Monday 17 July 2023

Byrd and Biscuits: Tallulah Horton on being a member of Genesis Sixteen

Genesis Sixteen at St James's Piccadilly, 15 July 2023 (Photo: Douglas Jones/Twitter)
Genesis Sixteen at St James's Piccadilly, 15 July 2023 (Photo: Douglas Jones/Twitter)

In May 2022, I received a very happy phone-call from The Sixteen’s wonderful Genesis Sixteen Manager offering me a place on their Genesis Sixteen Scheme, much to my surprise. This fully-funded, year long opportunity to work with Harry Christophers, Eamonn Dougan, and a handful of other long-standing Sixteen legends is a very special opportunity, and one which took approximately 0.4 seconds to prompt the exclamation “yes please!” with both shock and delight. Having been a chorister for most of my school years, imagining thirteen-year-old me having the chance to rehearse and perform with my choral heroes was, in short, absolute madness.

Tallulah Horton
Tallulah Horton
The Genesis Sixteen Young Artists Programme is comprised of two weeklong courses at the start and end of the year, and two short weekend courses in November and February. The majority I spoke to on arrival in Oxford for our first course were visibly buzzing, but understandably a little nervous. Amongst the obvious challenges of starting a yearlong course not knowing anyone, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Harry and Eamonn’s rehearsal style, and how they would deal with 23 raucous young singers. Indeed, most musicians have had their fair share of abrasive experiences when working with highly demanding musical directors, conductors, and colleagues - but I soon realised I had nothing to worry about. When asked about my experience with Genesis Sixteen, the first thing that always springs to mind is how lovely, genuine, and approachable both conductors are. It soon becomes apparent that everyone at The Sixteen is genuinely interested in you and your singing and, despite all that knowledge and expertise, they want to learn from the group and chat to everyone as colleagues. Their highly talented regular singers are grounded and down to earth, and make you feel like you are absolutely meant to be there. Insecurities are left at the door, so singers can develop and flourish from the start of the very first rehearsal. Don’t get me wrong, the bar is set very high, but the atmosphere is such that the conductors’ performance goals feel achievable both as an individual singer and as an ensemble.

My singing has undoubtedly developed over the last year through the continued guidance and training offered by the scheme. As well as detailed ensemble rehearsals, each singer also has individual lessons with the legendary Julie Cooper and Charlotte Mobbs, giving everyone the opportunity to work on aspects of their solo singing. Everyone on the course is, rather unusually, recognised as an individual voice with the ability to form a cohesive choir, instead of being forced to “blend into the background”. This idea comes into its own, though, when working with consort leaders Sally Dunkley, Simon Berridge, Kim Porter, and Mark Dobell. Their expertise in guiding small groups of through complex polyphony has helped each singer enhance their individual line, whilst ensuring a cohesive performance overall by working intensely on our phrasing, intonation, blend, and balance as a consort.
Having learned so much from this array of tailored training, the idea of performing Spem in Alium one-to-a-part (something I once thought to be too terrifying for words!) is now hugely exciting. Singing Tallis’ infamous piece alongside David Bednall’s recent forty-part motet Lux orta est iusto presents the opportunity to use the skills gained through Genesis Sixteen to perform this complex, multi-choir close harmony with style…if no one forgets to count, though. (Here’s hoping a GCSE in maths will finally prove useful!)

Last but not least, one of the most crucial aspects I’ve learned from this wonderful group is how important chocolate hobnobs are to a happy choir (other brands are available) - any rehearsal without biscuits should be cancelled immediately, never to be mentioned again. That’s what has really kept us all coming back for more, I think: Byrd and Biscuits

Tallulah Horton

Genesis Sixteen performed in The Sixteen's Sounds Sublime Choral Festival on 15 July at St. James’s Piccadilly. On 16 July, Genesis Sixteen celebrated their 250-strong alumni with a performance of two forty-part motets: Tallis’ Spem in Alium and Bednall’s Lux orta est iutso with members of the current cohort and alumni of the programme at Kings Place.  

Tallulah Horton became a chorister aged nine, moving to Downside School at thirteen as a major music scholar to study with Rachel Bevan. Having completed her undergraduate degree in music at Durham University, she will soon be graduating with a masters in Musicology from St Hugh’s College, Oxford.


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