Harry Bennett of Apollo5

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?

My grandfather was the man that gave me the push to explore the full capacity of my voice. He was a keen musician and would organise music festivals in Kent where he lived while bringing up his young family. In his later years he was a committed member of his local choral society. Music was very important to him, and while he only heard me sing a few times, he clearly saw my passion for singing when I was very young. He saw an advert in the Telegraph for choristers at Rochester Cathedral and encouraged my mother and me to apply. Four years later, I bowed out of the choir as deputy head chorister, and I’d had the biggest head start to my singing career I could ever ask for.

Who or what were the most important influences on your singing?

Being in a cathedral choir, you’re repertoire is fine-tuned to a fairly specific genre. There’s no secular music at all, so the biggest influences were certainly the composers whose works I was singing, namely Byrd, Tallis, Stanford, Poulenc, Duruflé, Vaughan Williams to name a few. On the performance side of things, my director of music at Rochester, Roger Sayer, was a huge influence. I learnt all my foundations of singing from him. In more recent times, I’m now a member of the a cappella group Apollo5, and that has opened my eyes and ears to the previously undiscovered world of secular music! We sing a huge variety of genres and composers from Byrd to Broadway. I’ve loved singing the more current repertoire, like Jim Clements’ arrangement of Smooth Criminal. Jim arranges a lot of music for VOCES8 (whom Apollo5 work very closely with), and it’s a real treat to be able to sing such funky harmonies which I missed out on when I was singing in cathedral choirs!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There’s one which stands out: I started my undergraduate studies on a Biology BSc course, and while I enjoyed studying science at school, it took me a while to realise that I couldn’t leave music on the back burner. After 1 1/2 years into my biology degree I finally accepted that I wasn’t happy, so I started my undergrad from scratch, but this time I was working towards a Music BA. It was an incredibly tough decision to make because I’m probably the most stubborn person I know, but I was worried that I would be perceived as a failure. It’s now 3 years later, and I’m about to graduate and start working as a workshop leader for the charity which runs Apollo5 and VOCES8, Voces Cantabiles Music (VCM), and I can’t wait to start inspiring people through music. It’s definitely been the best decision of my life.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

In chronological order, one of my favourite recordings was from my days in Rochester. We recorded a disc of Vaughan Williams’ choral works (A Choral Portrait of Vaughan Williams, Lantern Productions- 2000), and that definitely fuelled my love for his music. One of the prominent features on the disc was his Mass in G minor. My solo performance which I’m most proud of is certainly my final undergraduate recital. I chose a programme of Finzi, Fauré and Quilter. What I was most proud of was my delivery of the text; having sung in a cathedral for most of my singing career, I haven’t been used to “acting” my text because your job in a cathedral choir is primarily to aid worship, and the music should not distract the congregation from the main focus of the worship. My final recital was the first time I engaged with the text so much that I almost cried during The Clock of the Years (from Finzi’s Earth and Air and Rain). My favourite performance with Apollo5 has to be last month’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall with Surrey Arts. We do a lot of education work with a variety of clients from businesses like Vodafone to help to further their team building, community choirs to strengthen their passion for singing, and all the way through to schools like Red Balloon centres for severely bullied children which aim to recover them and return them to mainstream education.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Apollo5 loved performing at the Royal Albert Hall with Surrey Arts and Westminster Palace with Red Balloon! But sadly we don’t get the opportunity to perform at these venues every day. We usually perform a series of Christmas concerts at Ham House in Richmond, and we love performing those. You certainly feel the Christmas spirit when you’re rehearsing for these towards the end of September!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

We are very lucky that one of our Tenors (Matt) happens to be a great arranger. One of our favourite arrangements of his is definitely The Andrews Sisters classic Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and this also looks great when our girls are wearing their fabulous Vivien of Holloway dresses!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Personally, I love to get into the Christmas spirit by listening to Bing Crosby. There’s nothing like having a bath with Bing! At other times of the year, I fill my iPhone with recordings by The Consort of Musicke and The Sixteen

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

If somebody gives you the opportunity to have more experience in something you love, you have to do it. It’s near impossible to improve if you don’t gain experience. Also, the more teachers you see, the better. You don’t have to visit them regularly, but it’s great to get a 2nd/3rd/4th (etc…) opinion on your technique/performance, because what might work for one person may not necessarily work for another. I think of seeing a variety of teachers as getting a pick-n-mix.

