Organ Scholar, David Rice, talked to three musicians before they left Dean Close.
How did Dean Close start off for you?
I’ve been here since year 5, so 9 years. My mum was looking for somewhere for me to be a chorister, and she got in touch with a friend whose daughter already went to Dean Close and they told them about the chorister scholarship scheme with Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum. Ben Nicholas, who was the choral director at the time, auditioned me and I got in. So that’s how it started, through Tewkesbury.
And was Ben Nicholas a big influence on your life?
Yes, him and Bronwen Mills, my singing teacher. They encouraged me to audition for BBC Chorister of the Year, and they helped with some concerts that I did during that time, so they were a huge influence and gave me groundwork as a performer.
So you were successful not just in Tewkesbury, but the wider world?
Yes, I was extremely lucky to have the experiences that I’ve had. The Albert Hall is a standout of course; it’s very nerve-racking but gave me a lot of experience which I hold dear. You work through that and learn as you go. And there are a couple of CDs of me as a treble – some with the Schola Cantorum, and one external one with the Gabrieli consort, which won a Grammy.
And so transitioning to Senior School, what was your musical life made up of?
Lots and lots of concerts! Mrs Porter has given us lots of opportunities, and I also started to do more drama. Choristers could get involved in the drama productions but didn’t play major roles; it wasn’t until senior school that I could really get stuck in. The acting technique that I learnt with Miss Vines and Mr Allington, through academic drama and productions, was incredibly useful for my stage presence and communication on stage.
You’ve performed in over 20 shows here. Any stand-out roles you particularly enjoyed?
My first straight acting role in Remove was Guy Bennet in Another Country – a fantastic play! And then Fagin in Oliver was a highlight and a great role to play. High Society is another standout for me, brilliant fun, with a really nice small cast. And Fiddler on the Roof of course – that was interesting because I was attending Conservatoire auditions at the same time, so it was a bit stressful, but totally worth it. There were loads of others. Miss Vines put on WW1 Remembers, which was very poignant with the involvement of many Old Decanians.
You’re spending the next four years at the Royal College of Music, studying singing. What’s going to challenge you there?
It will be really interesting to go from school, where I’ve been really lucky with all my opportunities, to London, where I’ll be a very small fish in an ocean of talented singers. And I think not only will it be a challenge, it will be a great inspiration to me to be able to work with such fantastic singers. I know there will be competition now and then but that will be good for me!
What’s likely to happen after that?
It depends how the voice develops as I progress. I am still 18 and I just need to see how it matures. I could take a year out, maybe do some opera chorus work which I’d really love to do, and then either do postgraduate study, or look for a Young Artist programme at one of the opera houses. They take on singers just out of Conservatoire, who cover big roles and play minor roles and it kick-starts a singer’s career. Cardiff singer of the world is another big aim (in twenty years maybe)! Overall my aim is to be on stage performing opera.
Anything to add?
Just to thank the school for everything they’ve done – not just the concerts, but the trips and things – introducing me to opera, and consolidating my love for it, and the arts in general.
When did your Dean Close journey start?
I joined in nursery, when I was 2. I enjoyed music from an early age, despite both my parents being completely tone deaf, but they had a few classical CDs at home which I listened to occasionally. My interest in Classical music really began when I started playing the violin. I took up the violin when I was 6, and I’d been asking for about a year because of the Star Wars music – I really wanted to be able to play the opening theme.
Then you joined Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum and started singing. How was that?
It was tough to begin with. Four services a week is not much for a choral foundation, but when you’re 8 or 9 years old it is a lot. So it was quite hard, but I did really enjoy it. I got a good musical education out of it and think it has been key to the development of my musicianship and Cambridge success.
Who were your role models at that stage?
I guess you always look up to the older choristers who have good voices. There was one four years above me who got to the final of Chorister of the Year. But then Laurence won it obviously. I also think Mr Nicholas is a great choral director.
What did you do apart from that at the Prep School?
I got involved with drama – I was the Pharaoh in Joseph. I was in orchestra, we had a strings group which was good fun, and a bit of chamber music. I was quite keen on my sport – I used to really like rugby, but preferred hockey and cricket once I was in the senior school.
