This time, the choirs are in charge and they’re taking over the festival….

Voices Now 2015

8-10 May 2015 at the Roundhouse, Camden, London

This time, the choirs are in charge and they’re taking over the festival….

Over the past four years, Voices Now has created one of the most exciting festivals for choirs in the UK. Choirs of all abilities and backgrounds have come together at the Roundhouse in London, one of the UK’s best venues for music, to create festivals that have seen choirs of all kinds celebrate singing together.

In 2011 and 2013, choirs at Voices Now sang to over 10,000 people, with 5,000 singing in the festival, and we want you to be a part of our next chapter.

‘I never imagined in a million years that I would have the privilege of being involved in something as amazing as this. How beautiful was that music…….. sitting in the middle of those 2 fabulous choirs with a wall of sound coming at me from both directions – made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. AND WE WERE PART OF IT!’   Member of the Green Street Blues 2013

We think that there has never been a more exciting time for singing in the UK, and to celebrate that, we are inviting choirs to not only sing at the next festival, but to create it!

We want to hear from choirs of all and every kind – community choirs, chamber choirs, gospel choirs, school choirs, barbershop choirs, choirs we couldn’t even imagine – who want to help us create an incredible festival of singing for thousands of people at the Roundhouse in May 2015. Whether your choir is four people or four hundred, we want to hear from you.

Starting in January 2015, the selected choirs will come together with six of the UK’s most exciting choral directors and musicians to create the next Voices Now festival, and the next exciting chapter for singing in the UK.

The commitment will be for some or all of your choir to be available on 31st January and for your whole choir to be available one or two of the days of the festival (to be agreed with you after 31st January) between 8th -10th May 2014. The amount your groups sings and exactly what you sing will be decided on 31st Jan and you will be part of the decision making process! There will be some element of new music and some elements of bringing your own songs to sing… The open stage will also function as normal in the public areas and we will advertise those slots later.

There are no entry fees to take part but we do ask you to make your own travel arrangements to get to the events.

If you would like to take part and register your interest please fill in our online application form by 1st December 2014 here for further information and questions contact Voices Now Creative Producer Clare Edwards (


Voices Now in Northern Ireland

Holst Singers

Voices Now in Northern Ireland

Between 25 – 27 October 2013 Voices Now will be taking place over three days in Derry, Omagh and Enniskillen.

Highlights include:

  • New commission and second performance of Eriks Esenvalds’ City Songs  featuring six choirs with performance from Imogen Heap and conducted by Stephen Layton 
  • The Holst Singers perform music by Howells, Tavener, Lauridsen and Rachmaninov in St Michael’s Church in Enniskillen
  • A special ‘Come and Sing’ Spem in Alium workshop led by the Holst Singers in Strule Arts Centre in Omagh

The ‘Voices Now’ festival harnesses the recent groundswell of interest in singing in the UK by bringing together professional and community choirs with a diverse range of abilities, genres and backgrounds. It started as a groundbreaking four-day event at Camden’s Roundhouse, attended by over 7,000 people in 2011 and 5000 people in 2013.  In October 2013 there will be additional Voices Now events between 25 and 27 October in Derry, Enniskillen and Omagh,

The first event which will form part of the 2013 UK City of Culture celebrations. on Friday 25 October will be a performance of a specially commissioned new work by Voices Now entitled City Songs from Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds who is renowned for his choral writing. City Songs is one hour long and is written for six choirs and orchestra. The choirs performing reflect a wide range of singing traditions and include: Holst Singers, Codetta, Colmcille Ladies, Encore and the Derry Youth and Junior Choirs. They are joined by members of the Ulster Orchestra and conducted by Stephen Layton. The libretto is by Australian poet Emma Jones and will be performed by singer Imogen Heap.

On Saturday 26th October Voices Now will move to Enniskillen with a special Holst Singers Concert featuring Howells – Requiem and other choral favourites including Tavener: Mother of God and Lauridsen – O Magnum Mysterium. The concert will take place at 8pm in St Michael’s Parish Church Enniskillen and will be conducted by Simon Wookey.

On Sunday 27th October at 11am Voices Now takes it’s popular ‘Come and Sing’ Spem in Alium to Strule Arts Centre in Omagh. Tallis’ monumental 40 part motet Spem in Alium is one of the best known works in the choral canon, but due to its size and complexity, is one which few singers ever get the chance to take part in.

Voices Now in Northern Ireland is produced in association with the City of Derry International Choral Festival and Together One Voice, and is led by its co-Artistic Directors Matthew Swann and Stephen Layton.

The Joy of Consensual Collaboration

Matthew Swann Co-Artistic Director of Voices Now reflects on the treats to come this weekend at Voices Now.

