Matthew Cooke and Hera Protopapas talk about their experience
Matthew Cooke and Hera Protopapas belong to Thames Philharmonic Choir's second cohort of Choral Scholars, a scheme to support aspiring young singers. We asked them to talk about what attracted them to the Scholarship, the experience they had gained and to describe the highlights of the year.
For Hera, the performance of Bach's B Minor Mass at Cadogan Hall was a highlight of her year: "It was probably one of the best concerts I've done so far. It was thrilling to be part of and everyone was so happy afterwards." Matthew describes the work as"the hardest piece of music I’ve ever sung – a real challenge". Overall, he says, "Becoming a TPC Scholar provided an opportunity to rehearse and perform some key choral works. I have also been pushed out of my comfort zone to experience and learn difficult repertoire."
Matt was attracted to the Scholars' programme by the chance to work alongside two incredibly talented and up-coming musicians: Conductor Harry Bradford and Accompanist James Orford. For Hera, who had moved to London from Sweden just prior to the pandemic, it was an opportunity to do more choral singing. She particularly appreciated having a choral scholarship with a choral society rather than with a church. "It means you get to perform in concerts, with repertoire that you have had more time to rehearse than you would for a church service. It also means it's possible to combine the TPC scholarship with a church singing commitment.
Both scholars talk about their newfound confidence as TPC Scholars. For Matt, participating in the termly Scholars' recitals was invaluable. "Being a recitalist is incredibly different from singing on stage as a character, so that's been a really valuable experience." These recitals give each Scholar the opportunity to perform a set of music that reflects their personal taste for an audience of choir members and friends. "A useful addition is that the recitals are recorded to give us material to use when auditioning", says Matt.
For Hera it's also been the opportunity to take step-out solos in Choir concerts. In the December concert, Scholars took the solo parts in Gustav Holst's A Christmas Day. They sang the semi-choruses in the B Minor Mass and, in the same work, Hera joined the soprano soloist in the Et in unum Dominum.
Hera and Matt would both recommend the TPC scheme to young singers. The money is obviously a factor, says Matt, especially to fund singing lessons; "but there are other valuable experiences; for example we've also got involved in promoting Choir activities and our own recitals through social media; and we've had the opportunity to network and learn from others. The TPC scholarship enables you to experience it all."
"Do it!" says Hera. "I don’t think anyone could possibly regret joining TPC. I was worried at the start that this would be a stressful commitment on top of my already busy schedule but it has been good for my development as a singer and a useful experience as well; it's also been one of the most fun things I have done this year. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming; as a result, the TPC rehearsal has become one of the highlights of my week.
Looking at how the TPC scholarship scheme compares with others, Matt's view is that it is completely unrivalled in London. "We're part of a young cohort within the choir and, as a Scholar, there is room to grow into the singer that we’re destined to become."
For more information about TPC Choral Scholarships, go to: https://www.thamesphilharmonicchoir.co.uk/our-scholars