Last week we spoke to Beverley Howard, a second soprano in the BBC Symphony Chorus, who will be performing on 3 June at Shoreditch Church as part of our Summer Festival. This week we interviewed Lizzie Howard, her daughter, who also sings with the choir. She tells us about what it’s like to sing with the BBC Symphony Chorus and about singing with her mum…
The first year my mum was singing at the BBC Proms was just so exciting. It was the first time I had seen the BBC Symphony Chorus and at that time, watching my mum perform, I didn’t think I’d ever get to be a part of it too.
I felt very nervous for my audition. Having my mum in the Chorus already I really didn’t want to not get in. The people I met beforehand had a lot of stories about their experiences singing but I had never really had lessons or sung in a big Chorus before. I picked an audition piece that I had sung for my A level music exam so I felt confident with the piece. The panel conducted my sight singing which helped, although I know I made some mistakes! Afterwards when I got in my dad took me out for dinner, and said he wished he could sing too.
Later that year I sang in the front row of the Chorus at the Proms, live on TV. It’s one of the proudest moments of my life. It was a new piece by Hugh Wood called An Epithalamion, Or Marriage Song. I felt like we were a part of the definitive first performance.
I am doing a degree in popular music and production at the London Centre of Contemporary Music so I find the exploration of different harmonies very interesting because the music I write is much more commercial. The intervals and harmonies in new music can be challenging. You learn them on a different level when you sing them, you feel it and how it fits together. Getting a new piece is very different from learning an existing piece. I like learning pieces by listening to recordings but with a première you can’t do that. At the beginning it is scary but by the end everyone is in love with it. You have to learn how it sounds, what the transitions are in the piece as a whole as well as just how to sing it.
For me, a cappella is what brought me to singing. It’s stripped down and you have to focus on the blend. In Judith Bingham’s The Darkness is no Darkness we are given the shape of a melody and told to improvise.
Singing in the BBC Symphony Chorus gives me a social outlet, a chance to express myself and it has been really grounding while I have been at university. I get to see my mum and have a cup of tea with her rather than just phoning home.
The music and the people keep me coming back to the Chorus. The whole thing about choirs is that you get a level of understanding and closeness from singing with other people that you don’t get from anything else. When I am singing Seek him that Maketh the Seven Stars by Jonathan Dove I like to hear all the parts interacting with each other. You have to watch and listen for everybody else and it feels collaborative. It is so beautiful and melodic. Everyone wants the best results possible in this choir and it’s absolutely worth it.
Beverley and Lizzie Howard will be performing Judith Bingham’s The Darkness is no Darkness and Jonathan Dove’s Seek him that Maketh the Seven Stars with the BBC Symphony Chorus on Friday 3 June at 6.30pm at Shoreditch Church.