It occurred to me the other day as Clare Edwards (Voices Now Producer) and I talked through final arrangements for the festival this weekend – and the challenges (good and bad) of putting a wildly different group of choirs on the same stages – what an incredibly collaborative venture choral singing is. This probably sounds like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but in the face of increasingly individualistic representations of singing in the media (where it often seems an aggressively competitive Faustian gateway to ephemeral fame and fortune), it’s worth stating again that singing with a group of like minded individuals can put a smile on your face and give you an indescribable but thrilling feeling in your stomach and up the back of your neck that goes way beyond just adrenalin and emotion – let’s call it the Joy of Consensual Collaboration…

Voices Now was founded on a spirit of collaboration. Right from the off we said that any choir performing on the main stage (particularly the professional ones) couldn’t just turn up and do its stuff – they had to work with another group, or groups, or in the case of the Hilliard Ensemble this year, form some new ones. That stopped the festival from being a succession of pro-choirs running through the same old set, collecting a cheque and then buggering off to the next gig on the festival circuit. They had to invest time and thought, and in every case so far the results have been life enhancing and huge fun for everyone involved.

On the Making Music Open Stage, where (amateur) choirs do, in the strictest sense, just turn up and sing their stuff, there is still that sense of collaboration and joy in sharing performances through the way that the choirs support each other, cheer, whoop and laugh and sing along. It genuinely is a party atmosphere and there have been some incredible moments – the London Lucumi Choir transfixing everyone with their hypnotic rhythms and vocals, the Shout Rhythm and Blues Choir turning the Roundhouse into a Southern American juke joint, and the City Shanty Band encouraging a full-on punk-style stage invasion – of a sort that I’ve only ever seen at Voices Now.

This year, the collaborations are more ambitious than ever before. On Sunday night, Eriks Esenvalds (bringing that Baltic spirit – where seemingly entire nations are the choir – to the Roundhouse) and Emma Jones, with Imogen Heap, have written a piece for well over 300 singers, conducted by Stephen Layton and featuring six choirs from a community choir (many of whom can’t read music, but who together sound like the very definition of Good Times), to a primary school choir (St Mary’s), to our friends Codetta from Northern Ireland, to a female barbershop choir (Green Street Blues) to the Holst Singers (this country’s finest non-pro, non-collegiate choir according to one press article this week). After that performance, the party continues with the choirs singing to each other (and whoever else is there) in the Roundhouse bars and foyers… Before that, on Friday night, the Hilliard Ensemble will act as musical midwives to three new groups they have formed in partnership with Voices Now – passing the collaborative baton to the next generation in a new piece by Orlando Gough, written in less than six weeks, and composed for 18 individual voices.

For those of you who already know the indescribable but thrilling feeling in your stomach and up the back of your neck you get when you’re singing with other people, all this will just whet your appetite further. (There is a probably a scientific explanation and name for this feeling, but if there is, I’m not sure I want to know it. Some things are best left as a bit of a mystery, and anyway, I prefer the Joy of Consensual Collaboration.) But if you don’t currently sing in a choir, come down anyway, and try some of that feeling you only get from being surrounded by lots of other people singing while singing yourself (there are plenty of taster sessions for singing novices) – the indescribable but thrilling  one that you get in the stomach and up the back of your neck…

Men Singing at Voices Now

Matthew Swann Co-Artistic Director of Voices Now give us his views on men and singing ahead of this week’s Voices Now:

I like the way Chris Samuel starts his piece for the Guardian blog “Men don’t sing… or so they say”. Chris, and his various groups, alongside groups like the City Shanty Band, are one manifestation of a nascent renaissance in men singing that seems to be taking place in the UK (and beyond) at the moment, which we’re trying to capture a small part of at Voices Now this weekend.

It’s interesting that Chris brings up the subject of traditions like Welsh Male Voices Choirs. Yes, these groups are struggling in many places, with ageing memberships and the decline of the traditional industries that held together the towns and villages where they were based.  But groups like Only Men Aloud are breathing new life into this tradition – I was thrilled to see that their set on Saturday night not only includes pop covers and classical repertoire, but some traditional Welsh Choir numbers as well: Cwm Rhondda and Tydi a Roddaist are songs to stir the soul (and much else).

All this would be fine even if Only Men Aloud were just a flash in the pan group of fantastic pro-singers looking to get a few gigs on the back of Tom Jones, Welsh Rugby and a cheeky wink. They do have the cheeky winks and more than a hint of Tom Jones (I can imagine a few of them have got a fairly handy side-step with oval ball in hand as well), but they have invested time, money and toil in communities across South Wales to get young men and boys singing again with Only Boys Aloud, giving these young men a love of singing and helping to revive the Welsh tradition, not to mention the massive educational and aspirational benefits they are bringing. 

The London Gay Men’s Chorus is another manifestation of this re-birth, and also represent the pinnacle of the LGBTQ tradition of choirs that has really come to prominence in the last couple of decades. The London Gay Men’s Chorus sing because they enjoy it, and because, like the groups above they are seriously good and seriously entertaining. But perhaps they also sing for the same reason that football and rugby crowds sing: to express belonging, togetherness and pride in who they are.

