04 Aug 2021

The Virtual Bing Sing 2021 - Interview with NYMAZ’s Emily Penn

On 21 June, The Virtual Big Sing 2021 (VBS 2021) was livestreamed on teachers’ whiteboards, children’s phones and parents’ tablets from across the country! The mass singalong was put together by Norfolk Music Hub with the help of music resource creator Charanga. Live streamed by NYMAZ, the event got children from up and down the country singing and connecting together online through a virtual chat on YouTube Live, creating an accessible and safe space for children to enjoy a music concert online.

With the help of the renowned Vocal Coach Mark De-Lisser, the event was able to include an A-list line-up, with artists including Aston Merrygold, Becky Hill, Gabrielle (yes, THE Gabrielle!), Kirsten Joy, Marisha Wallace, MNEK, Nathan Evans, Professor Green and RED. Children were able to ask their questions to the artists via an online chat on YouTube live which was monitored by NYMAZ administrators. This helped to create a safe space for children to engage with Mark De-Lisser and the performers.
Made possible by multiple music hubs and music organisations co-ordinating plans closely, VBS 2021 was watched by over 100,000 people and successfully got young primary and secondary school children singing in schools and at home.

The pandemic has affected all of our lives and as musicians we have missed the excitement and joy that comes from live music. For many children they have not yet experienced this excitement of a live performance. VBS 2021 worked extremely hard to imitate the atmosphere and audience engagement that you look forward to when going to a live concert. For this reason, all of the staff who worked on this event deserve massive praise for being able to not only bring live music to children through an online platform in an accessible and safe way but to also get children singing in their classrooms and homes. It was wonderful to see children actively taking part in the event using the music resources provided by Charanga. To see the children enjoying the day and actively getting involved with the music, search for the hashtag #VBS2021 on Twitter.

I was given the task of writing a blog post for NYMAZ aimed at young children to help them learn more about what it is like to be involved in the audience of a concert from the comfort of your bedroom, to read more click the link, here.
In order to understand the event better, NYMAZ’s role and also how VBS 2021 came about I interviewed NYMAZ’s very own Digital Project Manager, Emily Penn. Here’s how it went:

Shall we start off with talking about NYMAZ and your role within NYMAZ?

I’ve worked for NYMAZ since 2014 and my job is to run the Connect: Resound project. NYMAZ is a youth music charity whose main focus has historically been on North Yorkshire and creating new opportunities for young people in North Yorkshire to take part in music, but it’s grown beyond that more recently.

Connect: Resound came about through the recognition that places like North Yorkshire have less access to music education and music performances than other places because of the rural issues that the county faces. This includes things like lack of transport, so it’s hard to get out from villages in the evenings for young people. There is also a lack of venue infrastructure and it’s more expensive and more complicated for music services to send their teachers out to schools, especially smaller schools where there might only be one person wanting to play a particular instrument.
Taking into account all of these issues that affect access to music in rural areas, NYMAZ, with the University of Hull and our technology partner UCan Play, decided to look at whether providing more activities online would help to bridge that gap. We started out doing test lessons with different schools across North Yorkshire so people could learn instruments from the very beginning online, and we also started to do live streamed professional concerts and behind the scene sessions with bands.

That’s really great! Could you give a bit of an explanation as to what the Virtual Big Sing is?

It’s grown out of Norfolk Music Hub (who are responsible for the music provision in Norfolk), who for quite a few years have produced an event for the Royal Norfolk Show. They have worked with all the schools in Norfolk to learn a repertoire of songs and dances along with signing lyrics. Some schools have been able to go to the Royal Norfolk Show and join in, with musicians on the stage and different schools in the audience in a field all joining together to sing.

In 2019, NYMAZ went along and filmed the event at the Royal Norfolk Show and live streamed it to all of the schools who couldn’t actually physically get in the field – there’s only so many children you can fit in a field at any one time! And that worked really, really well. That live streamed event was something that was just for Norfolk schools but it became an inclusive celebratory concert for Norfolk.

Last year we were all set to do the same thing and obviously we couldn’t due to the pandemic, so the show was cancelled. Schools were in lockdown, so Norfolk wondered how they could still give a similar opportunity to all of their children and young people but do it in a different way. So last year (2020) they worked with Mark De-Lisser who they’ve got a long standing relationship with already, and asked if he could create a live streamed concert with video contributions from his musical contacts.  They worked with Charanga who created lots of online resources so the schools could learn songs in advance.

We put together a live stream that was made up of pre-recorded videos from the artists, including Nicola Roberts and Jessie J. Mark was live in the studio linking it all together and getting the young people at home involved. Like with this year’s event, we did it on YouTube with the live chat open and it just meant that all of these young people –  thousands of them not just in Norfolk but all across the country (because we got other hubs involved as well) – could say hello to their teachers and say hello to each other and feel like they were doing something together! It was clearly meaningful for them and it felt like a really big celebratory moment.

Yesterday came out of the success of last year and we thought as the restrictions are less we can probably get some artists together in a venue but keep the same principle of beaming it out to lots of different areas and just having a really big party! They decided to go for it and go for a big Abbey Road concert. I think it did make a difference with it all being live and the artists being there in person and making a big event of it.

They got lots of organisations with different specialisms involved. They worked with Viking Sound and Lighting who ensured it looked and sounded professional. There’s an organisation called Music For Youth who try and create more opportunities for young people to get involved in music and they worked on all of the logistics on site; getting the artists to the right place at the right time and the set list. NYMAZ worked with them on getting all of the filming done and streaming it live to all of the young people.We made sure we had live captions so it was accessible and we managed the chat as well.

How do you feel about how VBS 2021 went?

We have some headline figures so we know the live stream on YouTube had over 4,000 views, there were 2,941 views during the primary performance and there were 3,394 chat messages!

It’s worth looking at Norfolk Music Hub’s website themselves, they do so much! They do lots of live streaming events with NYMAZ. They live streamed Sinfonia Viva a week ago and Norfolk worked with the schools to help children play alongside the orchestra. They really grasp the opportunity in terms of what live streaming can offer them with getting lots of children involved.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day for this interview!
You’re welcome it was my pleasure.

Written by NYMAZ Young Music Journalist, Katie Lewendon


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