Members of Semi-Toned with Gareth Malone

What next for Semi-Toned singers?

The end of 2016 saw Semi-Toned, the University of Exeter’s own all-male a cappella group, achieve national success by winning the BBC’s TV singing competition The Choir, Gareth’s Best in Britain.

During the course of the competition a number of the group completed their studies, so we caught up with them to see how being in the band helped prepare them for life outside the University.

Eddie Henley (Law, 2013) is currently training to be a solicitor with a top 50 law firm, Ashley Waters (History, 2016) started work as a graduate accountant in September, Rob Cross (Classical Studies, 2016) is working for a financial consultancy in London, and Michael Luya (Mathematics, 2016) is studying for a postgraduate Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge.

What made you join Semi-Toned originally?

Ashley: “Having been a singer at school I was keen to carry it on, but in fact I saw the guys busking outside of the forum and one of my flat mates at the time said I should audition. Had it not been for her pestering I probably wouldn't have given it a go as I had only done classical singing up till that point!”

Rob: “There's a running joke that I chose Exeter because of Semi-Toned. I remember hearing the group sing outside the forum on an open day and setting my sights on auditioning if I joined the University. Having also visited Bristol, it was a straightforward decision to make. Thankfully, the gamble paid off.”

In what ways did your involvement in the group benefit your overall University experience?

Ashley: “Massively, I don't think my University experience would have been half of what it was without Semi-Toned. Despite being constantly busy with rehearsals especially in third year, forming relationships with the group and learning how to deal with the stress of preparing for a competition were invaluable but also extremely enjoyable.”

Eddie: “Being a member of Semi-Toned made me part of a family and a network of wonderfully different and lovely people whose only real shared love is music. It gave me a huge deal of confidence which is something I was most grateful for when I first joined University.”

What would your advice be to current students who are considering joining societies?

Michael: “Definitely join one – societies are just as important as a degree not just because it adds more to your CV but it adds to your growth in character. You also might happen to make lifelong friends with people you might not otherwise happen to meet and have lifelong experiences you will never forget.”

Eddie: “Find a society that you even like the sound of, and sign up or go along to their events. If there's nothing you like the sound of, then make your own!”

Where has the band taken you?

Michael: “Every August the group has travelled up to Scotland to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which has always been a wonderful experience, as well as London for yearly a cappella competitions. We’ve also toured the south coast of America during the last two Easter holidays, which have been amazing. We got to see the White House, travel around New York City and even visit Universal Studios in Orlando (which is one of my favourite places Semi-Toned have ever visited)!”

Rob: “The two tours to America have got to trump it for me, although there's something still completely magical about performing at the Firehouse in front of your friends. Not least as it's the only gig where we're paid in pizza!”

Why did you enter the Best in Britain competition?

Rob: “Firstly, it would have to be the opportunity to work with industry leaders. We met some incredible characters throughout the filming process who helped to bring the best out of us, and give us tips and guidance which I hope will benefit future generations of Semi-Toned members.

“Secondly, when the decision was made, to me this felt like an obvious next step for us as a group. Having achieved domestic success, I think we felt mature enough as a group to cope with the pressures of being on TV. The Best in Britain format seemed to resonate most clearly with us rather than one like Britain's Got Talent.”

Did your success in the competition surprise you?

Michael – “Very much so! I think we’d become very accustomed to performing within the University a cappella bubble so it became very difficult to fathom how we’d fair in a much wider competition. We encountered so many talented choirs and it often became very difficult for us to judge where we might be placed. I was pleasantly surprised not only at our win but the amount of acclaim the group has received since the series has been broadcasted.”

Rob: “We sing because we love to, but I would be lying if I said that we didn't want to win. Saying that, we never got ahead of ourselves and took each challenge as they came along. I was amazed by the strength and depth of the competition. Any of the finalists were worthy winners but thankfully the judges were on our side on this occasion!”

What will you take away from your Semi-Toned experience?

Ashley: “First and foremost life-long friendships, but also the joy of performing and experience of hard work paying off is something which Semi-Toned has definitely taught me.”

Eddie: “It's a cliché but the amount of hard work we put in in order to do well in the competition showed us what we can achieve. It's something that is equally applicable to everyday life.”

Michael: “It has helped me to meet new people. Being someone with Asperger’s syndrome means that socialising with others can be very difficult but actually stepping outside of your comfort zone can often help to expand it. I feel that networking most certainly won’t be a problem in the future!”

Do you plan to keep on singing together now the competition is over?

Eddie: “Yes absolutely, I'm already getting involved with setting up a choir at my Law Firm!”

Michael: “We always say that once you become a member of Semi-Toned, you forever remain a member of Semi-Toned. Many if not all of the alumni are still in contact with the group so it wouldn’t surprise me if I revisit Semi-Toned to perform in an odd gig or two!”

Founded by Eddie Henley in 2010, with four other students, the winning band was made up of current students Sylvan Rackham, Tommy Hamer, Ted Bartram, Duncan Payne, Tom Broadbent, Henry Edwards, Sam Harper, Charlie Rockall, Joe Lane, and Ed Jillings. As well as recent graduates, Eddie Henley, Ashley Waters, Rob Cross and Michael Luya.

Since winning the competition, the remaining members of Semi-Toned released a charity Christmas single, ‘A Very Semi-Toned Christmas’, which can be viewed on their YouTube channel. The single is raising money for The Order of Malta Volunteers (OMV), a Catholic charity for young people aged between 17 and 29 which looks after sick and disabled adults as well as children with behavioural problems or learning disabilities.

For more on Semi-Toned visit their website.

Date: 6 January 2017

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