The Chamber Choir was very pleased to welcome Professor Simon Halsey to Dean Close yesterday. Simon is a sought-after conductor of choral repertoire at the very highest level, and an ambassador for choral singing across the world. He is Choral Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chorus Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Choruses and Director of the BBC Proms Youth Choir, to name but a few of his roles. He also directs a number of choirs overseas.

Whilst visiting Dean Close, Simon worked very closely with the Chamber Choir on John Rutter’s “A Lover and his Lass”. During the session, Simon was able to help the pupils to transform the piece by stripping it down to the bare bones. The Choir was instructed to sing the piece using only the vowels sounds, allowing them listen more closely to each other and further blend their parts. The melody has fantastic variety and Simon’s emphasis was on changing the relationships between the voices. He asked the singers to move around, stand with different people, face them if necessary, to get them to really understand each other’s parts of the music. Simon even expressed the importance of ignoring the conductor on occasion! He said “It is important to trust your own instincts and not be so obedient to the conductor” and praised the group by saying that “the beauty of conducting in a place like Dean Close is that the pupils are already so good.”

This new-found freedom resulted in a dramatic change to the sound of the piece. However, it is his flamboyant and hands-on approach, which even saw him dancing with teacher Miss Hildick-Smith, that made the rehearsals so memorable for the pupils. Director of Choral Music, Simon Bell said; “It was a privileged for the pupils to work with Simon Halsey, he has offered lots of ideas for changing and improving, and left pupils with a real sense of achievement. They have learnt how to enhance both their technical and listening skills, but most importantly to have fun doing so.”

Watch clips from the workshop…