My NYCOS Journey: Emily Henderson

My journey through NYCOS all began with a game; sitting in a circle with my fellow Primary 3s, bouncing a ball to the beat while chanting “I like coffee, I like tea”. Little did I know that twelve years later I would be trying to summarise all the amazing opportunities I’ve had, from singing for the Queen in Parliament to performing in Carnegie Hall, New York – all starting with my time in a Regional Choir.

Regional Choir

I spent 10 years as a member of the NYCOS Falkirk Choir, going along to rehearsals every Tuesday night of school term. During that time, I was taught to read and understand music through the musicianship programme. This included playing lots of fun games to demonstrate the theory we were being taught, showing it in action. These classes lead me through the levels of Go for Bronze, Silver and Gold – with Gold being the equivalent of Grade 5 Theory – using the Kodály method, or do, re, mi. This was alongside our choir sessions, where we learned an array of different music – from songs about things such as bully cats and witches brews to ones about Scottish history and the world around us. We would showcase everything we had learned at our concerts twice a year; in Summer and Winter, with a big cheesy finale piece that all the different stages of the choir would sing together, youngest to oldest, with members ranging from P4 to S6.

On top of everything I learned and all the friends I made, I was also lucky enough to have some amazing performance experiences such as taking part in a BBC Watchnight Service, singing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for the radio and performing twice in the Usher Hall for Children’s Classic Concert at Christmas. All of this from a wee choir in Falkirk! I will always be grateful for NYCOS Falkirk Choir, helping me kindle my love for music and eventually leading me to do a music degree. I honestly believe that without that choir, I wouldn’t be where I am now – I wouldn’t be able to read music and I wouldn’t have even learned to sing. It’s mind-blowing to look back and see what a huge impact it has had on my life and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities that it has given me.

NYCOS National Girls Choir

At 14 years old, I found myself auditioning for the National Girls Choir and heading off to spend a week of the Easter holidays making music with a bunch of girls aged 12-16. Suddenly, the music was a lot harder than I was used to and I had to use my voice more than I ever had before, but I absolutely adored it. Hearing how talented everyone around me was made me want to work as hard as I could. Looking back, the first things I think of are the custard creams and buttery toast each night – followed closely by all the memories with girls I am lucky enough to still consider some of my best friends today (all the stories and inside jokes made the hard-work worth it). The feeling of being surrounded by girls your own age, that love to sing the way you do, was so empowering and exciting. Alongside concerts in St Giles’ Cathedral and Caird Hall, we also recorded a CD, Only A Singing Bird and the year after performed as a semi-chorus in the Edinburgh International Festival twice: firstly, for Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir, followed by being angels for the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. My time in National Girls Choir allowed me to grow as a musician to the point where I realised that I wanted to pursue singing as a career. I was so inspired and so in awe that I was a part of such a beautiful sound, I knew it was what I was meant to do.

NYCOS Training Choir

With stars in my eyes, the next step for me was the NYCOS Training Choir. While we learnt lots of fun pieces to perform at the annual concerts at Stirling Castle, we also worked hard to learn rep for the BBC Passchendaele Centenary concerts. It was incredibly humbling to be a part of such a poignant memorial of WW1 and something I will never forget. While those performances were a huge honour, my entire training choir experience was exactly what I needed to prepare myself for the main choir. Getting to experience the workload and intensity of rehearsal that I would face had me eager to keep pushing onwards to the top of the NYCOS pyramid.

National Youth Choir of Scotland

Now, I’m there, a member of the National Youth Choir of Scotland. So far, I’ve travelled to New York to sing under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner in Carnegie Hall and to Paris to perform in the Philharmonie de Paris. Last year we opened the Edinburgh International Festival before performing a concert in our own right, and then recorded our a cappella set for the newest NYCOS CD that we are eagerly waiting to be released. A few of us were also lucky enough to go and sing in Parliament to celebrate its 20th Anniversary, meaning we sang for the Queen.

Most recently, 16 of us made our professional debuts in Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s concert version of West Side Story at the Edinburgh International Festival. It was a fantastic experience, getting to sing (and shout!) to a sold-out Usher Hall each night. The whole thing was a dream come true, a taste at what I want to do for a living – and it’s all thanks to NYCOS that I got the opportunity to do so.

After premiering Paul Mealor’s Requiem: The Souls of the Righteous last year, we performed the Scottish premiere of James MacMillan’s The Culham Motets at the Edinburgh International Festival this year. Finally, at the end of August we held a concert to showcase our (for some, newly discovered) Russian skills with a few of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.

While we are still very busy when you get to be a part of such a special sound, surrounded by your favourite people it doesn’t feel too much like hard work at all. That’s the magic of the National Youth Choir, every year, when summer rolls round, it feels like going home. You get to see people that you’ve known forever and meet new friends too. Everyone’s part of the family with a shared goal to create the best sound that we can, as a team. At 19, I’m excited for what’s to come next and all the adventures we will go on for years to come.


I am so grateful for what NYCOS has done for me, and I love that I am now able to give back by teaching musicianship at NYCOS Aberdeen Choir. I now teach the games and songs that I grew up with to wonderful young people that make my job feel like fun. I wear pin badges of flags on my lanyard of where I’ve gone to sing with the main choir, to keep the kids excited about what they can do one day, starting in the same place I did. I recently finished teaching for NYCOS Wee Sing, five weeks of free singing games workshops for Primary 3 children, to inspire a love of singing. With a round of the ever-popular “I like coffee, I like tea” I couldn’t help but think about what kind of journey these children will go on with NYCOS, all from a little singing game.


Find out how to join NYCOS National Choirs.