Join Ryan as he interviews Suzi Digby OBE, conductor and founder of UK’s most influential Primary Music Education foundation, The Voices Foundation
Susan Digby (Lady Eatwell) OBE, or Suzi as she is known to her friends, is an internationally renowned choral conductor, choir master and music educator – with a passion to get the nation singing. She has trail blazed the revival of singing in schools and the community in the UK for over 2½ decades.
She was a judge on the BBC TV series “Last Choir Standing” – a competition for Britain’s favourite choir, which attracted 10 million UK fans and many more worldwide. She judges the BBC School Choir of the Year Competition, the BBC Chorister of the Year and has contributed to many other programmes.
Suzi is the Founder and Principal of The Voices Foundation, the UK’s leading music education charity she established in 1993, which works with schools to deliver sustainable solutions to teaching music at a Primary level. Over one million children and 60,000 teachers have benefited from the scheme. She has worked for many years as an Advisory Teacher in disadvantaged and challenging schools UK wide. www.voices.org.uk
Suzi graduated with honours in Musicology from King’s College London where she studied piano, singing, conducting, arts administration and music education pedagogy. Born in Japan, she has lived in Mexico, the Philippines and Hong Kong, where she presented her own TV arts series and was a prolific radio broadcaster, teacher and performer. In 1990 she was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to Finland, Hungary, Canada and the USA to study methods of choral training and music pedagogy as practised by their leading exponents.
She is now a Council Member of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Trustee of Music in Country Churches and several other music and education charities. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Past President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and choral advisor for Novello music publishers. She was the Acting Music Director of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge and she is now a visiting Professor at the University of Southern California, where she has created a Masters in Arts Leadership and Choral Conducting.
She has worked internationally with children’s and adult choirs for many years and founded Voce in 2003, widely acknowledged as London’s finest young and vibrant Chamber Choir www.vocechamberchoir.org.uk as well as founding the award-winning choir Coro in 2000.
Her conducting work has seen her perform in some of London’s most prestigious concert venues including the Royal Albert Hall (for Yehudi Menuhin’s 80th birthday concert), St John’s Smith Square, St James’s Piccadilly and the Royal College of Music. She has conducted prestigious orchestras, including the Brandenburg Choral Festival, Academy of Ancient Music and she works regularly with members of BBC Symphony Orchestra. She adjudicates choir competitions and gives lectures/workshops internationally. Her choirs have performed with The Rolling Stones and recorded with Duran Duran.
Suzi has founded Singing4Success www.singing4success.com – and with her top team of experts they offer inspirational and motivational singing based workshops for team building and leadership exercises both in the UK and internationally with an emphasis on active listening, and confident communication.
Another project is Vocal Futures which aims to build the next generation’s classical music audiences (16-22s). It will identify, involve and inspire young people to engage with classical music. www.vocalfutures.org
She also founded the London Youth Choirs – an exciting initiative to provide London’s young singers with a world class choral education and to create a flagship ensemble with a pyramid of 5 choirs from all 33 Boroughs to represent the city of London on a world stage. www.londonyouthchoir.com
2015 sees the launch of her professional vocal consort, Ora – commissioning new choral works as ‘reflections’ of old masterworks. She will also be working with The London Mozart Players and Britten Sinfonia. Suzi annually conducts 2,000 voices in the Royal Albert Hall in a scratch Youth Messiah. In 2015 it was awarded first prize for Best Classical Music Education Initiative Nationwide by Classic FM.
Suzi was awarded an OBE in 2007 in recognition of outstanding services to music education.
The moment you knew you’d dedicate your life to music
Was a pianist, but loves people. Abandoned the pursuit of piano at age 20, then chose to focus on conducting.
Suzi’s father was passionate about music and would take her to concerts at a young age. They would listen to recordings of Kings College Cambridge and the great Bach cantatas.
Worst musical moment
My career is a series of humiliations.
– Sir Colin Davis
At Scratch Youth Messiah at Royal Albert Hall (with 2000+ students about to sing the Messiah), after a lengthy rehearsal, Suzi had 10 minutes to get ready before the show. She had forgotten her trousers, so she went into her bag and found a pair of leggings, and conducted the whole performance in her leggings! She hasn’t lived that one down yet!
The proudest musical moment
Last February, Suzi started a choir called “Ora” after her former student, Rita Ora. She recorded two one hour albums with Ora that she plans to release in Feb 2016!
The Voices Foundation: $50,000,000 into primary schools for singing and a national plan for music in the UK.
Vocal Futures to encourage 16-22 to become a new audience for choral music
London Youth Choir: serves all 32 boroughs of London
Voce Chamber Choir: high-level amateur choir
Most excited about right now
Ora, her newest professional choir, and their launch concert in the Tower of London.
Advice for your younger self
Look after your friendships.
What makes a great conductor?
Teaching your choir to listen