Our latest interview is with Bristol-based soloist and ensemble singer Elinor Cooper, a recent graduate of Bristol University who is now making a name for herself as a professional singer. With plenty of exciting plans for the near future, she’s certainly a name to look out for!
What got you into singing in the first place?
I’ve taken part in school choirs my whole life, but in Year 6 I had a particularly inspirational teacher who made singing the most fun part of my week. From there I’ve ‘moved up through the ranks’, joining my county choir, then the National Youth Choir, to my position now as a professional singer.
You’ve sung in a lot of vocal ensembles, especially during your time at university. Were your experiences in different groups very varied?
Definitely. In fact it’s that variety of musical experience available in ensemble singing which keeps me coming back for more. I love the opportunity you get in large choruses to create incredible masses of sound like those in Beethoven 9, but I’m also very happy singing in smaller groups where it’s possible to achieve a greater degree of intimacy and precision.
What’s been the highlight of your solo career so far?
The highlight of my solo career…. That’s a tricky one! I’ve had some amazing experiences over the years, and it is pretty hard to beat singing a solo in the Youth Proms at the Royal Albert Hall when I was sixteen! More recently however I was invited to perform for the American Choral Directors Association with the National Youth Chamber Choir where I sang the solo in Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin. Singing in amazing spaces to huge audiences was a great feeling, but it was the opportunity to do so with a such a brilliant ensemble that made it particularly special.
Besides your singing, did you have a chance to get up to any other musical activity at university?
I was extremely busy! I can’t really believe I’ve now graduated… But yes I got up to a fair amount on top of my singing. I was president of the Bristol University Music Society in my final year which gave me a wonderful opportunity to go beyond the choral bubble and get involved in the Bristol music scene at large. The dedication of people who take on society roles, especially those who run ensembles day in, day out alongside their studies, is really impressive. I also conducted the Bristol University Madrigal Ensemble, a really high-calibre group (the best choir in the university in my opinion!) which I found hugely rewarding musically. My experience there has encourage me to take a more active role as a conductor post-university than I could have ever imagined when I began my degree!
Being president of the music society must have been full-on! What do you feel most proud of achieving there?
During my time as president we hugely increased our presence in Bristol: we forged a partnership with Colston Hall, performed all over the city in concerts ranging from chamber events up to a full choir and orchestra concert at St George’s, and generally raised the profile of classical music-making at the university. This was all down the fantastic team I had, all of whom had incredible enthusiasm for their own roles, as well as for the success of the society as a whole.
It’s great to see that you’ve been accepted onto the Genesis Sixteen young artists’ programme. Tell me a bit about what you’ve been doing there!
My generation of Genesis has actually just finished this summer, with our final concerts in the Sounds Sublime Festival at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and at Hampton Court Palace. The scheme takes 22 young singers from an audition pool of over 400, and is aimed at finding and training the next generation of professional ensemble singers. It is run by Harry Christophers and his choir The Sixteen, which was formed when Harry was about the same age as most of us on the course. Over the year we took part in masterclasses with Mary King and Sarah Connolly(!), had one on one singing lessons with members of The Sixteen, and sang in one-to-a-part consorts (again tutored by members of the Sixteen). This last aspect of the training was actually my favourite part. It gave us a chance to really concentrate on what we gave to the ensemble, and then replicate this back in the full choir rehearsals. The scheme was absolutely the best part of my musical training thus far.
Do you have any plans to get involved in music education yourself?
Now that I’ve graduated (only last week!) I am setting up in Bristol as a professional singer, teacher and conductor. Luckily for me I actually started working as all three during my time at university, so no cliff edge start! I’m delighted to be taking over as Musical Director of Clevedon Choral Society, and have great plans for them in the coming year. I will also be working with Bristol Youth Choir as their Vocal Tutor and Assistant Conductor. The choir is part of the Bristol Plays Music initiative, and is growing exponentially year upon year. It runs from Year 2 all the way up to Sixth Form!
Do you have any other musical projects lined up for the near future?
My own ‘baby’ is a new consort I am setting up with other members of the Genesis Sixteen family. ‘Tryst’ will be a one to a part choir, and to start with there will be just five of us! Our debut concert is in Bristol on the 10th of October, so watch this space!
Sounds exciting! Is there any particular style or period of music that you most enjoy performing?
I seem to be turning into something of a Britten fanatic! This December I will conduct Clevedon Choral Society in his Ceremony of Carols, as well as hopefully performing some of his lesser known works with Tryst and other choirs. I’m particularly enjoying listening to A.M.D.G. at the moment (and finding the fact that he was only in his twenties when he wrote it both inspiring and depressing!).
So finally, what would be your piece of advice for aspiring professional singers?
Be a good colleague. Now that I am starting to see the profession from the hiring side (having previously only ever been hired!) the first thing I think about when choosing musicians is whether or not I enjoy working with them. After that it is an easy decision!