The Diocese of Leeds Music Programme has operated since 2002. In this time it has impacted in wide and diverse ways on the young people who take part, in terms of their musical ability, their confidence and their self-esteem. For those wishing to pursue a career in music, there is also a significant impact made on their future prospects through the structured programme of specialist support and tuition. Here is a selection of testimonials from participants and school partners.
Youth Choirs – Megan, member of Bradford Catholic Youth Choir
Choir allows you to come together with people who all share a passion for singing. It helps you build skills and confidence while you have fun, not only that but it is relaxing and helps you forget about the stresses of everyday life while doing something you enjoy.
Youth Choirs – Amy, member of Bradford Catholic Youth Choir
I enjoy being a part of Bradford Catholic Girls’ Choir because over the past six years that I’ve been in it I’ve made lots of new friends, I’ve been given so many opportunities and mostly I have built my passion for singing and music with the help of expert teaching and advice. It’s a great group to be a part of and I’d recommend it to anybody!
Children’s Choirs – Harry, member of Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir
I enjoy being a member of the Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir because I have made a lot of new friends. I have enjoyed singing since I was little and have finally got a chance to show everyone how good I am. My family thinks it’s good that I’m in the choir because I’m always singing at home, and my friends at school think it’s really cool.
Children studying the organ – Dominique, member of Cathedral Girls’ Choir
I have been in the Cathedral Girls’ Choir for the last eight years. Before joining the choir I loved singing, but I did not have many opportunities to sing, and if I did, I was often too nervous to perform. I auditioned aged eight and was accepted into the girls’ choir. Due to the regular rehearsals and great effort put into the choir by the Choral Directors I progressed quickly and my confidence grew.
I have been given many opportunities to perform over the years – the most challenging and beneficial was being the main cantor on the pilgrimage to Lourdes. The choir has also allowed me to further my musical abilities by providing me with organ lessons; this has developed my understanding and appreciation of music in churches. As I progressed, I was constantly challenged musically to become a better performer and musician and I know that I will continue to be challenged and supported by the choir in the coming years.
Being a member of the choir has definitely changed my life goals, I know now, thanks to the enjoyment the choir has brought me that I always want music to be a part of my life – even if it not as a career. I very much doubt that I would be as confident in myself without the help of the choir and I certainly wouldn’t have been given as many musical opportunities.
Parents – Debbie, parent of a member of Huddersfield Girls’ Choir
Amelie was engaged from the moment you came into school to speak to her. She loves being in the choir and is very excited about the upcoming tour. Being in the choir is wonderful for confidence, discipline and teamwork and as a parent makes me burst with pride every time I hear them sing. Thank you for such an amazing opportunity.
Parents – Susan, parent of a member of Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir
My child has benefited from being a member of the Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir by development of increased confidence and outlook (mixing with new people from different schools). Joshua is always humming or singing to himself around the house – which he never did before joining the choir! He really enjoys attending choir practice each week and is proud to take part in masses, concerts etc. I think he feels part of something special.
Parents – Emma, parent of two members of Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir
My children have benefited from being members of the Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir by the discipline and commitment that is required to be a member. Both the boys have grown in confidence since joining and get so much pleasure out of singing, learning new songs and performing in masses and concerts in the cathedral, as do we as parents watching. We are so proud of them and what they achieve as members of such a fantastic choir.
Parents – Julie, parent of two members of Bradford Catholic Youth Choir
My children joined the choir over six years ago when they were nine. They were very excited at the invitation and haven’t looked back since. The choir has given them some fantastic opportunities; they have sung on the TV, radio, in many competitions and for charity but one of the highlights was to sing mass at Birmingham during the Papal visit to the UK.
They have enjoyed two choir tours to France where they were greeted with standing ovations. Their musical ability and confidence has developed hugely through being members of the choir. The friendship among the choir members is really lovely and many will last years. Their passion for music will last a lifetime – thank you.
Schools – Liz Taylor, Headteacher, St. Philip’s School, Middleton
I count it as a great privilege that we are able to have our children and teachers working with such an inspiring and enthusiastic professional as Mr. Tom Leech.