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m preparing to work for VCM on a more permanent basis by observing the workshops that the organisation offers with a view to leading some of these on my own. As a group, Apollo5 are preparing for our appearance at the Tolosa Choral Competition.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love skiing, it’s something I’ve only recently discovered. I usually go to Alpe d’Huez with members of the choral foundation at Portsmouth Cathedral and we normally try to coincide our trip with a performance at Église Notre-Dame des Neiges.

Harry Bennett has just completed his studies at the University of Southampton and has been studying with David Owen Norris, Ian Caddy and Keith Davis over the last three years. Alongside his studies he is also a Bass Lay Clerk at Portsmouth Cathedral. His extensive choral background stretches back to 1997 when he was a chorister at Rochester Cathedral under the direction of Roger Sayer.

Harry began to explore workshop leading with the Portsmouth SingUp project, a government-led initiative which aims to help primary school children explore the idea of singing, and to consequently help boost their learning, confidence, health and social development. In 2010 he became a founding member of Apollo 5, the a cappella group which has been praised for their eye-catching performances under the Voces Cantabiles Music (VCM) umbrella and will be performing on various dates around Europe this year, and more notably at the Tolosa International Choral Competition. Apollo5 are Ensemble in residence with Surrey Arts and was honoured to headline the sold out celebration concert at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2012. From September this year, Harry will be implementing his skills gained from his SingUp experience in his appointment as a workshop leader for VCM.

As a soloist he has been gaining experience in oratorio and lieder performances, including Handel’s Messiah with Caroline Balding and Elizabeth Kenny in December 2010, and has appeared as Aeneas in Purcell’s opera Dido & Aeneas last June. Over the past year, Harry has been a member of Genesis Sixteen, the new training programme from The Sixteen which aims “to identify the next generation of ensemble choral singers and to give them the opportunity to train at the highest level”.


The stunning vocal quintet Apollo5 was formed in 2010 and has been praised for engaging and lively performances. The professional group has a wide repertoire of jazz, pop, classical and Christmas a cappella and will be touring across the UK and internationally for the first time in 2012.


Paul Smith of VOCES8

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and make it your career?

I think everyone in VOCES8 was very lucky to have some amazing music teachers as we grew up. Many of sang in cathedral choirs and 3 of the founding members were choristers at Westminster Abbey. When you get so completely immersed in choral music from such an early age, I think you either fall in love with it or move away from it completely, and we were the former! We’re very lucky to have a full time job making music with VOCES8 – it’s a wonderful career to have!

Who or what are the most important influences on your singing?

With 8 different musicians in the group, there are always plenty of musical influences flying around, and that’s what makes working together as an ensemble so exciting. Where Barney or Charles might revel in our early music, and Emily would probably sing Bach all day long, we also all love different genres of music too – Paul loves jazz, and Dingle has a very eclectic musical palette…. All of this feeds into our music making. While we’re an a cappella group, it also helps that some of us play musical instruments too. Rob is a professional organist whenever he has a spare minute to play.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Musically, I think our first couple of recording projects were really challenging, but for different reasons. We recorded ‘Aces High’, an album of jazz, pop and James Bond songs, in 2009 in California, and the process was incredibly challenging for all of us. Then, when we recorded the Bach Motets album in 2010, we were challenged, musically, in an entirely different way. We love both discs, but as we look back on those recordings, I think we’re so proud of them because we know how much effort went into them.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

We spend a lot of our time teaching – we work with about 25,000 young people every year! – and last night we were talking with a group of singers about this very topic in Bedford!

Being a full time performer is wonderful, but there’s something special about being part of a small team. I love being onstage with the same group of people each night, sharing with our audience a concert that we’ve spent months piecing together in the rehearsal room.

