10 Years of LYC #1: Merlie Anne Sebastian

In the first of our 10th anniversary season blogs, we catch up with former LYC member and recent staff team recruit Merlie Anne Sebastian.

Published October 2022

I joined LYC in 2014 when I was aged 12 in year 7. It happened because an LYC conductor came to do a workshop with us at my school in Sutton, and from the beginning I was hooked!

I was already musical before, but there weren’t really opportunities where I was to do more music in or outside of school. School had music facilities but did not have a choir. I’d sung at primary school and that had been fun. When I got to secondary school, I didn’t really know anybody else and within the school community in general, I wasn’t quite sure of where I belonged. LYC was different.

When I joined LYC it was as an alto member of what was back then the mixed Training Choir which rehearsed at St Katharine Cree near the Gherkin in London. I remember it was quite cold in the building, but the vibe was great, it was just buzzing. I had never been part of something that big before, never been in a choir with proper voice sections. I made friends quickly, which was quite surprising because I found it quite hard at school, perhaps because of a lack of shared interests.

At LYC’s everyone’s there because they want to do music – they want to be there. I still remember my two choir buddies from our first days, Jack and David, we were the three little front row altos, always very eager! One of my first performances with LYC was as part of John Rutter’s Christmas Celebration at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Which was crazy, thinking back on it now! Where or how else would I as a normal ordinary child have been able to perform at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?!

At the end of year 9 I changed secondary schools to go to the BRIT school, a specialist performing arts school with extensive courses in music. Without LYC to bolster my passion and interest I don’t think I would have had the courage to follow my heart and would have stayed at my regular school with the normal curriculum. I had a realisation that I just wanted to do music! I stayed a member of LYC across the transition and it was a constant for me while I was adjusting to the new environment. Ultimately that move, which was further away, made the weekly commute to LYC more difficult and so I didn’t continue but it was purely because of the distance. Part of what excited me when I heard of LYC South West starting up was that I recognised it as an opportunity for other kids in my situation who couldn’t travel into central London.

I did GCSEs and sixth form at the BRIT school, graduating in lockdown. Initially I had it in my mind that I didn’t want to go to university. And although the pandemic was keeping us all indoors, as someone who’s more of an introvert I thought I’ll be fine, I’ll just sit here in my room and make my music. But I realised that I missed being a part of a community for music in general. Music’s one of those things that’s meant to be shared, and not just the finished product, it’s the whole process of making has to be shared. And I found I was missing LYC! Before I saw the ad for the role I’m now doing I had the thought, I want to be part of a choir again. So I joined the London International Gospel Choir. That was the first choir I’d been part of since LYC, and the first time I’d really been out since lockdown. Choir was a way of reacquainting myself to the outside world.

When I first saw the ad for the Assistant Leader role at LYC I was kind of unsure because I never saw myself in music education, hadn’t considered it as a career path. And I’d sort of compartmentalised LYC as part of my childhood – but when I was looking at the question on the application form “why do you want to be a part of LYC” that’s when I realised how much I’d missed LYC. I thought it had been missing being part of a large collaborative singing experience in general but I realised it was LYC in particular!

I did a trial session with Junior Boys choir. I was very nervous. Beforehand I’d not worked with children other than work experience at a primary school. At that point I was still unsure, but more on the basis of “am I good enough?” But I came away thinking “that was fun!” It was the kids – because they’re so energetic and so enthusiastic. Seeing them look so happy when they’re singing, made me remember how I felt when I first joined. The opportunity to bring that to other children seemed important to me, I feel like I’m giving back. And it’s the 10th anniversary year, so it feels like it was all meant to be. I’m really looking forward to the birthday concert at Copperbox Arena. That’s going to be amazing, bringing that many kids into that space and singing together.

At the moment I’m still open-minded about further education. There are a few courses that I’d like to look into – ethnomusicology is something that I’m really interested in. At the open evening last week, LYC were doing a workshop with Carnatic musicians, and I found it fascinating. I’m really interested in music’s place in different cultures.

LYC is my first job since leaving school, giving structure to what has been a nebulous time. Beforehand I was a bit paralysed with “what do I do now” and uncertainty, LYC gives me the breathing space to understand and really engage with the idea of what else can I do. Music has already been my safe space, and the place where I can explore different emotions. I’d be interested to help music convert things for other people too, so Music Therapy is also an option I’d like to know more about. There’s so many possibilities open to me now that I didn’t know of before.

Being a team player in general – I got that from LYC. I dreaded group work at school. LYC made me more open to interacting with other people. When you’re singing by yourself you can do what you want. In choir, you can’t do what you want, but it’s the connectedness. There’s no other part of life in which you can do that, with that many people. Musicianship at LYC was good too – it gave me a drip-feed of little bits of information and insight that I could apply to my work at school, and my own music. But in general it’s the feeling of learning together, and lifting each other up. That’s completely different to anything else.

Merlie Anne Sebastian

  • Assistant Leader, LYC South West
  • Years with LYC: Joined as a member in 2014, re-joined on the staff in 2022
  • Favourite London dessert place: I love to go to Mamasons in Chinatown when I’m craving Filipino desserts, especially ube ice cream and halo-halo. 

Merlie’s playlist

Five songs I’m loving right now:


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