Our choral scholars form a crucial part of the Oxford Bach Soloists’ commitment to developing the talents of young aspiring soloists. In our second Choral Scholar Focus of 2023, I chatted with Ben Gilchrist about his experiences with OBS so far…
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and your musical training to date
Hello! I’m Ben – one of the OBS choral scholars this year. I’m 19, and currently in my first year at university studying English and Classics. I’ve always been kind of obsessed with singing – embarrassingly, the earliest recording of my voice is my 5 year old rendition of ‘The Sound of Music’ – and especially choral singing. I love being part of a group making music together – I’m currently a member of Queen’s College chapel choir here in Oxford as well as the Oxford Gargoyles.
2. How do you prepare when stepping out to perform a solo during a concert?
Obviously it is pretty scary to get given a solo, especially when performing it in front of the incredible musicians that are the other members of the group, but it most certainly is less stressful if you prepare well! For me, the most important rule for solo preparation is to give yourself lots of time – make sure you look at the music well in advance so it nicely marinates in your brain in time for the concert! We also focus on text a lot in OBS, which really helps in getting under the skin of a solo – we’re especially helped in this by our wonderful German language coach, Gerhard, who gives us individual coaching sessions every concert.
3. What has been your favourite moment as an OBS choral scholar so far?
We’ve most certainly had some stonking concerts – performing Bach’s motet Singet dem Herrn was definitely a highlight, as well as Bach’s immense palindromic Jesu Meine Freude – but for me the best moments are our post-concert pub trips – everyone is riding the high after such intense singing, and its a wonderful vibe.
4. What do you see as the value of ensembles like OBS to young aspiring musicians?
OBS has helped me in so many ways, both tangibly, like improving my sight reading, my German language skills and my singing technique, but also, and more importantly, it has offered me opportunities which I never would have been able to access otherwise. Personalised professional language coaching? The opportunity to perform in gorgeous venues like New College Chapel every month? The chance to work with some of the top musicians in their field, and experience some of the best music ever written?
These are things which I never would have experienced without OBS – it has added a huge amount to my life. Ensembles like OBS give aspiring musicians these opportunities, while also providing them with a space to meet other people like them – I am so grateful to have met the people I have through OBS.
5. What do you plan to do after the scholarship has ended?
Cry! After that, though, I’d love to pursue choral singing even further – there’s so much to learn and so much to do! I’ve loved the course-based approach of OBS, so I’m looking into the possibility of joining one of these. I’m also working on some more solo stuff – I’m involved in a production of The Marriage of Figaro which I’m so excited to perform in the summer.
I’ve considered the possibility of actually doing my degree, but have found that prospect less than inviting, so will be looking for more opportunities like this in the future! I hope, though, that my connection with OBS will not dissolve, as I’ve met some of the best people and had some of the best experiences with the group!