Having a vibrant rehearsal environment in which we can all share artistic ideas and then bringing that to life on stage is just great fun! In VOCES8 we have 8 very different personalities too, and that can sometimes be a challenge! We’ve been together now for such a long time that any arguments are always resolved, and I suppose we feel rather like one big family! I know I’m lucky to be surrounded by such a talented and passionate group of people!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Ha ha! I think I’ve answered this one – if I had to choose one, it would be ‘Aces High’. I think, looking back on this in years to come, we’ll realise that we created something completely new with that album, and I don’t think I’ve found another album in that genre that I prefer, which means I must be happy with how it turned out! It was also amazing to be recording in California and working with the most amazing production team you could possibly imagine.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

In VOCES8 we’ve been really lucky to perform in some fabulous venues…. And while it’s hard to beat some of the top London venues (nothing is ever quite as scary as performing in your home town!), the NCPA in Beijing was just staggering, and the outdoor amphitheatre in Vaison-la-Romaine was a joy to sing in.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many that I couldn’t even start to name check them all, but I’d go for Miles Davis as one…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Headlining the first ever classical music festival in Kenya on a huge outdoor stage will live forever in my mind I think! But we’ve had so many inspiring, emotional, spiritual and sometimes simply funny places to sing… every day is different!

What is your favourite music to perform? To listen to?

That depends entirely on my mood. This week in rehearsal we’ve been looking at Byrd, Panufnik, Marcello and Simon and Garfunkel…. All for different upcoming projects, and all great in different ways.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Be open to as much as possible, dedicate yourself to what you want to achieve and then work out how you’re going to get there. Don’t every worry about someone telling you that they don’t like what you’re doing. Art is subjective. And in the world that we live in, being as multi-faceted as possible is always going to be helpful for you.

What are you working on at the moment?

We’ve just finished recording the music for the Olympic Mascots with our composer-in-residence, Thomas Hewitt Jones; we’re working on music by Roxanna Panufnik for a recording linked with our publishing house, Edition Peters, next month; we have a recording project in France with our good friend Patrick Ayrton in the summer and then a busy touring schedule to France, Germany, Spain, Taiwan and Italy to keep us on our toes! Oh, and we’re publishing our first VOCES8 Songbook in July too… then throw into the mix all of the education projects that are coming to an end as the school holidays beckon, and you can imagine we’re not getting to sleep very much at the moment!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Happy wherever I am!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That changes by the day, but feeling like I’m enjoying my life and also able to contribute to the happiness of others.

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPhone and I are pretty inseparable…!

What do you enjoy doing most?

When I’m not making music, I love sport…. And food, wine, films, books…! Hmm.

What is your present state of mind?

I need another coffee!

Like several members of the group, Paul’s musical life began as a treble in Westminster Abbey. His singing continued at Bedford School, where he held a music scholarship, and later at King’s College, Cambridge, during his gap year. Whilst studying PPE at the University of York, he spent much of his time performing musical theatre and jazz, most notably appearing in a production of Candide. At this time he was also a member of the RSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir. Upon graduating in 2004 he embarked upon a successful career in corporate training and events with the New London Orchestra and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. In August 2006 Paul assumed the position of CEO for Voces Cantabiles Music.

Paul’s light baritone has made him the perfect choice for VOCES8′s early repertoire. An experienced performer in jazz and music theatre, he also provides the group with the American twang for the lighter repertoire. A height-based comedic partnership with his fellow bass, Dingle, has amused audiences the world over.

Alongside his singing duties with VOCES8 Paul leads the Hatch My Ideas! initiative run by Voces Cantabiles Music. Paul shines both as a Workshop Leader and Manager, and the projects he and his team have designed have innovated music education in UK.

Visit www.hatchmyideas.co.uk for more information.


The international award-winning octet, VOCES8, has established itself at the forefront of British a cappella. Performing a repertoire ranging from Renaissance polyphony to unique Jazz and Pop arrangements, the group has been praised for stunning performance, exquisite singing and creating a sound that spans the entire range of vocal colour.

Founded in 2003 by ex-choristers of Westminster Abbey, VOCES8’s career has developed both in the classical choral scene and the world of a cappella with an annual touring schedule that takes the group to Europe, the USA, Africa and Asia. Highlights include performances at the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall, Tel Aviv Opera House and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

With an ongoing programme of recordings and live broadcasts VOCES8 is heard regularly on international television and radio including Deutschlandradio Kultur, ARTE TV and the BBC.

VOCES8 plays a key role in the education work of the non-profit foundation VOCES CANTABILES MUSIC. The group leads innovative workshops as part of larger outreach projects in two hundred schools throughout the UK and internationally. VOCES8’s education work extends to workshops and master-
classes for people of all ages and abilities with the aim of inspiring creativity through music.