Our school is situated in an area considered to be of high social deprivation, suffering from many social problems, including low aspirations of some parents. By being involved with this programme, we are able to show the value that we place on our children and on their creative, particularly musical development which also impacts (to my mind) on their spiritual, moral and cultural well being too. The children are amazed at the music they can make under Mr. Leech’s guidance. Our Wednesday morning sessions fill the school with beautiful singing that uplifts all who hear it. The difference that has been made to the quality of the children’s singing is immeasurable. This has impacted on self-confidence, self-worth and self -esteem.
Because of our involvement, our children have had the opportunity to sing in Leeds Cathedral and be involved in a recording for BBC Radio. These are chances they would never have had previously.
The project’s sustainability comes not only from its affordability, but also from its worthiness and even more important than all of this is the fun and enjoyment it gives to the children. I wholeheartedly support the service.
Schools – Anne Rowan, Deputy Headteacher, St Francis Catholic Primary School
We have used Leeds Diocese Schools Singing Programme for many years. The children really enjoy, benefit and look forward to their weekly music lessons delivered by a specialist teacher. The quality of the lessons and the programme is of the highest standard.
The opportunities that the children have had through the Leeds Diocese Singing Programme have been many and varied including singing nationally on BBC Radio 2 and singing for the Pope’s visit.
The Diocese has also supported us at Masses and Liturgies during the year.
Schools – Mrs Fawcett – Year 5 teacher, St Paulinus School, Dewsbury
I think what you are doing with Year 5 is fantastic – they really enjoy the singing sessions and their singing has come on in leaps and bounds!
Schools – Susan Kneeshaw, Headteacher, St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School, Leeds
Many thanks to you and your staff! Your Choral Director Lucy Haigh is a star and I am always amazed at the wonderful music she makes with our children.
Schools – Miss Leonard, Headteacher, St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School, Beeston
Thanks Tom, and please pass on thanks to Lucy too. It was a wonderful concert, well led by your team. What a great job you all do. Thank you on behalf of all at St Anthony’s!
Schools – Headteacher, St Robert’s Harrogate
The difference in whole school singing is really noticeable.
Organ Scholars – George Ford, Parish of Boston
I studied music at undergraduate level at the University of Huddersfield where I specialised in organ performance. Alongside my final year studies I wanted to gain some hands-on experience as a real working musician, which led me to apply for an Organ Scholarship at Leeds Cathedral. After completing my undergraduate studies I embarked on an MA in Music and Management at the University of Leeds, which I combined with my scholarship at Leeds Cathedral.
Being part of the Diocese of Leeds Music Programme enabled me to broaden my horizons as a church musician and gave me the opportunity to gain vital skills in performing, accompanying and conducting. Being able to use these skills on a regular basis enabled me to build confidence as a musician and prepare me for a career in church music. I was able to work with a talented and supportive team of individuals who contributed tremendously to my professional development as an individual and musician. By combining my university studies with my organ scholarship I was able to fuse academic and practical skills together. I feel incredibly honoured to have been a part of the UK’s largest church music programme and to have gained the practical skills that have led me to gaining a full time musical director position.
Organ Scholars – Aaron Shilson, Manchester Cathedral and RNCM
I began studying music as an undergraduate at Leeds College of Music as an organist, where I began studying with the Director of Music, who was kind enough to offer me the organ scholarship for my final year of study. The musical opportunities that the scholarship has allowed me to experience have been crucial in my development as a professional musician. I have been fortunate to work with the very talented staff at the cathedral, and have learnt a huge amount from their knowledge. Working with choirs both in the cathedral and around the diocese, both as an accompanist and conductor, as well as the numerous performance opportunities, including performances on broadcasts, and a fast pace have made me a more confident musician. The skills that I have been able to develop during my time here have prepared me for my next post as organ scholar at Manchester Cathedral and an MA student at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Organ Scholars – Matthew Hall, Cornell University
I became interested in music as a child listening to the organ in my parish church. In school I came to the organ and harpsichord from a childhood background in piano, and ultimately took a degree in music from Harvard where I was involved in choirs and early music. I came to Leeds to do a master’s in musicology at the university, and applied also to work at the Cathedral. Mr. Saunders was good enough to give me a place on the staff during my time in Leeds, which allowed me to grow into my professional identity as a scholar-performer. At Leeds Cathedral, I learned how to teach young children, how to lead an effective rehearsal, and I developed a professional-level organ technique-for though I had played for many years before coming to Leeds, the rhythm of daily services was a real education in itself.
