Renowned Choral Conductor Timothy Brown Makes Second Visit to City Choirs


Esther Puderbaugh

Concert Choir performs their first piece of the night conducted by guest director Timothy Brown at the annual Cathedral Choir Concert

Esther Puderbaugh, Website Executive and A&E Editor

“Would you please sing this for everyone?” asks renowned choral director Timothy Brown to a person in the back of the choir class. 

This year, Brown has made his second visit to the choir program at City. Coming off of 31 years as the Director of Music at Clare College, University of Cambridge, Brown, lauded as one of the best living choral conductors, has been traveling and working with various choral ensembles around the world, among other projects. 

“I thought this community in particular would appreciate [working with Mr. Brown]; and so I emailed him and just said ‘would you be available during this timeframe?’” said City High Choral Director Tyler Hagy of Brown’s first visit that happened last school year. 

Hagy met Brown during his Masters Degree program at the University of Cambridge. 

“I just happened kind of randomly to turn up in the chapel at Robinson College one day to audition for the choir,” Hagy said. “[I] auditioned and was accepted to sing in the choir that year. And so through that time as part of the course I had to have some conducting opportunities with the choir, [and] Mr. Brown, in many ways, became one of the biggest mentor figures I had in Cambridge.”

Brown’s first visit resonated deeply with the choir students at City.

“After he left last year, there were actually several students that still would talk about him, and still did throughout this entire year. We were very eager to see him again,” Hagy said. “Out of all the conductors I’ve ever worked with, he’s one of maybe two that can get the choir to sing in the way that he wants the quickest. But also the personality that he brings, particularly to the work and to the community of singers, I think is really special. Mr. Brown is a very curious person, and so he really enjoys knowing people and meeting people and learning about them.”

Brown enjoys visiting different choirs around the world partly because of the unique experience of meeting people different to him who have similar interests.  

“I’ve always loved coming to America, simply because I’m learning [about] a different sort of country,” Brown said. “You behave in a different way. Not better or worse, but just differently. Your attitude towards music and your attitude towards each other is different. It’s a lovely atmosphere to work in, and particularly this year all the choirs have been very responsive. It’s always good to have other conductors in because the students can say ‘Gosh I don’t like the way he does that. Mr. Hagy does that much better’ or ‘That’s interesting. That’s an idea worth remembering’. Education is a cumulative experience of taking on board different attitudes and different things.”

Brown believes students who partake in musical ensembles in American schools to be incredibly lucky.

“In England, we don’t have school classes in choir or orchestra. And so any choir or orchestra [there] is is in spare time. If there’s nobody in the school interested in running a choir, it doesn’t happen. And increasingly that’s the case in England,” Brown said. “I don’t think Americans realize how privileged you are to have school music in the way that you do, and I don’t think English people realize how unlucky they are.”  

Between this year and last, Brown has noticed a shift in the mood of the choirs. 

“It has been particularly interesting coming back this year because last year so many people were masked,” Brown said. “[Now], everyone’s much more open, and the singing is more open which is really interesting. People are now beginning to, as it were, count the cost of COVID, and realizing what damage it did to people socially.”

In rehearsals, Brown is known to pick out individual singers to work with.

“I’ll be listening to a rehearsal, and I’ll pluck somebody out and say ‘Come and sing for me’,” Brown said. “In fact, in Cambridge, the choir asked me to do a workshop. And they were singing a piece of Tallis and it was just slightly hesitant, not kind of moving. I identified [someone in the choir], and I sensed that he probably had more voice than he was using. And I’m a bit naughty because I tend to pick on people and some people say ‘You shouldn’t do that’. But I got him to stand up and sing on his own, and I realized that he wasn’t making very much sound so I said ‘Come on, sing out’. And that one voice singing made the others sing out. So he was in a sense single handedly responsible for lifting them to a place where they could really work, and then they sang it to me and it was beautiful. That’s part of it: trying to identify individuals and help them help themselves.”

Choir student Joe Fullenkamp ‘24 has enjoyed his time working with Brown this year. 

“When I was in the UK, I met Mr. Brown and he’s been one of my favorite choir people,” Fullenkamp said. “He gives some of the best advice, and he’s always alive with energy. You’re always engaged in what he’s teaching and what he’s trying to help you with. And by the end of every day that we have with him, our choir sounds really beautiful.”

With all of his experience working with many ensembles around the globe, including some of the most renowned groups, Brown believes music to be a truly unifying experience. 

“It goes beyond music as well because I’ve made so many friends through music, through singing,” Brown said. “For many of the students here, they’re meeting somebody from a different culture, and they’ve never been to Europe but now they know somebody there. And so I’m sure I shall meet some of the students in Europe in the years to come.”