Reporter ANDREW PAPWORTH met Tom Appleton, conductor of the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus, to talk about his life in music - including a spell as a child chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

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Music has always been the dominating force in Tom Appleton’s life.

The current conductor for the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus started singing in a church choir when he was just four years old.

Coming from a family of performers where he and his siblings were “always encouraged to express ourselves and make noise”, Mr Appleton had an immediate talent for singing.

He went on to take part in voice trials at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and was one of a select few to be chosen for the prestigious choir when he was just eight years old.

His five-year spell there gave him the best training an aspiring musician could ever hope for.

But being part of one of the most famous choirs in the world was tough, with choristers pushed hard with practices every day, seven days per week alongside their regular schoolwork.

It was, Mr Appleton said, “challenging and demanding” and meant he and his contemporaries – which included future England cricket captain Alastair Cook – lived a somewhat “strange existence”.

“There was very little chance for individuality,” he revealed. “If we had an opportunity to try to do what we wanted to do, we would take a mile given an inch.”

Mr Appleton and his peers would have a 45 minute rehearsal at 7.30am each day before a day of schooling.

When most children go home to play games with their friends after school, Mr Appleton had to be back in the cathedral at 3.30pm for another rehearsal ahead of the afternoon service at 4.30pm.

With homework to complete, the strict schedule did not leave the youngsters with much free time – even on Sundays, their days were packed with performances at three services.

Only on a Saturday did they get the chance to do some sport practice.

The uniformity of many of the performances meant there was high competition among the youngsters for any solo parts available as well, when they would get a rare chance to do something a bit different.

However despite the rigourous routine, Mr Appleton, now 29, believes being a St Paul’s chorister has served him and his contemporaries well in later life.

“After three hours a day training in a discipline, you’re seen as one of the top people in your age group,” he said.

“You’re used to working at a high level, whatever you’re doing.”

It is no surprise therefore that his time at St Paul’s has helped Mr Appleton on his way to achieve even greater things.

At 13 he went to the historic Gresham’s school in Holt – where, as an adult, he would later become director of music outreach – so he could develop his music and drama skills.

After finishing there, he enjoyed a gap year many youngsters can only dream of, going on a world tour with the National Choir of Great Britain to perform in some of the best venues across the globe.

After reading music at University of York, he joined the world-famous Monteverdi Choir, where he got his first taste of conducting as well as performing – but said he has a strong passion for both.

“When you’re conducting, you have to do a lot of prior research,” Mr Appleton said.

“It’s a project that might take 18 months in the planning.

“Music has to live. It has to exist to the listener, rather than just be in a book. It affects people orally rather than visually.

“I love performing. I love the teamwork that goes into achieving something. The performance is the cherry on the cake but the hard work getting there is stimulating and thrilling in equal measure.

“Imagine that at the end of your day at work, you get a round of applause?”

In his current role at his old school, Mr Appleton hopes to open up opportunities for young people to be able to sing, perform and enjoy music in the same way he did when he was a child.

“Music is a great way for town and gown to come together,” he said. “We are trying to engage the community and get children to come in and use the facilities.”

As a result he plans to hold workshops for schools across Norfolk to “let them experience something that, with the best will in the world, might not be available to them”.

Mr Appleton has strong ambitions for the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus too, such as getting the group out more in the community so more people can hear its striking performances.

It recently held carol-a-thon in King’s Lynn town centre, when members turned the setback of their usual venue being unavailable as a chance to take their performances to the streets.

“There are some barriers to people hearing about us and our concerts in general, in that they have to come into church, pay for tickets and think they have to know something about Bach,” Mr Appleton explained.

“If we can get out there more, people may say: ‘We didn’t realise this existed.’”

For more information about the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus, visit the website www.klfc.org.uk

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