Our choral scholars form a crucial part of the Oxford Bach Soloists’ commitment to developing the talents of young aspiring soloists. In our third Choral Scholar Focus of 2023, I chatted with Saskia Bibb about her experiences with OBS so far…
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and your musical training to date
I recently graduated from Oxford, where I was studying Maths and Philosophy, and now sing freelance around London. I fell in love with singing in the National Youth Choirs, having auditioned on a whim when a flier turned up at school! Shortly after, I gained a place in the newly formed Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir, where I was first introduced to the wonderful anglican choral tradition.
I had an amazing time at Oxford soaking up all the amazing musical opportunities: I sang with Queen’s College Choir, Magdalen Consort of Voices and the Choir of St Michael at the Northgate, and performed in Sweeney Todd at the Oxford Playhouse.
2. How do you prepare when stepping out to perform a solo during a concert?
First I listen to a recording, to get a taste of the end product and get excited about it! Then I look at the text. I make a really thorough translation: I try to get both a word-for-word literal translation and a real sense of the meaning.
I work on the pronunciation with the wonderful OBS German coach Gerhard, and also practice speaking the words to get the flow of the text. Then just add the notes! I spend lots of time getting the notes comfortable in my voice, so that in the concert I can focus on communication rather than technical tricky corners.
3. What has been your favourite moment as an OBS choral scholar so far?
The Bach motets are probably my favourite pieces of music ever, so every single one has been a joy to perform. Being one of the first pieces we sang together, Der Geist Hilft was especially exhilarating. The Christmas Oratorio was another highlight. I didn’t know the piece beforehand and I instantly fell in love with it. Performing with such incredible soloists and orchestra made it even more exciting.
4. What do you see as the value of ensembles like OBS to young aspiring musicians?
OBS has given me so much invaluable technical training (German coaching, consort singing, etc), but has also helped me develop my confidence and musicianship as a soloist. Just having structured solo opportunities is so helpful, but also working in such a supportive environment really encourages us to develop and experiment.
We were lucky enough to have a masterclass with Nick Pritchard, and listening to each other sing, there was such a supportive and collaborative atmosphere. OBS has given us fantastic guidance on how to go beyond notes on the page to bring out real shape and meaning.
5. What do you plan to do after the scholarship has ended?
Keep getting under the skin of Bach’s music – I’m sure this is a lifelong journey! I hope to expand my freelance singing and keep developing my voice, and plan to apply for postgraduate study soon.