Michael Waldron: conductor

Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 24 seconds

Everyone has a story. Anyone can sign claims Barnsbury’s Michael Waldron who has just taken over the job as conductor with Islington Choral Society. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill

Islington Choral Society conductor Michael Waldron. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

“There’s a real mix of people in Islington – everyone who lives and works here is interesting,” says Michael Waldron. And he should know. Every Tuesday evening he stands in front of 150, mostly locals, and coaxes great music out of them. Each term – Islington Choral Society (also known as ICS) shadows the academic year – the choir works towards a performance. This year it’s Haydn’s Nelson Mass on Saturday 16 December at Holy Trinity Sloane Square, which Michael promises will be an “uplifting and rousing concert.”

“About 75-80% of ICS are Islington based, but ICS has a good reputation so increasingly people travel a long way, even from Croydon to rehearse. There are a lot of young people joining,” he says. Meeting at Kipferl in Camden Pasage it’s clear that Michael, 30, has a fantastic energy that helps him get the best out of anyone. He sees it in more pragmatic terms: “We rehearse at a good venue and everyone is very friendly, welcoming and they sing well – they focus for two hours. Afterwards we always go to the Brewhouse on Highbury Corner for a drink. I’m always there, though it’s against my better judgment,” he says laughing.

As a freelance conductor Michael’s evenings are spent coaxing great performances out of amateur singing groups, such as ICS, including the University of West London Chamber Choir, a Woking choir and the Guildford Choral Society. Four years ago he also established a professional chamber-sized choir, the London Choral Sinfonia, which holds four concerts a year; the next one is a Christmas programme on Sunday 17 December at St John Smith Square.

So how does he do it? Obviously you need to be super musical, but Michael points out that: “It requires a lot of energy pushing people. You have to know when to say ‘we can do better’ and knowing when it’s as good as it is going to be. Rehearsal has got to be fun, stimulating and challenging, but people have to have an appetite too.”

He may have a non-stop musical life now, but Michael comes from an unmusical family.

“My sister, Helen, is two years older than me. We both started playing the piano when I was four years old (she was six) with a neighbour of my granny. I really got into it.” At school he was then introduced to the organ. Michael subsequently spent his gap year as organ scholar at Worcester Cathedral. He then went to Trinity College Cambridge – to study music – as their organ scholar.

“I had an official commitment to play at four services a week and we rehearsed five days a week. I loved it.” At Trinity, Director of Music, Stephen Layton, “took me under his wing and made me conduct evensong in the first term of the first year. Something clicked for me, even though it was an ordinary weekday service. I thought this is what I want to do. Stephen taught me the technicalities, gave me more opportunities and all sorts of projects, and I still work with him a lot now.

Islington Choral Society conductor, Michael Waldron. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

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Places Michael Waldron likes in Islington

  • Highbury Baptist Church, 40 Highbury Place, is where I rehearse Islington Choral Society (ICS) every Tuesday night. It’s a big new, pie-shaped building with lots of light and lots of memories.
  • I always order boeuf bourguignon at Sacré Coeur on Theberton Street. The guy who runs it is lovely.
  • Barnard Park is always changing. It has mature trees, nice shrubs and roses. One of my neighbours tends all the beds in the park.
  • Frederick’s is for high days and holidays. The food is lovely – it’s a special place to go from time to time.
  • I’ve been a member of Virgin Active Gym, 333 Goswell Road, for years. I go all the time – three or four times a week. Because I work freelance I can avoid the rush hours when all the office workers are in.

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Sing it louder
“Everyone can sing. Being a singer is like being a runner – everyone can sing or run, but the world doesn’t need everyone to be Linford Christie or Pavarotti,” says Michael. “With singing your body is your instrument, so people need to be relaxed. My job is to make sure things never become tense or stressful. ICS has sopranos, altos, tenors and bases – 30 to 40 in each section – so there are enough people to create a good sound.”

Singing in a choir is definitely having a moment: it seems as popular an after work activity as yoga, pilates or the gym, almost a form of mindfulness in the busy city. Michael suggests that TV has had an impact too. “I think Gareth Malone has made classical music accessible – one of the great jewels in our cultural crown. The tradition of cathedrals and boy choristers is unique, but I do wonder if it was seen as a bit elitist. Gareth Malone’s TV shows (The Choir and Pitch Battle) opened choral singing up and showed that anyone can sing. It’s a hobby you can get enormous pleasure from.”

And of course that “enormous pleasure” is exactly what takes so many Islingtonians back to rehearsal with the Islington Choral Society every Tuesday.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thank you to Sarah Matthias for this suggestion.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola