), we still remember the emotion of creating that music together. I remember the beauty of Mendelssohn “Kyrie Eleison”. I remember how it made me feel to sing Vaughan Williams’ “Through Bushes and Through Briars”. I remember being brought to tears by McMillan’s “The Gallant Weaver”. The other day, I found the album UYC recorded during my time, entitled “The Singing Will Never Be Done”. It includes three pieces by Anúna’s director/composer Michael McGlynn. This was my first time singing McGlynn’s music. It was a special time.
UYC means a lot to me. And now I’m on the other side, trying my best to make sure these young singers are getting as much out of it as I did. I’m very proud to be a part of it. The courses have given me plenty of food for thought regarding The Ideas Collective.
When I am working with participants on my project, my aim is to bring individuals together in a creative environment to build a community of human rights advocates: people who will voice their concerns and stand up for themselves; people who will confidently develop a community together and become leaders in their own right. We hope to achieve this through music.