KS Q&A: Ben Parry

Singer, conductor, composer, arranger

Artistic Director, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain


If you had to give an aspiring vocal ensemble just one piece of advice, what would it be?

Impress, engage, move and inspire your audience.

How you were introduced to ensemble singing?

My parents used to sing madrigals and partsongs of an evening with friends. I used to join in from about age 6!

What’s the first thing you look at when you open a score for the first time?

If it’s a choral piece, how the composer has approached setting the words – does the music reflect the meaning of the words successfully?

If and when you have to programme a concert, what factors influence you most?

I like working to a theme, and hanging the music on that peg – it’s so often a useful concept.

How rigidly do you like to keep to a score in performance?

It depends which composer it is – Britten, for example, is very specific with performance indications. Bach leaves us pretty much up to our own devices.

What, for you, are the marks of a great composition for vocal ensembles?

Voice leading  – well written, and effective choral writing that is effective and clear, and enhances the text.

Do you have any pet-hates when you hear choirs or vocal ensembles perform?

Bad ensemble and tuning.

Is there anything that you do when you perform, rehearse, compose or conduct that others might find unusual?  

Perform – give 110%

Rehearse – be efficient

Compose – draw the listener in

Conduct – be clear!

If you could have had a different career, what do you think it would have been, and why?

Horticulturist – I know so little about it, but I love being in my garden.

Are you able to say why you particularly love choral music?

Mixture of words and music.

Do you have a favourite choral composer and, if so, whom and why?

Ooh tricky. I’m going to say Britten (for Hymn to St Cecilia) but I’ll change my mind in a minute!

Is there a piece for choirs or vocal ensembles you’d like to recommend to us that we might not have heard of before?

Mathias May Magnificat – National Youth Choir sang it this summer. I didn’t know it before, and it’s magnificent.

Is there anyone or any group in the world of choirs and vocal ensembles that you admire particularly, either current performers or groups from the past?

The Idea of North – an Australian vocal quartet I met in New Zealand and couple of years ago. Great performers and singers.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? If yes, will you tell us what it is?

Coffee and flapjack.


Read more about the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain in our Featured Ensembles.


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