Founder and Director of Platinum Consort.
If you had to give an aspiring vocal ensemble just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Listen to one another. Matching vowel sounds is the key to creating a beautiful, homogenised sound.
How you were introduced to ensemble singing?
As a fifteen year old folk musician, I wanted to study GCSE music. It was a compulsory element of the course to join the school choir. I really didn’t want to! Two rehearsals later, I fell in love with ensemble singing and quickly progressed from baritone to countertenor within a few years. Listening to teachers is crucial!
If and when you have to programme a concert, what factors influence you most?
I try to step away from academia and look for sheer beauty. There is always a central theme, for example ‘The Virgin Mary’, but within that I try to be as flexible as possible. I like to think that a programme takes the listener on a journey, so I also think very carefully about the ordering of the pieces, and their respective key signatures, to ensure as smooth a ride as possible.
How rigidly do you like to keep to a score in performance?
It honestly depends on the music. With Early Music there can be a lot of flexibility in tempi, dynamics and general approach. With new music, I find it incredibly rewarding to work directly with the composer to bring the music to life in rehearsals. This often means making amendments to the score ten minutes before the concert. Once the performance arrives, however, it is always good to stick to the plan!
What, for you, are the marks of a great composition for vocal ensembles?
The composer simply must understand the voice or, even better, be a singer! And don’t over complicate things…
What, in your opinion, makes a great ensemble singer?
Someone who listens, reacts and adapts to others around them. They never lead.
Do you have any pet-hates when you hear choirs or vocal ensembles perform?
My biggest bugbear is the lack of a good warm-up beforehand. This is instantly recognisable and generally not the fault of the singers. There is far too much emphasis on repertoire and learning notes. When working with amateur singers I spend at least thirty minutes on vocal coaching. Some cynics call it a waste of time; I call it second nature! The results speak for themselves.
Is there anything that you do when you perform, rehearse, compose or conduct that others might find unusual? (quirks, tricks, useful tips)
I like to experiment with space with the professional singers in Platinum Consort. I sometimes ask them to stand amongst the audience to perform a motet. They find it a terrifying and disconcerting experience (they can’t hear each other), but the audience enjoys the most sublime surround-sound experience!
With amateur singers, my favourite technique is to scramble them so they are standing next to another voice part. It really pushes them out of their comfort zones and fixes many issues such as tuning, ensemble and lack of confidence. I’ve also been known to ask singers to waltz and to march around the room during a rehearsal!
If you could have had a different career, what do you think it would have been, and why?
I absolutely love graphic design. I can spend hours designing a flyer for a concert or designing a new website. Would I really love it if wasn’t for my choirs? Probably not….!
Are you able to say why you particularly love choral music?
No matter whether you are six years old or sixty-six you can take part in a choir. Everyone has a voice; choral music enables people from all walks of life to come together, irrespective of their circumstances.
Do you have a favourite choral composer and, if so, whom and why?
My current favourite is Orlande de Lassus (c1532-c1594). His music appears in almost every Platinum Consort concert because of his perfectly shaped polyphonic lines and heart-achingly beautiful harmonic progressions.
Read all the KS Q&As on the Ensemble Hub Dropbox.
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