Our choral scholars form a crucial part of the Oxford Bach Soloists’ commitment to developing the talents of young aspiring soloists. We chatted with Colin Danskin about his experiences with OBS so far…
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your musical training to date
At university in Cambridge I discovered the world of chapel choirs – I was singing baritone at the time, and worked extremely hard to learn ‘Betrachte Meine Seele‘ from Bach’s St John Passion in as much geeky detail as I could for a choral scholars’ recital. Knowing what every word meant and informing how I tried to look and sound was rewarding in a very different way to the ‘heat and serve’ routine of evensong.
I then headed to York to study Solo Voice Ensemble Singing with Robert Hollingworth. Working with Robert and others opened my eyes and ears to detail and nuance I had not really considered before and had a huge impact on what I now consider to be excellent performance – I would hugely recommend York and ‘SVES’ to any singer.
In Oxford, I sang in the chapel choir at The Queen’s College, before moving to Magdalen College this year, and singing at St Michael at the North Gate. I sang in and then co-directed jazz a capella group The Oxford Gargoyles – a hugely joyful, challenging and rewarding experience, and I now direct the Boys’ Choir at Oxford Youth Choirs.
How do you prepare when stepping out to perform a solo during a concert?
First, ensure I’ve got a session with Gerhard, our language coach, booked in as well as singing lessons with my teacher, Giles. Preparing for Gerhard involves having a word for word translation of the aria, as well as pronunciation practice, and ensuring I can sing the piece well enough to respond to feedback. He corrects any pronunciation errors and we discuss overall meaning and character based on the text and how Bach has set it.
Gerhard always has suggestions about how to navigate challenging moments in way that works vocally but maintains the clarity and character of the text. With Giles we have spent more time on the vocal challenges of each aria, taking the opportunity to work on whichever weaknesses of mine Bach’s unforgiving writing has exposed.
What has been your favourite moment as an OBS choral scholar so far?
Either the Christmas Oratorio or the St John Passion. They are such monumental works and performing them at Christmas and Easter respectively creates such resonance with the audience, with all the hard work, collective and individual musicianship feeding into something much bigger.
It felt on both occasions like the entire collection of humans in that space felt something together, which is special. Thinking about the enormous grin on my Dad’s face after the Christmas Oratorio on Christmas Eve means I’ll choose that one as my top moment.
What do you see as the value of ensembles like OBS to young aspiring musicians?
The opportunity to gain solo experience performing alongside excellent professional instrumentalists at a stage where we might not otherwise have that chance. To get to do so in a supportive, educational environment, where we are pushed to go beyond our current comfort zone, in a way that is perhaps less common when you are booked to sing solos in a more straightforwardly professional environment.
More specifically to OBS, the language coaching from Gerhard, who works at a top conservatoire as well as with well-known recitalists and at opera houses, is extremely valuable. Tom is constantly in pursuit of character and shape in the music with the meaning of the text as his starting point. This kind of approach – enthusiastic, emotional, and intellectual – is exactly what I want to keep in my approach to my music making, even when there is not as much time to do this collectively. Having the space and time to enjoy this during my year with OBS has helped put down a marker for what I want from my music-making.
What do you plan to do after the scholarship has ended?
I hope to find more opportunities to sing Bach with similarly enthusiastic and skilled colleagues, both as a soloist and as a choral singer. I am also taking up a place on the Voces8 Scholars Programme, where I hope to continue to be challenged and to communicate meaning through ensemble performance. I am keen to develop my language skills further, so the possibility of studying singing in Germany, even for a summer, is an exciting one.
OBS Choral Scholarships 2023-24
As we say goodbye to our current Choral Scholar cohort in June, we are now opening our OBS Choral Scholarships 2023-24. You can find all the details on our website. We would be very grateful if you could help us spread the word about these scholarships by sharing this opportunity with anyone who you think may be interested. Our goal is to reach as many talented individuals as possible.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about the scholarship program, please do not hesitate to contact us.