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2nd Week TT24 Newsletter - Toby Ward

Each week, the OUMS newsletter features an interview with someone who positively contributes to the Oxford music scene. This week, we sat down with Toby Ward, our previous webmaster, to have a chat about his upcoming musical engagements.

Toby Ward

Conductor and Singer

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m Toby, and I’m a second-year music student at Univ. I’m primarily a conductor and tenor Choral Scholar in the Univ Chapel Choir, but I also play the piano and occasionally the violin. I’m the Music Director of the Oxford Opera Society, one of the Co-Conductors of the Fidelio Orchestra, and am the treasurer of the University College Music Society. I was also the previous Webmaster of OUMS – having uploaded about two-dozen of these interviews to the website, this is a bit of a full-circle moment!

What are you working on at the moment?

For the last few weeks, my main focus has been the Oxford Opera Society’s Opera Scenes

production. We run on a two year cycle – a complete opera one year, and a collection of fully staged scenes the next, which allows us to both give people who’ve never experienced singing opera before the chance to do so with some singing on some more manageable scenes, and also the chance to do some scenes from operas by people like Verdi and Puccini that we could never do a full production of. I’m also beginning to prepare for next year’s production – I’ve agreed to stay on for one more year as Music Director, and it’s our centenary year so we want to do something really special (so keep an eye on socials for how to get involved)! Finally, I’m also preparing for a concert in which I’m conducting and playing the violin with the Fidelio Orchestra – Univ and Merton’s incredible combined orchestra – on the 16th May in Merton Chapel, and for a Univ Choir Shakespeare Song Recital on the 26th May.

What has your favourite musical experience been at Oxford so far?

It’s so tough to choose – there’s been so many memorable ones so I’m going to cop out and choose two! I had the privilege of playing violin in the Oxford Opera Society production of Le Nozze de Figaro, and will always remember that week so fondly: friendships were made and strengthened during that production, and I don’t know what my life in Oxford would look like without it.

The first Advent service I sang with the Univ Choir in Michaelmas 2022 will also live long in my memory. The chapel was absolutely full, so it felt a little like singing into a pillow, but processing into the candlelit chapel singing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ was truly special: one of the times that makes you realise what an extraordinary privilege being in a chapel choir is. I had never had a singing lesson before I arrived in Oxford, and hadn’t thought that an Oxbridge choir was a place for

someone like me, so had been quite hesitant about applying to join the Univ Choir, but the Advent service was one of the experiences that helped me realise that the decision to do so was one of the best of my life.

Where can you see yourself going in the future?

Argh: the eternal question! I had a bit of a crisis about this recently – I turned 20 and got halfway through my degree on the same day: it really felt like adulting was hitting me hard! In all seriousness, I’d love to make a career as a performer – I’ve wanted to be a professional conductor for years, but have recently become interested in the idea of singing professionally as well. A music degree can be difficult and sometimes it seems so easy to forget how much I love it, but music truly is one of the most important things in my life, and making a career performing it would truly be a dream come true. That said, the music industry is really struggling at the minute: in part due to an establishment that has decided that music doesn’t matter, despite the overwhelming evidence that it does, and so there is also a real pull to try and work to improve the position of the industry from an administrative position: be that in a body such as ACE, or from inside the cogs of government/the civil service.  I could also see myself being a music teacher, and occasionally think that I may follow in my Dad’s footsteps and become a church minister!

Give us a music recommendation?

I thought about this question every time I uploaded one of these for the best part of a

year, so you’d think I have an answer prepared, but I’m so conflicted about what to

pick! I think, given that the show is this Saturday, I should pick one our Opera

Scenes: so I’m going to go with ‘Ah, più non ragiono!’ by Giuseppe Verdi, from

Rigoletto. I was so lucky to get to see Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House in London

last year, which I believe was the first complete opera I’d seen live. It was a truly

extraordinary experience and one that has sparked my love for the genre. The whole

opera is amazing, and well worth a listen in full, but this number is particularly great:

genuinely catchy, and incredibly intense. The recording I’ve linked to includes a little

more at the beginning than what we’re doing in the show, but is in my view the best

interpretation I’ve ever heard.

The Fidelio Orchestra concert on the 16th May is free entry – no ticket required!


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