Profile: Josh Cooter, tenor – singing in Chichester Cathedral with The Sixteen

Josh is performing in A Watchful Gaze in Chichester Cathedral on Saturday 18 March.

What are you looking most forward to when performing in Chichester with The Sixteen?

I grew up near Chichester, used to sing as a Chorister in the Cathedral, and so it’s always wonderful to be back here at my roots. It’s going to be great to have the support of my family and local friends.

The majority of the pieces in the concert are by William Byrd, it being the 400th anniversary of his death. He wrote his music for these kinds of buildings and I feel that Chichester Cathedral is the perfect size for this type of music. The acoustics allow the music to wash around the building, and the fact that the building isn’t the biggest of its kind also means that the words shouldn’t get lost during the faster pieces.

What do you feel about the repertoire you will be singing?

It’s going to be wonderful to have Byrd at the centre of the repertoire, flanked by others of his era, including Clemens Non Papa, who was one of the composers that influenced him the most. I was fortunate to have been directed by the Byrd expert, David Trendell, whist at University, and I’ve always loved Byrd.

We’ll be performing Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas, an immense piece that builds steadily from a feeling of sadness and woe at the beginning, leading towards hope, when we’re encouraged to look towards the heavens. It’s unbelievably powerful. I know that I’ll have to hold back at the end, otherwise my emotions will get the better of me and I’ll tense up and won’t be able to sing freely.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My parents realised that I could kind of sing before I could speak, so recognised my interest in music. Joining the Cathedral Choir at the age of 7, I was singing up to 8 services a week and really looked forward to each service. I won a musical scholarship to my next school, and since moving to London I’ve really never looked back.

I joined the one-year-long Genesis Sixteen programme, which was hugely inspiring. Now more than 10 years old, and fully funded by the Genesis Foundation, it’s placed many people onto the biggest stages around the world. It involves a series of week-long and weekend courses over the year and provides group tuition, individual mentoring, and masterclasses run by some of the industry’s top vocal experts.

Harry Christophers took most of the sessions, and I was full of wonder how he danced around the stage when conducting – he really “got into” the music.

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

The pandemic was obviously a huge challenge, forcing all musicians to re-invent themselves. Choirs and orchestras could no longer simply rely on face-to-face events.

However (and it feels strange to say this) but the pandemic has had its silver linings. In 2020 I branched out into audio editing for mass online choirs, and this has continued. I think these choirs were lifesavers for many at a time when their usual access to music-making was taken away from them. Many people have also recognised the value of having access to world-class accompanists and orchestras through this process, and the merits of a sense of community this activity brings.

Touring is amazing but tiring: too often it can be a whirl of people and experiences. But by contrast, I recently sang on tour in Yellowknife in Canada. Despite falling to temperature lows of -33C, we worked out that more than 1.5% of its population turned up for the concert – we were obviously considered to be offering the cultural highlight of the year!

And, like many, the pandemic made me realise how much music-making means to me.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Choral singing is obviously a shared activity – in a sense, you become “one”. It’s a pleasure when you can share musical ideas. As soon as you breathe in before singing the first notes, all your senses are attuned. You need to be open-minded to others’ ideas, and be able to bounce off each other musically, in order to achieve your full potential as a team.

Music from the Renaissance adds to that sense of teamwork, with its many moments of interweaving lines and ideas. Vigilate, another piece written by Byrd that we will be performing in Chichester, demonstrates this perfectly. One idea (such as a cockerel crowing, in this case), is expressed in one singing part; this idea is then passed over to another part, and then the mood changes.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?

I grew up with English composers such as Byrd, Tallis, and Shepherd who wrote music for Cathedrals, and whom I adore for their ability to spellbound audiences for minutes. I also love other composers from that age from Continental Europe, in particular Gombert, Clemens Non Papa, and Josquin.

I’ve actually got pretty wide tastes. Whilst growing up, my Dad has always played plenty of Led Zeppelin and Oasis, and I enjoy pop and jazz besides “classical” music. I used to play the trombone and performed big orchestral works. However it’s the human voice which has the greatest appeal for me, controlled as it is by two tiny muscles, and the ability it gives to connect the music with the narrative.

What are your most memorable concert experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

Performing one of the James MacMillan Passions in the Sistine Chapel, was an absolute privilege. Equally, taking part in a 3-month run of Handel’s ‘Belshazzar’ at the Grange Festival in 2019 was a welcome change to taking part in a single performance. It enabled me to develop my approach to the piece.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

If you really enjoy it, then you’re likely to be able to make a success of it. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into certain roles and genres too early on in your career. Be able to work as a team, with an open mind. Ideally, be prepared to bring your whole life and emotions to bear into the delivery of a piece.

How would you define success as a musician?

I still find it a success that I’ve been able to make a career out of music-making! And there’s a feeling of achievement the moment when one feels one has added some value to the world.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

More of the same! Remaining engaged, finding new composers and works, and still deriving great pleasure from it all.

Here are 2 links to YouTube videos of me singing with The Gesualdo Six and Apollo5:

The Gesualdo Six: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5swkUtwDMY

Apollo5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6vrO-77CbU


About Josh

Having studied music at King’s College London, Josh now pursues a busy varied professional career touring worldwide and recording as a soloist for some of the UK’s most prestigious consorts such as The Sixteen and The Gesualdo Six. His opera highlights include singing the title role in Rameau’s Pygmalion at Brighton Early Music Festival where he was described as “a perfectly anguished tenor…with gorgeously honeyed tones” (Brighton Latest), and appearing in the UK’s first-ever professional performance of Handel’s Belshazzar at Grange Festival. Aside from singing, Josh has started to build up a reputation for his audio editing skills, regularly working with The Choir of the Earth and recently doing projects with The Goethe Institute, The Gesualdo Six and Siglo de Oro.

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