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UK public invited to perform with the BBC Singers in virtual event

On Tuesday 21 May at 7pm, singers of all abilities across the UK are invited to join the BBC Singers virtually, using the groundbreaking new SAFFIRE app 

The recorded performance will form part of a newly commissioned piece composed by BBC Singers’ Composer in Association Roderick Williams, which receives its world premiere at the BBC Singers’ centenary concert later this year. 

The virtual event is a collaboration between the University of York, BBC Singers, and BBC Research and Development, as part of a project designing technical approaches to creating inclusive and immersive musical experiences. The project aims to improve access to group singing so people can experience the benefits no matter where they are in the world. 

Members of the public are invited to visit https://saffire.york.ac.uk/ where they can sign up to the event, print and download the score and listen to sound files of the six parts in the choir. The SAFFIRE app is available to download now, onto a mobile device. At 7pm on 21 May, users will be able to login, select their part and join the virtual performance, which begins at 7.30pm. The app will provide the experience of singing live with members of the BBC Singers, who will be performing at the iconic BBC studios at Maida Vale. 

The performance will be recorded and the virtual singers will be played as part of the soundscape, forming part of a larger scale BBC Commission from Roderick Williams.  The piece receives its world premiere as part of a live performance from the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Singers centenary concert at the Barbican on 2 October. Singers of all abilities are invited to join the performance.  

Jonathan Manners, Co-Director and Producer, BBC Singers said: “I am thrilled that in the year we are celebrating 100 years of the BBC Singers, members of the public will have the unique opportunity to sing alongside us, virtually, through the SAFFIRE app. I know from experience that singing is a powerful way to build connections and community and I cannot wait to see it all come together at our centenary concert at the Barbican on 2 October. For those unable to join us in the concert Hall, it will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC Sounds”. 

Roderick Williams, Composer and Baritone, said: “Increasing access to classical music and especially singing is something I feel passionate about, so I am hugely pleased that anyone and everyone in the UK will have the opportunity to sing in my new piece, composed especially for the BBC Singers.” 

The project will be the first output of the CoStar LiveLAB, a brand new state-of-the-art research and development facility at Production Park in Wakefield, led by experts at the University of York. The lab, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, leverages virtual production technologies including computer generated imagery (CGI), spatial audio, motion capture and extended reality (XR) to create novel live performance experiences.  

Professor Gavin Kearney, Director of LiveLab, said: “This is a truly exciting partnership that will give members of the public a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a world-renowned choir in a performance that will be available to millions of people at the end of this year. For us as researchers, we can test this new technology as well as the experiences that people have using it, to see if this could be a way forward for opening up musical experiences to people who might not otherwise have access to it.”  

Research into virtual singing environments has already shown that virtual choirs provided a lifeline for many people during the pandemic by maintaining social connections, but that there was a unanimous sense of loss of the collective process of making music in real time due to the technical limitations of the internet.   

Experts at the University of York addressed this challenge by developing a virtual environment to allow participants to feel fully immersed within the sound of the choir and trialled the technology in care homes and at a National Trust exhibition, to positive responses from users. 

Professor Helena Daffern, Co-Director of LiveLab, said: “This new project with the BBC Singers will take our work into virtual singing experiences to another level.  We know that virtual choirs can provide a way of reaching people who have barriers to taking part in these social events, but we need more evidence to understand if virtual performances could have the same health and wellbeing impacts as they do in real life. 

“Most importantly, however, for this new project, we hope that people enjoy the experience of feeling immersed in the performance of this incredible choir in real-time and being created by such a renowned composer; it should be something that singers of all abilities will remember for a long time to come.” 

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