THE lives of young people have been forever changed by Barnsley Youth Choir’s mammoth ten-day tour of South Africa, its leader has told the Chronicle.

Almost £70,000 was raised over more than a year of fund-raising to help send 64 members of the almost 500-strong Barnsley Youth Choir on the trip of a lifetime which has cemented BYC’s reputation on an international stage.

Already two world-renowned choirs who shared the stage with BYC in South Africa are planning visits to Barnsley to work with the choir again.

Musical director Mat Wright said he wanted to thank ‘from the bottom of his heart’ everyone who helped support the choir in getting to South Africa.

“It was one of those truly life-changing experiences for our young people.

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“I bumped into one of the choir members in Asda on Sunday after we got back, and she said it’s changed her as a person, and changed her whole outlook on life.

“I hope the people who have supported the choir can see the value in what we’ve done and the experiences we’ve given these young people.”

The tour included workshops, rehearsals and eight public performances ranging from small intimate concerts, to thousand-seater auditoriums and music festivals with choirs who are seen not only as the finest in South Africa but are the very best in the world.

He said: “There were a few occasions where I did actually feel the pressure. At times we were performing at festivals where perhaps the best eight choirs in South Africa were performing, choirs of an outstanding international calibre, yet it was us who were up to perform the last slot and seen as the ‘big event’.

“It was an intensive schedule and the young people needed to show resilience and a strength of character to manage the intensity of the tour. But they were just utterly brilliant. They were so professional, so humble, and I just felt incredibly proud of the way they just soaked it all up and gave it their all. They were fantastic ambassadors for our town and our country.”

The choir arrived back in Barnsley last Friday after a tour which included performances alongside 14 world-famous choirs including Kearsney College Choir (Durban), Drakensberg Boys Choir, TUKS Camerata Choir (Pretoria), University Pretoria Youth Choir, Mzansi Choir (Soweto), the University of Johannesburg Choir and the East Rand Youth Choir (East Gauteng).

The trip also including sightseeing and cultural activities, such as visits to a lion and safari park, a game reserve (seeing lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, cape buffalo, cheetahs, giraffes, antelope, and hyaenas), and visits to the Apartheid Museum and Mandela House.

There were also training workshops to help develop the choir with world-renowned choral leaders including Renette Bouwer, conductor University of Johannesburg Choir and Afrikaans Hoër Meisies Pretoria Choir who is also planning to come to Barnsley to work with the choir further. A key part of the trip was about training the choir and five workshops were built in to the programme to allow international choral leaders to work with Barnsley youngsters.

“It was an incredibly complex and meticulously-planned tour, but thankfully everything went according to plan with no major hiccoughs at all.

“The trip is already leading to further collaborations with some really special people which will benefit the whole choir, not just the 64 we took with us, so that’s something really special.”

The choir’s next plan is to compete in the World Choir Games in Belgium next July. TUKS Camerata (former World Champions) will also be competing there but not before spending some time in Barnsley en route.

Following successful concerts with BYC the choir changed its travel plans and will miss opportunities to perform in Paris to instead spend four nights in Barnsley working with BYC.

In addition the famous Drakensberg Boys Choir (current World Champions) will be coming to perform with BYC this October.

Pictures: Sarah Brabbin