Portrait of Bertie Yates

Bertie Yates

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m a classical tenor, who grew up in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire so I didn’t even cross county lines to go to the University of Leeds. I did, however, leave the country in August 2019 to start my year abroad at ArtEZ Conservatorium in Zwolle, The Netherlands.
My main love of music started from having piano and clarinet lessons from the age of 4/5. It’s impossible put an age on when I started to sing, but I joined a choir and a musical theatre society as soon as I could, at the age of about 8. Beginning singing lessons at 12 and singing in more choirs, school productions, and concerts, my passion for singing took off and it became clear (not to me, but to many around me) that singing was what I would eventually pour most of my energy into.
Coming to Leeds, and keen to make the most of every opportunity to gain experience, I joined Leeds Youth Opera and have sung 3 lead roles with them in Puccini’s La Bohème, Verdi’s Macbeth, and Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. My zeal for opera continues to grow and I have been lucky enough to sing in the ensemble of an Opera North production of Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, and, more recently, in Bernstein’s Wonderful Town with the Nederlandse Reisopera (Dutch Touring Opera).

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

I actually applied for a Joint Honours course in French and Music. Leeds was one of about a dozen universities in the country which offered the course, but what made it more appealing to me was the reputation of the university. Other factors which played into my decision included the city’s proximity to my own home, making it easy for me to visit often, and also for my mum to come to any performances I had. The facilities offered by the School of Music, and in such a nice building, were also a big pull factor, in particular the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall. Being able to perform in a hall with great acoustic and in your department’s own building so regularly has been an experience I don’t think many universities are able to offer. Finally, Leeds as a city has a vibrant young community, and I think it has a lot to offer young people who are interested in classical music, namely Opera North and the Leeds Lieder festival.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

There are so many things which inspire my passion for music, for instance, wonderful singers who I admire, both celebrities and contemporaries, who are able to move me to laughter and tears with a couple of notes, and the composers who write the music which makes us laugh or cry. 
Of course, there is also the richest salary of all in performing music, in the smiles and tears and “thank you”s of people in an audience, or even just your own mother’s pride after a recital. I think what it all boils down to is beauty: the craft of beauty, the hard-work to nourish beauty and the final sharing of beauty.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?  

On the BMus Performance course, between practical and theoretical modules, the workload is nicely balanced. While there are moments in each year of high stress, and you feel torn between practising and writing that essay, the majority of the time it’s easy to get into a routine of practising for the performance modules and studying for the more “academic” modules.
I really enjoy the Ensemble Performance module, and it’s the perfect opportunity to explore more choral repertoire and continue developing my skills in musicianship, ensemble singing and sight-reading. 
There’s also a great freedom in every module you choose in the music department, especially once you get into second year. You can really tailor your coursework to what you excel at and enjoy, whether it’s a research topic in a historical context module or the repertoire you choose to sing in your recital.

What has been the most surprising thing about coming to Leeds?

Something that struck me when I came to university was actually how little I knew Leeds. I thought I knew the city so well, living so close and having visited often for my whole life. But as a student I think you find out so much more about a city, and I’m still enjoying getting to know new places and people. 
Another surprise was the student’s union. There’s such a community feeling in the Leeds University Union, and there is so much for you to take advantage of and use every day, be it the facilities, shops and eateries within the building itself, or the huge network of societies available for you to join.
I guess I was also surprised by the relationship between students and professors at the university, speaking from experience only of the Music department of course. Perhaps it’s just because music is such a social, interactive faculty, but there isn’t so much a hierarchical complex between tutors and students, and more of a collaborative feeling of tutors really being there to help and guide you find your own way through the course and through university life. It’s strange coming from a sixth form or college where there is a clear social boundary in the classroom as well as an academic one, and where sometimes the respect doesn’t go both ways. At university, I’ve found it to be quite the opposite, and while it’s clear who’s “in charge”, a certain mutual respect exists nonetheless.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

I think Leeds has a lot to offer students, and I see a lot of it being used effectively all the time, particularly all the libraries and study spaces in the university. In the School of Music, there are a lot of topic specific resources, for composers, performers, psychologists and musicologists alike. The basement of the School of Music is arguably where the most music is made, with large rehearsal spaces and lots of individual practice rooms, with really good quality pianos. If you’re looking for a music student a good place to start looking is the basement!

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

There is the widest range of activities in the students union. There are some things I would never have thought of available for students to try out happening every week in the union, as well as a massive range of societies to join up to at the beginning of the year. 
I have been a member of the Leeds University Union Music Society (LUUMS) for the first two years of my studies. Highlights include a Chamber Choir tour to Prague in my first year, singing as part of the RAG Fashion Show, dressed as golden deities in my second year, and last year, a Symphonic Wind Orchestra/Symphony Orchestra tour to Amsterdam, which gave me a taste for my Dutch year abroad! As well as all the ensembles, LUUMS also hosts fun events each year, including parties and a ball every year. 

Did you take a work placement or study abroad year? If so, how did you find this experience and what have you gained from it?

I’m currently on my year abroad in The Netherlands at ArtEZ Conservatorium in Zwolle. My teacher here is a nationally renowned singing teacher who has done some great work with me on a lot of things I think I took for granted as a singer. As it’s a conservatoire rather than a university, so much of the course here is vocational and practical. 
The hardest thing for me has been finding a routine outside of my classes, practising and the occasional few hours doing admin. As there’s very little reading or writing for me to be doing, when I’m not studying singing, I’ve actually had the chance to focus on my own wellbeing perhaps more than I previously allowed myself to do. I’ve learnt a bit of Dutch too- and learning a new language is always a great thing to do! 
I’ve also been really fortunate in gaining some professional experience singing in one of the top choirs of The Netherlands and as a soloist in some smaller scale performances. As a part of the course here, they want us to think about our professional development and how we present ourselves to the world as a working musician, and I think these are skills which will be invaluable to me upon my return to Leeds.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Don’t underestimate the amount of work that has to be put in. You might be a great singer or player, and you probably are, but there is so much hard graft to be done. You might think that a course that seems to be half written work and half practical would take the pressure off on how stressful it can become, but you’d be mistaken. You still have the same deadlines to meet as everyone else and you have to double up your dedication to your musical discipline at the same time to make sure you’re keeping up with the rest of the cohort. Having said that, I’ve found the Performance course in the School of Music to be so rewarding, with plenty of performance opportunities and of course, the most pleasure comes just from making music every day and the knowledge that through doing what you love the most you’re getting an education at one of the best institutes in the country. 

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

When I finish at Leeds I want to take the experiences I’ve had as a student there and use them to craft a career I want to take. I’m certainly not finished studying yet, and my time at Leeds, and everything I’ve learned there, has perhaps helped me to realise that there is so much more that I don’t know, and that I want to know. I’m planning on taking a Masters in Performance before pursuing a career in opera. My year abroad has helped me to realise that I can actually continue my studies anywhere in the world, and I now have the drive to take my studies overseas after Leeds and see where else life takes me.