After returning to the United States, I was Organist at Church of Our Saviour (Anglican) in Brookline, Massachusetts and then was Director of Music at St. Charles Borromeo (Roman Catholic) in Waltham, Massachusetts, both large urban parishes with choirs. I was also involved in teaching in schools and adult education. I am now a PhD candidate in musicology at Cornell University and perform regularly as an organist, harpsichordist, and conductor throughout the Northeast of the U.S. As a music consultant I have worked for Harvard University, the Amherst Early Music Festival Opera, and Plectra Records, among others. I am very fortunate and grateful to have a varied and rich career in music, and I owe a great deal of my qualification to my experience at the Cathedral. I think back to my time there and the friends I made often, and with fondness.
Organ Scholars – Elizabeth Cockshott, former member of Bradford Catholic Youth Choir
My interest in music began as a student at Holy Family Catholic School in Keighley where, after auditioning I became a founder member of Bradford Catholic Girls’ Choir. Through my experience with the choir my interest in music developed. I began piano lessons and was soon playing for all school assemblies, concerts and Masses. This lead to the opportunity to study organ with the Assistant Director of Music at Leeds Cathedral. I was the first in my school to do this and to take GCSE Music a year early, and achieved an A*. I did my work experience placement at Leeds Cathedral, giving me some insight into the life of a Cathedral Music Department.
After gaining my A-levels, I accepted deferred entry to study BMus at the University of Huddersfield and took up the offer of a gap year at the Cathedral, where I was appointed as Organ Scholar. As part of my scholarship I accompany the Bradford Catholic Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs at concerts and liturgies, and continue to attend rehearsals to help and inspire other young people. I also accompany the Cathedral Choirs, manage the Music library, and support the Director of Music and the Cathedral Organist. I am now in my second year at Huddersfield, majoring in Organ Performance. I believe that the high-level of expectation, inspiration, and support, that I received through the singing programme, and that has continued throughout my scholarship, have been a major influence on this. I feel extremely privileged to have been given many amazing opportunities and to have met such inspirational people, which I feel wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarship.
Conducting Scholars – Danny Mills, RNCM
In 2013 I began an undergraduate degree at Leeds College of Music in classical trumpet performance. Having been a chorister in my youth I decided to apply for a choral scholarship and was very fortunate to be offered a place. I soon realised this was the best thing I could have ever done for my own professional development as a musician. The amount of music the choir covers in so little time to such a high standard is incredible and forces the best out of everyone encouraging us all to improve at an amazing rate, for me particularly at sight reading and ensemble awareness. The constant opportunities the choir offers is fantastic and include things that I can only hope will happen again in my career such as appearances on BBC television, radio broadcasts, concerts in world class venues and recording CDs with international record labels.
After two years of being a choral scholar I successfully applied for the choral conducting scholar role and was very proud to join the group of fantastic staff in the music department whose knowledge, passion and musical ability are an inspiration. Being the conductor was the start of a huge and exciting learning curve of running an ensemble. I have learned to listen to every part while seeking out any mistakes, how to shape a piece of music, how to get people to sing and work together and how to run a children’s choir to name just a few. All this alongside my degree has blended so well together in a way I never thought it could boosting my musicianship and indeed trumpet playing leading to being awarded a scholarship to study trumpet at Masters level at the Royal Northern College of Music this September.
I can never thank Benjamin Saunders and his staff enough for such a great experience at the Cathedral, for turning me into the musician I am now and for giving me the footsteps to continue improving.
Conducting Scholars – Peter Davoren, Opera Singer and previously Choral Conducting Scholar
When I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Leeds, I was extremely fortunate to be offered a Choral Scholarship at Leeds Cathedral and have the opportunity to sing on numerous occasions each week. With these performance opportunities, as well as the once-in-a-while added pressure of a broadcast/recording gave me the steely determination that I believe is vital to thrive in the performance industry.
Under the guidance of Mr. Saunders, I was given the opportunity to be Choral Conducting Scholar and I feel that this was a pivotal moment in my development as an opera singer. For someone who had never conducted before, Mr. Saunders took a gamble with my appointment and because of this, I wanted to repay the faith shown in me. Rather than focus on a single line when singing, I was seeing the bigger picture in terms of ensemble and harmony and whilst demonstrating to the various choirs how a phrase should be sung, I started to become very aware about how my voice works and therefore my technique improved exponentially the longer I was Choral Conducting Scholar.
