Les Sirènes are a female chamber choir consisting of 30 vocalists, all students and graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I joined in 2012 during my first term at the Conservatoire via an audition and was accepted in the second soprano section.
The choir was established by our present musical director Andrew Nunn in 2007. Andrew is from Middlesborough in the NE of England, and obtained his first MMus and BMus (Hons) as an oboe/cor anglais player and singer. His second Masters is in Choral Conducting at the RCS. I asked Andrew in his lunch break today for the history of Les Sirènes and what his hopes were for the future, I’m very grateful for his time and input in this blog post, Andrew explained:
When I was in my first year the BMus singers had to do an ensemble class where they had to put a concert on at the end of the first year, there were no tenors in that year and there were two second study male voices so the girls asked us to join them, there were about eight of them at that time. The group wasn’t holding together well so they asked us to conduct them, I’d done a little bit on conducting before at college. It worked out quite well, there was a chamber choir at the conservatoire and an SATB group as well but I wanted to do something slightly different so that’s where it started. It was just called ‘Girl’s Choir’ at first. Every Thursday since 2007 we have rehearsed.
Our first performance was at the St Enoch’s Shopping Centre and they were having a mega sales day promotion, and after I e-mailed them they invited us to sing a few songs, it was unbelievable we sang outside BHS and everyone has to start somewhere so I was grateful for the public opportunity, we also did something at Christmas at The House For An Art Lover for an event there were about nine or ten girls at that time and it was a very small group. We needed some more mezzo’s, Vicky started as a mezzo but she moved to soprano and we invited Penelope and Leslie and it grew from there.
We did the first year and the girls all wore long black dresses, over the summer we were thinking about branding and how we could move forward, me and a few others including Penelope and Helen thought purple was a good colour, bold, very royal, and not too overtly girly. It goes really well with the black, so we ordered purple folders, the website was branded with the purple and I always liked the idea of not wearing identical black dresses, we thought we’d go for individual black shorter dresses or skirts and blouses in black and the purple neckties tied the group together. It’s important for the girls to have their own personality expressed but tying altogether as a group with a motif the purple scarf.
Before I joined the choir in my first year. In October 2012, the choir was awarded the prestigious title of Choir of the Year 2012 after a competitive Grand finale at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Over 5000 singers from 138 signing groups entered the competition. Les Sirènes’ performance of ‘Oh Soldier Soldier’ arr Robert Latham and Billy Joel’s beautiful ‘And So It Goes’ thrilled the audience and judging panel alike.
This year has been great we did the wonderful cd *There Is No Rose”, concerts at Christmas and we’re really looking forward to our grand finale on the 6th June. Next year I would love to do another cd. We are doing a closing concert with the BBCSSO the beautiful Mendelsohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s a massive thing. I’d like to get out and do more but it costs so much it needs a great deal of organising but I’d love to do more out and about.
The choir, as the prize for winning Choir of the Year commissioned a new choral work by a composer of their choice, working with BBC Radio 3. The fantastic Paul Mealor was chosen to compose an original piece. Paul was recently named the UKs greatest living composer, having composed works for the Royal Wedding, the Military Wives Choir and the National Youth Choir of Scotland. We are honoured to be working with Paul, and feel his lyrical style is a perfect fit for Les Sirènes. The piece will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 later in the year. It’s really important to be getting new works each year, and collaborating with new composers is really important as we move forward, we commissioned a smaller piece from an arranger called Michael Neaum who arranges for female voices which is great. Trying to get high level names would be great too to have songs written specifically for us as the female voice repertoire can be a little bit unrepresented, especially in the 18-30 age range, we have a unique sound and I’d like to get away from girly pieces and get into young women’s pieces specifically written for us.
Our forthcoming concert is called ‘Songs of the Four Seasons’ on 6th June 2014 at St John’s Renfield Church of Scotland in Glasgow. We will take a musical journey through the four seasons with music by British composers. In the second half of the concert we will be joined by Les Sirènes Orchestra for a performance of Vaughan Williams’ stunning cantata for female voices Folk Songs of the Four Seasons.
Fly Singing Bird, Fly Edward Elgar
I love My Love arr.Michael Neaum (world premiere commission)
Spring Gustav Holst
Summer Gustav Holst
As Torrents in Summer Edward Elgar
Stars of the Summer Night Edward Elgar
Autumn Alan Bullard
In Heaven it is always Autumn Imogen Holst
Autumn Evening Paul Mealor (world premiere, BBC Radio 3 Commission)
The Snow Edward Elgar
Jesu, thou the Virgin born Gustav Holst
New Year Carol Benjamin Britten
Folk Songs of the Four Seasons Vaughan Williams
I asked Andrew what his key three aims were for the future, as he graduates from his masters in conducting this June after eight years of study.
I would love to keep working on what I have been doing:
1) Continue to build Les Sirènes, I think it will be really special,
2) A Symphonic Chorus Master , like the RSNO, it’s a big dream of mine in the longer term,
3) I’m interested in Nicos and I have associations with them and with Kodály educational I’m really passionate about that and I’d like to play my part in making that take off to see what that can do for people.
Joining a choir is a fabulous social thing to do and I would recommend it to you. If you want to consider it in your local community you should look around for the one that suits you best, whether you can read music or not.