Our spring term Diverse Voices activity was wide-ranging, and we were pleased to continue expanding opportunities for young people in our home borough of Wandsworth. Part of this outreach work involved our Young Artists and singers from our Diverse Voices Programme leading workshops for our local school communities. Shafali Jalota, one of our NTP Young Artists, describes her involvement in this project:

This term, the National Opera Studio’s outreach programme focused on working with local choral groups. We worked with a total of seven choirs – a mixture of school and youth groups – to prepare for a concert at Fairfield Halls. In total, we worked with over 150 young singers, aged between 11 and 18. Over the course of four weeks, National Opera Studio singers and coaches led workshops with the choirs to help prepare the music. We worked on two arrangements: a medley of musical moments from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and a new arrangement of Seal’s Kiss from a Rose. At one of the rehearsals, early on a gloomy Wednesday morning in February, I joined a fellow NOS singer, a coach, and a pianist at one of the school’s choir rehearsals. Led by an accomplished team of teachers and professionals, the choir was remarkably strong, with a number of talented singers at a high level. We noticed, though, that the young singers brought into the room with them all the pressures of being a student and a young person. We quickly realized the importance of the rehearsal space as a chance for the singers to find a sense of ‘release’ from these pressures. We sought as a team to encourage them to leave self-consciousness behind – finding more freedom in sound but also in terms of connection to the pieces. One of the highlights of the work was seeing the group go from tentative to confident over the course of the rehearsal process. It was also rewarding to see how quickly operatic sounds became normal and part of their sound world. One of my colleagues is a countertenor – one of the more unusual classical voice types. When he first sang, there was a mixture of awe and discomfort – manifesting in giggles around the room. However, that almost immediately turned into acceptance and collaboration as we began to rehearse in earnest.

When we got to Fairfield Halls for the culminating performance, the excitement in the enormous concert hall was palpable. A highly accomplished young orchestra was rehearsing as we found our seats in the choral risers behind the stage. When we started to sing the Porgy and Bess medley, it was thrilling to hear the brass and the timpani start to play. Suddenly, the music we had rehearsed took on a life of its own. Seal’s Kiss from a Rose commanded the energy and attention of the whole audience. It was wonderful to hear a group of students sing in a variety of different styles. For many of these young people, this will be the start of a lifelong journey of finding creativity, joy, excitement, collaboration, and learning through music. Like many of the National Opera Studio singers, I work professionally as a singer and performer. In between performances of The Rake’s Progress and Manon Lescaut with English Touring Opera, it was a privilege to see local young people engaging with this profoundly human act of raising our voices together in song.

Shafali Jalota will be performing with ETO until the end of May. If you’d like to see her performing, please visit https://englishtouringopera.org.uk/ for more information.