Since Leeds I have studied at the Royal Academy of Music and due to the help and advice I received at Leeds Cathedral, I was at a musical advantage and therefore given more performance opportunities leading to a BBC Proms solo with the Monteverdi Choir under Sir John Eliot Gardiner. As I start to embark on an international operatic career, I look back to my time in Leeds and owe an immense debt of gratitude to the Cathedral and Benjamin Saunders as I would only be half the musician I am today.
Conducting Scholars – Alex Kyle, Diocesan Choral Director and previously Choral Conducting Scholar
I joined the Diocesan Music Department as Choral Conducting Scholar immediately after graduating from University. In this role I was given a great deal of training and had the privilege of observing the music department’s top quality choral directors at work. Even more importantly, I was given excellent opportunities to hone my skills as a music leader, conducting the Adult Cathedral Choir in my very first week in the role. Later, I was entrusted with even greater responsibilities, such as cover work for the Choral Directors on the Schools Singing Programme.
The challenges presented by the scholarship gave me superb preparation for life in the music business. The scholarship also served as a helpful stepping stone between the worlds of university and work, with the Director of Music and the Head of the Schools Singing Programme assisting me in securing other part-time work alongside the scholarship, such as conducting adult choirs. The training I received during the scholarship has now allowed me to join the team of Choral Directors, and I look forward to continuing to develop my skills as part of the Diocese of Leeds Music Department.
Choral Scholars – Graham Bier, Director of Music at Bryn Athyn Cathedral, Pennsylvania
Leeds Cathedral is an excellent model for how to build a music programme that not only supports worship, but provides a much-needed service to the surrounding communities in the form of music education and singing opportunities. I was fortunate to have the chance to study this model from the inside as a choral scholar, where I saw first-hand the workings and growth of a young but rapidly-expanding department. This provided a very different experience than that at the long-established York Minster, and one more directly relevant to the situation in my native country across the Atlantic.
I have recently returned to the States to take a job as Director of Music at Bryn Athyn Cathedral. My experiences at St. Anne’s Cathedral in Leeds are serving me well as I direct the various choirs here and look for opportunities to build on the work of my predecessor. I hope that in time I will be able to apply some of those approaches on a larger scale and to help develop a music programme that offers similar qualities to students and the community here.
Choral Scholars – Peter Thomson, Durham University and previously Choral Scholar
I began singing in the Cathedral when I was only 10 years old, joining the newly re-established Boys’ Choir. I remained in the Boys’ Choir until my voice changed at the age of 15. From there I was admitted to the adult’s choir as a choral scholar, where I remained until I left school at 18.
I went to school in a Catholic comprehensive school in Harrogate and the Cathedral Choir opened up an experience of music on a level that I never would have had the opportunity to experience otherwise before university and prepared me for the life of academic music and choral singing that I currently pursue, and intend to pursue professionally.
I am currently in my final year of studying music at Durham University and am in the third year of a choral scholarship at Durham Cathedral. I don’t believe either of these goals would have been attainable without the education and support I received from Leeds Cathedral.
Choral Scholars – Alex Banfield, Postgraduate student RNCM and previously Choral Scholar
Before beginning my Undergraduate in Sociology at Leeds I heard word of mouth that you could join the Cathedral choir. With absolutely no prior experience of singing in a church choir, but loved singing in a few choirs back home in the North East. My sight singing was practically non-existent then, but Ben agreed to take me on in the hope that I would learn and grow in the choir. It was a very steep learning curve at first, but I improved greatly and stayed for the full three years. I really loved it.
Without the Cathedral I would have missed the crucial development of my musicianship and sight-reading skills. These skills took me to Newcastle Cathedral as a full time Lay Clerk, and from there I began to be offered jobs as a soloist including playing Albert Herring at the Sage Theatre in Gateshead. This year I gained a scholarship at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where I am now studying a Masters in Performance, and singing as a Lay Clerk in Manchester Cathedral.
Choral Scholars – Simon Lee, Music Teacher and previously Choral Scholar
Having been a chorister throughout my childhood, I had seen first-hand the benefits of a musical education and the positive influences it has on other areas of a child’s development. My choice of university was influenced by the availability of choral scholarships in the nearby area and so I applied to Leeds Cathedral.
Arriving in Leeds, I was amazed by the scale of the Musical Outreach project which the Cathedral was running. The opportunities offered to children throughout the diocese were unique and exciting.
