Rebecca Berkley, Universal Voices Director

Rebecca is the subject convenor for the MA in Music Education and BA Primary Education with Music Specialism (QTS), one of the few programmes in the UK training undergraduates as music subject leaders in primary schools. In March 2017, Rebecca started a new children’s choir at the University of Reading called Universal Voices which offers free choral education to children in the area and opportunities for student conductors to learn to conduct by working with the choir. Rebecca also works with Sing for Pleasure, the National Singing Charity, as a singing and musicianship tutor. Previously, she worked for Sing Up as area co-ordinator in Berkshire and for Berkshire Maestros as Area Senior Leader in West Berkshire and a choral animateur. Her current teaching and research interests are teaching musical literacy and musical leadership to primary teachers and encouraging as many people as possible to sing as often as they can.


What has been the worst or most memorable thing that has happened during one of your performances – as a performer/director/accompanist etc?

I have good and bad experiences of this. I have performed contemporary pieces in front of the (famous) composer on several occasions, and this can be remarkably challenging and also really rewarding, especially when the music is technically challenging, and the publishing company only tell you the day before the concert that the famous person is attending! I remember one very poignant performance where  the person who had commissioned the work to commemorate their child who had died attended the concert. It was a real privilege to be able to meet them, and to be able perform the work.
Less positive memories include conducting Spem in Alium – a forty voice motet with eight choirs of 5 voices all around the church – and getting lost a couple of bars in at the dress rehearsal, and then being slightly pleased that the choir broke down and we needed to stop so no-one noticed that I’d got lost some while back. And I have a habit of forgetting my concert shoes.
I do remember some orchestral players inventing a game called Bec Bingo, where they would write down swear words on a piece of paper and then tick them off during rehearsals with a opera group that I was working with. They said that as the rehearsals progressed I got more and more angry and sweary with the singers on stage, and they found it increasingly harder to play because they were laughing.

Who is your musical inspiration?

I would like to be Nicola Benedetti when I grow up. Her Benedetti Foundation does the most fantastic work to inspire and education young musicians. I also always wanted to sound like Nina Simone when In sang, but I never did!

What inspires you to perform and teach?

I really like it when people can do it for themselves. I really like watching teachers go and teach the next generation.

Which instrument do you wish you had learned?

The trombone.

What musical advice would you give to your younger self?

Do not be scared of the sharps and flats – do not tell yourself that you have to stay in C major because the other keys are too hard. They are not, they just need some extra work.

What musical moment are you most proud of?

Playing for Toro Takemitsu was pretty spiffing. And also watching the musicians of Music at Reading perform every time is always completely heart warming. The fellowship and commitment of the membership is always a great pleasure to be part of.

Which three words describe you as a musician?

Hot cross Bec?

It goes like this? (although that’s four words)

Where’s my coffee?

What is your favourite memory of working with Music at Reading?

All of them have been great. 

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