We spoke to James Davey, conductor of Chantage (BBC
Radio 3 Choir of the Year 2006) and Ken Burton leader
of the internationally renowned London Adventist Chorale
(Sainsbury's Choir of the Year 1994) about what it meant
for their choirs to win the UK's most prestigious choral
Chantage has been running
since 1999 and has forged a growing reputation as an
outstanding young and energetic young chamber choir
performing traditional English choral works alongside
lesser known pieces from foreign choral cultures, vocal
percussion and other unusual contemporary styles. Founder
and conductor James Davey spoke to Choir of the Year's
Clair Bradder about Chantage's experience of Choir of
the Year and their willingness to take on any vocal
How did it feel performing in front of millions of
nationwide viewers in Choir of the Year?
It's not until you see yourself on television that you're
really appreciate of the scale of the audience - when
you're on stage you're only really aware of the live
audience in the auditorium and knowing it's not live
does take the pressure off. I did catch sight of myself
on the big screen once or twice whilst conducting and
that was quite distracting!
What did it feel like when you won the competition?
It was awesome. The buzz was incredible and took several
weeks to subside. When you first hear the news you feel
as if you could do anything .until you open your
mouth to speak and nothing comes out!
What did the choir learn through taking part?
We won Choir of the Year on our third attempt and it
was over the first two competitions we learned the most
about what we needed to do to improve. The main thing
I learned was that it's crucial to communicate your
interpretation of a piece. You have to make a decision
about whether you're there to deliver that interpretation
or to win a competition and the experience taught me
that the only thing you should focus on is communicating
Has winning Choir of the Year brought any new opportunities
along your way?
Winning Choir of the Year is big stamp of approval!
It has undoubtedly opened doors for us and we're often
called on to work with the BBC. Being located in London
of course helps and also that we're very flexible in
what we can do stylistically. It was also a great honour
to be asked to perform at the ABCD conference in the
presence of such distinguished conductors and composers
as David Willcocks, Bob Chilcott and John Rutter.
Do you all get on well?
Yes, there's a great family feel to the choir and we
deliberately have a fixed membership, rather than a
pool of singers, to encourage everyone to bond and work
as a team. Having said that the family feel means sibling
rivalry occasionally flares up but it's good that singers
can voice their issues and get them out of the system!
Tell us about your prize - the BBC Radio 3 commission.
We commissioned three short pieces from different composers
in the end: Gabriel Jackson, Richard Allain and John
Tavener which we've just recorded at the BBC's Maida
In 2008 the choir backed Mercury Award-winning band
Elbow at Abbey Road Studios with the BBC Concert Orchestra,
what was that experience like?
I have to admit that when we were invited to take part
I hadn't heard of Elbow but when I put the offer to
the choir and the started jumping up and down in excitement
I knew it must be a good opportunity and indeed it was.
To do something like that was a real treat - and sort
of an extra 'prize' for our hard work. I'm a big fan
of Elbow now and even have the album we're not singing
Does the choir have a preference for a specific musical
Individual singers in the choirs have their own preferences
but there's no one overriding genre of choice. We all
respect each other's tastes and singers appreciate they
won't necessarily love every piece that we sing and
are pleased to try new things -it works really well.
Also I see that you have experimented with vocal percussion.
Was that fun?
Yes! The beat-box project spun out of doing an arrangement
of Britney Spears' 'Hit me baby one more time' which
was great fun but we didn't know much about vocal percussion
at that point. We then worked towards a concert at the
Purcell Room with Tobias Hug from the Swingle Singers
and MC Zani where the singers were taught to make an
accurate percussive sound without a mic. We want to
explore the entire spectrum of the sound beyond the
English choral tradition -including those that have
never been made before!
The choir supports a charity each year such as the Stroke
Association and the NSPCC for example. Who are you supporting
at the moment?
This year we are supporting Prisoner's Abroad, the MS
Society and the Anthony Nolan Trust - three charities
that are close to the hearts of members of Chantage.
We aim to donate from the proceeds of all our concerts
and CD sales whenever possible.
Finally, do you
have any advice for choirs competing in Choir of
Always sing your best
in rehearsals, not just the performance.
Listen to your neighbour
and make sure you're singing as a team
last ounce of your emotion in every song
Only concern yourself
with the performance - the greatest mistake is to
go on stage with an overriding desire to win
Enjoy yourself - if you're having
fun so will the audiences and, of course, the
Judges. Good luck!