What is your choir doing that’s helping you stay “together” at this time?
Right now we’re in social distancing lockdown, so no choirs are meeting. However, our members, through our Facebook group, suggested we try a virtual choir, so we did an arrangement of the 80s hit ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, which seemed fitting! We dedicated it to all teachers, especially those who are/have headed back to school.
How did this “virtual choir” go?
Of course, virtual choirs don’t compare to singing together in person, and it’s a lot of work even for an experienced tekkie, but we’ve found it hugely rewarding to do, plus it’s done no harm for our profile either. So we’ll probably do more.
Choir Name: The National Teachers’ Choir
Number of singers: 40
See what we’re up to on our website!
How does your choir bond as a group?
Each time we meet (3 weekends per year) we provide tasks in small groups, such as writing jingles or lyrics, discussing issues around music education, etc. Plus we have an evening meal together. But being teachers automatically gives them something in common, so we find it’s a naturally sociable group.
Because of the pressures on teachers, we’ve sometimes found ourselves low on numbers for gigs. But we’ve also found with this choir that a) teachers seem to make good singers (which is why we set it up) and b) that teachers are fairly unflappable – they will take any situation in their stride, and whether there are 10 of them or 80 of them, they sing with the same energy.
What was a very special performance and what made it special?
We were invited to sing at the inauguration of a national cohort of 3,000 Teach First (UK equivalent of Teach for America) participants in the Leeds Arena. As well as being our first big gig, there was a wonderful sense of members of the existing schools’ workforce welcoming in a new generation of teachers through song. We sang ‘Something Inside So Strong’.
How does your choir approach a new piece of music?
In stages. We learn nearly all of our repertoire from scratch at each of our weekends, which is usually around 5 songs from different genres. It’s exhilarating for the teachers to know that they will be performing a piece they’ve seen for the first time a little over 24 hours later – it gives the music a real freshness and vitality.
How do you pull it off in 24 hours?
Our Director Ula Weber staggers the teaching of different pieces – she never works through a single piece, but tackles a small section, then moves onto the next piece and does the same, and so on. Then it all comes together in the last couple of hours before the performance! As a result, rehearsals are always engaging, and we’re always amazed by how much we get done. Members have talked about this approach influencing their own teaching style in school.
Any funny moments in rehearsal?
We invite our singers to bring cakes with them for the rehearsal breaks. One weekend in Bristol they got so carried away that there weren’t enough surfaces fit all their cakes onto. That’s a nice dilemma!
How about an emotional moment?
We like to encourage free harmonisation. The first time we tried it was with the song ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’ by The Judds (later covered by Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Nina Cherry). We stood in a circle facing outwards, closed our eyes and let it happen. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room!
Wow– did you ever perform this song?
We went on to perform ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’ as a full concert version with band and massed children’s choirs in Symphony Hall Birmingham. To be able to take a piece from something very intimate and personal to a huge expression of joy with hundreds of performers just shows the amazing power of music.
What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?
Pace and energy. The amount of ground we cover in a single weekend is extraordinary for a choir which is unauditioned and doesn’t require its singers to be able to read music. Ula is a tutor for a brilliant organisation called Sing for Pleasure, which trains conductors to be as efficient and clear in their teaching and conducting approach as possible, with lots of non-verbal communication so they can work at pace. As a result rehearsals are never ever dull, but they also instill a great sense of trust that we will be
able to achieve great things.
A favorite piece of repertoire & why
In 2016 we commissioned Alexander L’Estrange to write a new work for NTC to celebrate the Shakespeare 400 th anniversary. He used Shakespeare texts and created a work in a classical style that was perfectly suited to
our voices. Ula and I got married that year, and the composer dedicated it ‘to Baz Chapman and Ula Weber in the year of their wedding’, which was very touching. It’s available for purchase if you search ‘Alexander L’Estrange Hark! Mark the Music’.
A turning point in the life of your choir?
We were invited to go to Snape Maltings on the English East Coast (a music centre created by Benjamin Britten) and sing in what is one of the finest concert halls for choral acoustics in Britain. This was in July, at the end of the school year, and you could see the impact it had on members to go out to the coast, sing together, walk on the beach, eat fish & chips, and let the stresses of the year dissipate. As a result, we set up an annual summer residency there, and if you ever need proof of the impact of singing on
the wellbeing of teachers, it’s right here!
Baz is an education and music education programmes specialist. Previously Programme Director at Sing Up, the National Singing Programme, Regional Director of Teaching Leaders, West Midlands Director of MusicLeader and Chorus & Projects Manager at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Baz works freelance developing projects and programmes in the arts and education sectors. He and his wife Ula Weber set up National Teachers’ Choir in 2015, which he currently serves in as the organization’s General Manager while Ula leads as Musical Director.