Stephen Layton (my fellow Co-Artistic Director) and I both come from very different traditions to the above, but ones where male voices are equally important. I was brought up singing in church, in (at least when I joined aged 8) an all male choir, but also had formative musical experiences hearing the huge choruses of our great Northern industrial cities. The Leeds Festival Chorus and the Huddersfield Choral Society belting out Mahler Symphonies with a top professional orchestra is an incredible noise, and part of the reason they sound so incredible is the overwhelming wall of sound that 150 Yorkshire tenors and basses make at full volume. Stephen grew up in Cathedrals and collegiate chapels – Winchester, Eton and Kings College Cambridge – and is part of that tradition where boy trebles sing with professional male altos, tenors and basses, creating a sound that is to some the very definition of English music. It’s perhaps ironic, and definitely very welcome, that part of the reason that this tradition is undergoing its own renaissance is that many Cathedrals now have girls choirs as well as boys, (shock horror) female directors of music, and (an even greater heresy to some less enlightened individuals) female altos. In the same way that Chris’ workshops are open to “blokes of all genders” in his tradition, female voices are breathing new life into our previously all male Cathedral and collegiate musical traditions. It’s this tradition that gave birth to groups like the (all male) Hilliard Ensemble and the Holst Singers (come on Sunday morning to join in with their low basses rumbling away like Russian tanks in the Rachmaninov Vespers).

So, men don’t sing… except some of them do, and increasingly so. And what Chris and his Magnificent AK47, the City Shanty Band, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, Only Men Aloud, the Hilliard Ensemble and every man who opens his mouth to sing will do at Voices Now, is surely encourage even more blokes to get down the pub, church, community centre, or wherever, and get singing as well.

Voices Now is at London’s Roundhouse from 20 – 23 June. Tickets are available at or call 0844 482 8008. More information on the festival can be found at

Only Men Aloud and the London Gay Men’s Chorus special joint performance


On Saturday 22nd June 2013 as part of Voices Now Only Men Aloud and the London Gay Men’s Chorus are performing in a special double bill. Audiences are in for a treat as not only are each group performing their own set but they are also working on a special joint performance as the finale to the evening… We won’t tell you what it is but if you want to find out – get your tickets here.

The Hilliard Ensemble – passing on the baton to new groups

Voices Now have been running an exciting project with the Hilliard Ensemble since January to find a new consort of singers to mentored and supported by the Hilliards.

The search for young singers to form a new consort earlier in the year went so well that we actually formed three new groups: Eo Nomine, Excorde and The Renaissance Consort. These groups are made up of young singers from all over the UK who are, as we speak, rehearsing and working with the Hilliard Ensemble to perform at Voices Now.

Not only do that have the opportunity to be mentored by the Hilliard Ensemble in their final year before retirement and then perform at the Roundhouse but we have also commissioned a new work by Orlando Gough for them all to premiere together at Voices Now.

Orlando says of the piece entitled Hand Over Hand:

A group that is coming to the end of an extremely successful and adventurous career; and three groups that are just starting. Hand Over Hand is a simple, almost naive response to the circumstances of this Voices Now concert. It’s a playful, emotional piece about handing over to the next generation. The music is a series of relay games, some serious, some exuberant, some sentimental. The lyrics, too, are like a relay – one word, one phrase implying the next, sometimes inevitably, sometimes unpredictably.  

Six weeks ago I didn’t know I was going to be writing this piece. Now I’ve just finished the score, wrestling with my usual anxiety about the quality of the music – and in this case the lyrics, which I wrote as well. The Hilliard Ensemble is the only one of the four groups I’ve heard sing, so I shall be very interested to hear how it turns out.

We are looking forward to seeing how it turns out too! Come and see for yourself on Friday 21st June at Voices Now.

City Songs – behind the scenes at rehearsals

Well, we are nearly there. The big new commission that we’ve been working on is being rehearsed by all the choirs and it is sounding amazing!

The new piece, City Songs has been written by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds with words by Australian poet Emma Jones. They visited all the choirs involved late in 2012 and early 2013 to get their inspiration for the piece. As a result each song has been specially crafted for each of the groups singing.

City Songs is an hour long piece made up of songs from each choir and with a very special narration between songs by the very brilliant Imogen Heap. She will sing her narration as she plays the role of the traveller and we’ve been with her in rehearsals in recent weeks and we can tell you it is going to sound great. Imogen is improvising her part in the piece so the commission has become a real collaboration between Eriks, Emma and Imogen.

The choirs involved are also an amazing cross section of choirs that represent some of the very best singing in the UK, they are: Holst Singers, Codetta (from Derry), Green Street Blues, St Mary’s School Choir, The Roundhouse Choir and Funky Voices. We have been visiting their rehearsals in the build up to the project and they all bring different sounds and styles to the piece. They will all be conducted by Stephen Layton and accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia on the night with one or two surprises along the way….

We don’t want to say much more and give all the fun away – but we can recommend a ticket to this epic gig if you want to be taken on a unique choral journey in the wonderful setting of the Roundhouse main space.