Having graduated from Leeds University in 2009, I took up the post of Lay Clerk at Durham Cathedral, something I was able to do with the skills I had gained from my Choral Scholarship. Knowing that I wanted to work in children’s musical education, I completed a Primary PGCE at Durham University in 2012 and using elements of the Leeds system, I am now a freelance Primary Music specialist teaching both in schools around Durham, and also with Durham Cathedral’s Music Outreach department.
Choral Scholars – David Wynne, Baritone, Choral Director and previously Choral Scholar
Until the age of 18 I was keen choral singer at my local Parish Church, having come through from a treble to singing on the back row. When I was accepted to Huddersfield University, I auditioned and was accepted as a choral scholar at Leeds Cathedral. When I started at the Cathedral I was definitely one of the weaker singers in the choir, especially in terms of my sight-reading. I am and will always be extremely grateful to Ben Saunders and all the music staff at the Cathedral for persevering, encouraging and challenging me to reach my full potential.
After leaving University I remained in the choir for a further two years until leaving to move to Birmingham to study Vocal Performance at Birmingham Conservatoire. Whilst at Birmingham Conservatoire the knowledge and skills I had learned as a choral scholar led to me being awarded a scholarship to study Choral Conducting. Since leaving Leeds Cathedral I have taken roles as Choral Leaders in some of the country’s leading music education organisations as well as co-founding my own music education business. I am also Musical Director for numerous choirs and choral societies as well as singing for several professional groups and as solo performer. I can certainly say, without my time at Leeds Cathedral I doubt my career, as a professional musician would have materialised.
Choral Scholars – Lucy Appleyard, Diocesan Choral Director and previously Choral Scholar
I found out about Choral Scholarships at Leeds Cathedral during my post-graduate studies at Leeds College of Music. I had been part of my local church choir from the age of 7 and was delighted to find an opportunity like this in my new home. I absolutely loved every part of being a choral scholar. From helping to lead day to day worship during Mass and Vespers to singing in BBC broadcasts and large scale choral works with an orchestra. I was particularly inspired by the work of the choral directors who worked with the different cathedral choirs as well as leading singing sessions in schools and running numerous other choirs throughout the diocese.
After graduating I worked as a freelance opera singer and singing teacher using the skills I’d learned as a choral scholar to run choirs of my own. When an opportunity came up to apply for one of the choral director positions I jumped at the chance. Now I’m thrilled to be back working as part of this fantastic team of musicians that inspired me so much as a student.
Choral Scholars – Charlotte Kitson, Diocesan Choral Director and previously Choral Scholar
I was already keen on singing when I met the Director of Music on pilgrimage in Lourdes. From there I was auditioned and asked to be a member of the Cathedral Girls’ Choir, and after a term was accepted as a Choral Scholar at the age of only 16. The structure of the organisation allowed me to progress quickly, challenging me unlike anywhere else I had sung.
I went on to study music at the University of Birmingham, where the Cathedral Choir background and musicianship skills I had developed served me well. I graduated with First Class Honours in 2011, and since then have worked for the Diocese of Leeds as a Choral Director. I am very proud to have come ‘full circle’ through this organisation. Although I was brought up with a Catholic education in Wakefield, neither my family or I had any idea that this choral foundation existed on our doorstep, nor that it was accessible to people like us. Without the Cathedral choir I doubt that I would have reached my musical potential, and would certainly be following a different career path today.
Choral Scholars – Robin Bier, free-lance singer in Philadelphia and previously Choral Scholar
I sang as a Choral Scholar at Leeds Cathedral during my postgraduate study at the University of York, where I was pursuing an MA in Ensemble Singing and later a PhD in historical vocal performance practice. As a conservatory-trained opera and choral singer from the USA, the experience of singing as a choral scholar in a working English cathedral was invaluable to my personal development as a musician and to my CV. The regular services at Leeds, provided the opportunity for ongoing exposure to new repertoire, and special events such as the BBC radio 3 live broadcasts of choral vespers provided valuable solo opportunities. My UK engagements have included 1612 Italian Vespers with I Fagiolini (BBC Proms) and Bach St John Passion (York Early Music Festival. I have recorded Striggio Mass in 40 Parts with I Fagiolini (Decca), Bach St. John Passion with the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists (Signum Classics), and the York Masses with the Ebor Singers (Boreas). In 2013 I was the first female alto to sing with the lay clerks of Ripon Cathedral.