Q&A: Hertford Choral Society's new musical director Manvinder Rattan

Manvinder Rattan conducting Hertford Choral Society

Manvinder conducting members of Hertford Choral Society - Credit: Cropwell Photography

Hertfordshire Life's Julie Lucas speaks to BBC Choir of the Year judge, Manvinder Rattan, the new musical director of Hertford Choral Society.

Julie Lucas: You have an illustrious CV as a musical director and conductor including for the John Lewis Musical Society, plus a judge with Gareth Malone on BBC2's The Choir and BBC Choir of the Year, how did it all begin? 

Manvinder Rattan: I don't come from a musical family at all. I came to love music from inspirational music teachers and was really lucky to have a sequence of teachers who opened the door and allowed me to see what making music on my own, making music with others, particularly singing and playing did for you.

It just always brought me so much joy and pleasure, eventually, it became my job which was amazing.

I did used to play the French horn but not very well to be honest. I think my teachers quietly despaired of me. 

JL: So what makes a good choir?  

MR: I am looking for really good singing that speaks to the audience - choirs that are singing the right notes at the right moment together.

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Then it's about vocal technique, are they using their voices well to create the nicest sound they can?

But ultimately it's really important that they are demonstrating they're enjoying what they're doing and that they're able to communicate that to the people in front of them.

The Choir really encouraged people to say, actually if these ordinary people from the Royal Mail or a water company can do it, then so can we.

It made people realise that singing isn’t for a particular demographic, it can be for everyone. 

JL: What are the benefits of singing? 

MR: Singing is great for mental agility. Joining a choir you get immense friendship, sometimes that friendship goes to marriage and children! 

There are John Lewis choir babies all over the world now. It isn’t just the singing, it's also about your interactions with other human beings.

Having those social interactions, for many people, particularly if they're lonely can be really important. Singing releases endorphins in your body, which is the body's natural, happy drug.

Even if you sing on your own, you know how happy that makes you. Imagine doing that with a whole load of other people in harmony, creating a performance that's being appreciated by people in front of you. That's just magic.

JL: Do you have a favourite piece? 

MR: The Bach Mass in B Minor, that’s fantastic bit of writing. I love the Mozart Requiem and I am a real fan Haydn’s The Creation. It was the first piece I ever sang as a kid. 

I have conducted it two or three times, so for me, it has been part of my life since I was very young. It’s going to be the first piece I perform with Hertford Choral Society.     

JL: What do you hope to bring to the society?  

MR: The society had 44 years with the same amazing conductor but the welcome I've had has been incredibly warm.

I hope to encourage younger members. There are 120 people in the choir and we have had 25 new starters when I came, that was really nice to see. 

I can only be the best that I can be, I hope that will be good enough.    

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