Celebrating a return to live music – VOCES8 Foundation in France

Education and outreach are central to the work of the London-based VOCES8 Foundation, with projects involving young people and teachers in Europe and the US as well as the UK. The organisation's CEO Paul Smith reports on a recent trip to France

After two years without travel, without live workshops and for so many students around the world, without any singing at all, it has been a joy for me to start leading workshops in France again in the last couple of months. I’ve just returned from ten days in Le Mans, Reims, Guebwiller and Saint Denis.

In each of the VOCES8 Foundation‘s projects, visits happen over the course of about 5-6 months, with coaching for teachers, sessions with students and, to conclude each project, a participative concert with VOCES8 or Apollo5.

Venues hosting these concerts this year include the stunning Abbey Royale de l’Epau, Les Dominicains, and the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint Denis, the resting place for the majority of French kings and queens. Alongside the ancient abbeys, there are partnerships with other festivals in Reims and Vezere, and a partnership with a local government authority in Laon and the surrounding area.

In total, the projects are reaching about 2,000 students, most of whom have never sung in a choir before. The backgrounds of those taking part are wide-ranging. Saint Denis, for example, is among the areas of France with the lowest average family income, and many of the participating students don’t speak French or English.   

As part of our projects this year, we are exploring themes of family and of voyage – two central ideas that seem more important to us than ever after the last couple of years. Alongside the process of learning songs, the texts for the projects this year are in English and German, offering a chance for schools to involve language teachers alongside those who are teaching music. In addition to the real-life visits, the teachers and students are given a range of digital learning resources to help them practise.

For me, one of the highlights of the work this year so far has been a teacher in Reims who had never sung before. He didn’t feel confident using his voice or know how to encourage the students to sing at the correct pitch, but after two months of daily practice, in which he has used the video resources and even started having piano and singing lessons, his students are filled with a love of singing, and he is confident singing in front of them. Most importantly, he’s having fun too!

The work we do through the VOCES8 Foundation, particularly in the UK, France, Germany and the US, is wide-ranging – from a first musical experience right through to training and development opportunities for aspiring young professional singers with our VOCES8 Scholars programme.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the need for support with singing is greater than ever, and we do what we can to lead projects, and reach as many people as possible with the VOCES8 Digital Academy, and through our free online content on YouTube and other social media platforms. In the last year we’ve seen our music streamed more than 50 million times, which is a staggering jump forward compared to the previous decade. 

There is so much to be done to help the world of choral music and music education recover from the last two years. If you are reading this and want help to make a difference, please do write to me or our team here at the Foundation. We now have charitable foundations established in the UK, US and France – we are here to help. It’s only through working together and building supportive partnerships that we will be able to maximise our impact. And isn’t working together, ultimately, what singing in a choir is all about?

About the author

Paul Smith

As co-founder of VOCES8, author of the VOCES8 Method and CEO of the VOCES8 Foundation, Paul Smith has enjoyed more than a decade of work globally in prestigious concert venues, festivals, schools and universities.

Paul is an innovative and creative performer, conductor, composer, an inspirational educator and an empowering public speaker.

He is passionate about the impact singing and the arts can have in the widest possible context – from academic improvement to social skills and building more cohesive communities. He uses that passion to design and deliver unique, inclusive and uplifting performance projects.