A week with…Paul Smith of VOCES8

It’s jet lag day! I’ve just returned from the VOCES8 US tour, and after a month on US time, I’ve woken up in Paris feeling a little groggy. There’s a small coffee place a few yards from my door where they grind the beans for you, and I’m there as soon as my limbs will respond properly, speaking poor French and hoping they understand my need for caffeine. They do, just. The final stop of the tour for me was in the Twin Cities, making videos and audio with the team at Minnesota Public Radio (the biggest classical music station in the US), and we had a great time recording with VOCES8, our VOCES8 US Scholars and the flautist [and VOCES8 Records Artist] Daniela Mars. As we’ve been doing this, we’ve also been planning the launch of our new six-person women’s vocal ensemble, based in the US, called Lyyra.

The jet lag is wearing off slowly, and I’m having meetings at the Philharmonie in Paris in the morning before flying to Vienna. I’m advising them and writing some music for their education programmes this year. We have a VOCES8 Foundation in France and one of the most fun elements of my work is leading about 10 or 12 of these major projects each year. I design the themes, write the compositions and arrangements and lead sessions with thousands of students in cities and rural communities across France. In the summer VOCES8 and [the five-piece a cappella] Apollo5 arrive, and we give some totally joyous concerts alongside hundreds of local students and adults in each area. Lyyra is already booked in for some of these in our 2025 plans, and after our meetings it’s time to pack again.

I’ve landed in Vienna and it’s very cold! The snow is deep, and the winter markets are amazing. Daniela and I are performing together with our Mars Smith duo at the Global Peter Drucker Forum and are also involved in sessions on creative resilience. I’m sharing the platform with some amazing artists (Scott Handy and Kamilla Arku) and we discuss the role of the arts in society as we look to the future. That evening, Daniela and I perform a composition we wrote together earlier last year, inspired by the Joshua Tree National Park at dawn. The music is transported from one of nature’s palaces to the Viennese kind, taking place in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. If only Air France hadn’t lost our luggage and concert outfits…

It’s even colder, if that’s possible, as I head back to London in time for our annual concert with VOCES8 and the VOCES8 UK Scholars to live stream our LIVE From London launch from the VOCES8 Centre in the heart of the City of London. The festival was created during the depths of the pandemic and is an online festival that has become one of our most successful endeavours. Since it began, we’ve employed over 500 artists, composers, producers and engineers from all over the world, and sold more than 250,000 tickets globally. We are planning to create a LIVE From “London” concert in Houston in February which will feature the first-ever performance by Lyyra. Tonight, it’s my job to produce the live stream. Cutting images in real time is much more terrifying than being on stage, but the production team and the performers do a wonderful job, and the audiences online and live in the room are thrilled.

A day of online meetings calls and discussions about the first recording sessions for Lyyra in London. The group is coming to London for a week of filming, recording and coaching – not just about the music, but looking at everything from photoshoots to sessions on how to lead workshops in primary schools. We mix the “glamour” with the truly important – bringing some of the finest singers in the world into a space where they can inspire the next generations of musicians and music lovers.

Finally, I get to spend a few hours writing music. Daniela and I are heading to the Faroe Islands tomorrow to create a cinematic album, writing music inspired by the stunning natural environment of the Faroes. We have cameras, a drone, lots of warm clothes and plans to capture as many different parts of the islands as possible, as well as learning what we can about the traditions and stories of the places and the people. We’re going to be recording our compositions back in London, and alongside the two of us, we will also be welcoming my brother Barnaby, who is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of VOCES8 and a fabulous countertenor, Lyyra and other guest musicians and dancers to perform with us on the album. 

Via Copenhagen, Daniela and I fly to the Faroes, and the plane just about manages to land. The weather is not welcoming, and as we drive to our Airbnb for the first night of our trip, the entire collection of islands, surrounded by vast volumes of water on all sides, is plunged into total darkness by a massive power cut.
My week ends with this amazing, fleeting sense of isolation, and then, gradually, candles begin to appear in the windows of houses in the tiny village in which we will spend the night. Our host, a sailor in the Danish navy who has just retired after 28 years at sea, opens his door to us and offers us homemade bread, cheese and a local beer. I can’t wait to see what music will emerge from this experience as we look into the year ahead.

Paul Smith is Co-Founder and CEO of VOCES8 and the VOCES8 Foundation. To discover more about VOCES8, visit www.voces8.foundation