EX CATHEDRA | Ula Weber - alto

From our ‘Messiah’ programme, December 2014

Ula is a choral animateur, singer, teacher trainer, conductor and workshop leader whose work has taken her as far afield as Poland, Ukraine, Thailand, and China. A former “Outstanding” (Ofsted 2004) primary school teacher, Ula is now Vocal Projects Leader for Sandwell Music and Arts Service where she works with schools and teachers to promote classroom and choral singing. As a co-founder of music education organisation Vocal.Point, Ula is also a lead vocal strategy consultant for Dudley Performing Arts.

As well as singing with Ex Cathedra, Ula is one of our lead Vocal Tutors and co-created Ex Cathedra our internationally acclaimed and award-winning Singing Playgrounds project.

As Head of Events for the national choral organisation, Sing for Pleasure, Ula organises conducting and singing courses across the UK and abroad. She is also a regular conducting tutor for the organisation and Course Director for their annual Summer School.

A trained choral conductor, Ula currently conducts SO Vocal (a 200-strong community choir run by the CBSO), Birmingham City Council Choir (as featured in the 2013 BBC2 programme The Choir) and Echo Doliny (The National Polish Folk Choir of Great Britain), who performed in ‘Equinox’, a Cultural Olympiad event at Symphony Hall in 2012. As well as guest conducting at national and international events, Ula is regularly invited to lead singing, training, and corporate workshops for organisations including ABCD, Glyndebourne, NYCOS, NAME, Music Mark, Sing Up and numerous music services across the UK.

1. How long have you been a member of Ex Cathedra and why did you join?

I met Jeffrey Skidmore at Hull University when he came to work with the chamber choir I was conducting and singing with at the time. On the evening of the concert my soprano partner was ill so ended up singing the first soprano part on my own. I guess that was a good enough audition as Jeffrey invited me to join Ex Cathedra once I’d graduated and moved to Birmingham. That was in 1997 and I’m still here, albeit as an alto!

2. What does a typical day look like for you?

I used to be a primary school teacher which meant I had a very structured day of planning, teaching, playground duty and marking. Now I’m a freelance vocal animateur and no two days are the same. I love the fact that one day I can be jumping up and down with hundreds of children on an Ex Cathedra ‘Singing Playgrounds’ day, and the next day I’m delivering a teacher training workshop for a music service on the other side of the country. The only consistent day I have currently is a Tuesday when I teach whole class singing in a primary school in Bearwood in the morning, head over to the Ex Cathedra office for a ‘Singing Playgrounds’ meeting in the afternoon and finish my day conducting the Birmingham City Council Choir. I love the variety in my job, the different people I meet and the buzz of making music with groups of people of all ages and from all walks of life.

3. If you could choose to perform again any piece you have performed before with Ex Cathedra, what would it be, and & why?

From the excitement of Tallis’ 40-part motet singing Spem in Alium at my first BBC Proms concert to the most moving performance of Bach’s St John Passion at Symphony Hall last April, there have been so many memorable and wonderful performances during my 16 years with Ex Cathedra. However I have to say that my favourite performance happens every year at Christmas when we sing beautiful, uplifting and inspiring Christmas music, by candlelight, to a packed St Paul’s Church. The atmosphere in those concerts – along with the faint aroma of mulled wine and burning candles – is truly magical and my Christmas is made.

4. What’s your musical “guilty secret”?

The answer to this isn’t really a secret. I love anything and everything to do with Polish folk music. I’ve donned a folk costume on many occasions; dancing in the Polish Folklore Festival in Cambridge, playing violin (albeit very badly) in the Birmingham Polish folk kapela, and conducting the National Polish Folk Choir at Symphony Hall. It’s a part of my life that is refreshingly different from anything else I do and keeps me in touch with my heritage. I’m still trying to persuade Jeffrey to include a Polish carol in the Candlelight concerts. Maybe next year…?