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Behind the scenes at the BBC Proms. The proms are in full swing, but what goes on amongst all the music playing and flag-waving?

We chat to Ellis Coopey, Sales and Communications Assistant at Contact who also sings as a tenor in choirs across the country.

Signing up

Although I work full-time in the marketing team at Contact, I still try to stay involved with music…

I studied music composition in London but sing more than I write these days. I’m currently studying for a Masters in Musicology at the University of Manchester. Over the last year, I have been singing with a student choir, The Cosmo Singers. This year the BBC Proms invited us to perform as part of a 200 person choir with the BBC Philharmonic, alongside singers from the RNCM Chorus, The University of Birmingham Voices and the BBC Proms Youth Choir Academy. Together we formed the BBC Proms Youth Choir… Blimey, that’s quite a mouthful.

Opportunities like this are once in a lifetime and when you’re given these chances you can’t say no.  While composing is my passion, singing has become an important part of that journey.

BBC Proms Youth Choir Academy is a really special programme.

In a nutshell, it’s a BBC outreach project to find undiscovered voices from all musical backgrounds. Specifically this year they partnered with Brighter Sound to search for young singers from Greater Manchester.

You don’t have to be a classically trained singer to be involved; there were singers in bands, soul singers and pop singers. They all ended up as part of the choir singing with a world-class orchestra, under maverick conductor Omer Meir Wellber at the Royal Albert Hall!

© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Singing out

They marched us through intensive rehearsals. It was relentless, challenging, exciting and so much fun.

Each of the choirs rehearsed independently for a week in June, but the full choir of 200 singers only came together 5 days before the gig. We started rehearsals on a Thursday evening in The Stoller Hall. Chorus director Simon Halsey and accompanist, Julian Wilkins brought the choir together in record time. They are fantastic leaders and keep you on our toes; one minute a comedy double-act and the next, a couple of drill sergeants!

Shaking things up

I found working with Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber eyeopening. 

In the UK we tend to preserve the culture of our past, just look at the way our cathedrals are continually undergoing a process of being restored. This attitude is very much the same in classical music, we try to reproduce the music as close to “how it would have been” and hold what the composer wrote as gospel.

Newly appointed Omer isn’t afraid to challenge that tradition. In a moment of pause, I listened in as he chatted to the lead cellist, wondering what was going on… then I realised that they were composing a section that isn’t in the music. Omer cut parts of the music, improvised sections, changed notes and asked singers to speak sung parts. Everything was up for grabs and nothing was beyond reinterpretation and revision. Our version was Haydn’s The Creation like it had never before been heard.

Here’s what he says ‘Just playing very well is not enough – we need to create our own sound identity, built on these musicians in this orchestra, playing in our way and in this moment’ I couldn’t agree more!

Omer Meir Wellber conducts the BBC Proms Youth Choir and BBC Philharmonic © BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Sink or Sing…

A performance of this scale has so many stages to bring the beast together. It’s a massive challenge for everyone.

You have a leader training each of the choirs individually, then a chorus master to prep the 200 person choir for the conductor, a language coach and then finally a conductor who rehearses the choir and orchestra together.

Two days into rehearsals, Omer delivered the news that he wouldn’t conduct the orchestra or choir. Instead, he led the entire performance from the piano. This was a massive shock to us because we went from being led by someone to having to take individual accountability for our part. Omer gestured every-so-often in between playing but most of the time it was up to us. We had to know our part and when to come in.

It was scary, exciting and humbling. He stepped off the podium and placed himself within everyone else. It felt like we were one big band making music together. Not one person leading, but individuals each pulling our weight to make it happen.

6,000 people in the Royal Albert Hall. All eyes on us. 

I was terrified and asked if I could sit at the back of my section during the performance. When we were called to the stage, I got in line and was ushered to a seat.

Typical. I ended up in the front row right behind the drums. What a wake-up call!

The 5 days was a steep learning curve. I realised during the performance that I’d been worrying too much. I was too concerned about getting it all right.  As I looked around at the hall it hit me: I was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall singing with an incredible choir, with the BBC Philharmonic and Omer Meir Wellber was looking right at me. If I couldn’t enjoy it then, when was I going to?

Learn more about the music and hear the full performance here.

  • BBC Philharmonic drums at The Studios, Media City
  • It's a proud moment when you see your name in the BBC Proms programme
  • Backstage at the Royal Albert Hall during rehearsals
  • The BBC Philharmonic and BBC Proms Youth Choir conducted by Omer Meir Wellber perform Haydn’s The Creation at the BBC Proms
  • The BBC Philharmonic and BBC Proms Youth Choir conducted by Omer Meir Wellber perform Haydn’s The Creation at the BBC Proms