How was the transition to Senior School?
I had a lot more free time! As a chorister, four days a week are taken up with Evensong so I noticed a considerable difference in Year 9. I kept singing as my voice changed: it slid down during Year 10 and Year 11 so I stayed singing treble. I only started singing counter-tenor in Lower Sixth. I continued to play the violin alongside singing.
What’s the plan for next year?
I’ve got a place at King’s College Cambridge, to do economics with a Choral Scholarship. I didn’t think it was a realistic thing to aim for in Lower Sixth, particularly as I had only just started singing counter-tenor in the summer. However, the first person I sang for was the choral director of St John’s Cambridge, who was a guest conductor on my Eton Choral course. I asked him if was realistic to apply to a choral foundation, and he said it was if I stuck with it. My tutor encouraged me to sing for a few other colleges, and Stephen Cleobury encouraged me to apply to King’s. The choir there is quite famous! Most people know of it because of the yearly broadcast on Christmas Eve.
What’s going to challenge you there?
The time commitment! Singing services every day is a big chunk out of your working time. It’s something that’s worth doing though, and I’ll never get another opportunity like it.
Apart from the choir, what are you going to be up to at Cambridge?
I’d like to get involved in student opera. I went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Cambridge, which was very impressive. I expect I’ll play viola in some ensembles but I’m more interested in keeping up my singing. I’ll possibly play a bit of hockey or football too.
When did your Dean Close journey start?
I went to primary school in Charlton Kings, and I’ve lived there all my childhood. My sister came here on a sports scholarship and loved it, so I followed her. I was also really into sport, particularly cricket. I hadn’t done any music beforehand, so that was all I was interested in at first, and then I started doing a bit of music: singing and teaching myself piano.
Who got you started with that?
We had a piano at home which was my Grandfather’s. It sat there unused and eventually I thought I’d have a go. We had a whole room of music and I spent a year exploring it and the instrument. At the end of Year 6 I applied for a music scholarship (I’d picked up the clarinet on the side), and at this point Mr Nicholas and Miss Hensel encourage me into it in a serious way.
How was the transition to Senior School?
It was great! I found myself at the end of Year 8 grateful for my time at Prep school but ready to leave. I was buzzing for a new and more mature environment. I loved Dale house when I joined it in Year 9, it had a great atmosphere.
In your time here you’ve performed in many concerts. What has stood out?
In my first few years of school, I liked drama, and the thing I really enjoyed was writing music for plays – I wrote for Arcadia, Canterbury Tales and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Those were really rewarding. It pushed me away from just performing, into composition and improvisation. I do perform as well though – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue this year was a culmination of that.
Do you still compose?
A little; I prefer improvisation though. I possibly lost out through never doing academic music – I didn’t do GCSE and did A level off timetable so I didn’t pick up the technical composition stuff. I improvise on the piano, but don’t really compose for other instruments or ensembles.
We did a piece of yours in chapel choir…
Yes, that was probably my first experience of writing for choir. I’ve really enjoyed writing songs for Steve, Pat and Salim. Perhaps the best thing for me has been the jazz band. Jazz doesn’t come naturally to me so I’ve had to really concentrate to get that right. I’ve been guessing for five years – Mr Rushton says I do a great imitation of someone who understands jazz. I don’t know if I’ll be good enough to keep doing jazz later on, but I hope to keep it going.
Talk about next year.
The vacancy I was looking for at Cambridge wasn’t available until 2018, so I needed to fill that year with a job and was fortunate to be given an organ scholarship at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to immerse myself in music for a year in a pretty cool location! After that, hopefully, I’m going to Cambridge: I have an offer from Jesus College, to study Law.
Have you done any Law so far at school?
None, absolutely none. But I’ve always loved politics and English, and I’ve found that the things I’m interested in relate to issues of law and society. In Lower Sixth I found myself reading around the subject a lot. I’m not doing it because of any particular plan of what to do with my life – I just fell into it. I’m certainly not doing it because I want to be a lawyer – I haven’t thought that far ahead actually. I probably won’t do music professionally either; that’s another reason I’ve gone for this gap year. My natural focus at school has been music because there are so many opportunities, but my real interest is more in law.