Friend of the Choir, Jessica Smith, reviews our latest Cabaret evening held on Saturday 15 June to raise funds for our Lourdes & Paris Tour.
Despite having been to the cathedral many times before and hearing the fabulous music department perform in masses, services and concerts throughout the liturgical year, this was my first time at one of their famous cabarets. I had heard great things about it from previous years so I was greatly looking forward to the evening’s performances. They did not disappoint!
Tables and chairs were packed into the parish hall which still only just managed to hold the huge audience number. A free glass of bubbly waited for us by the door and a variety of nibbles were laid out on each of the tables. The front of the hall was lit beautifully and created a spotlight on the grand piano whose keys were being tinkled by Dave (who also later delighted us with two songs) as we all found our seats and waited for the singers to take to the stage.
The evening hosted an eclectic mix of vocal performances, each one wonderfully told and beautifully sung. Lots of show tunes made an appearance, from the well-known, such as ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story and ‘There are worst things I could do’ from Grease, to the less familiar ‘Gorgeous’ from The Apple Tree and ‘Sunday in the Park with George’. Several timeless classics, a few film soundtracks and a moving arrangement of ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen completed the line-up of solo and small ensemble pieces. We also had the pleasure of hearing from members of the brilliant Youth Choir who gave mature and sensitive renditions of ‘Rule the world’ and ‘Dream a little dream of me’. Interspersed between these acts were group numbers sung by the whole Choir which included a very lively version of ‘Old MacDonald’ and finished the evening with the serene ‘Close to you’.
Not only were the members of the Choir providing our entertainment for the evening, they also doubled up as our waiters and waitresses, topping up glasses and bringing out a selection of canapés including scones with jam and cream to finish! Every member of the choir was thoughtful and attentive while each taking their turn to give us a whole range of hilarious, touching, upbeat and thoughtful
One necessity for the evening was some musical accompaniment for all of the singers and the seemingly effortless skills of Alex Patterson and Nick Milburn brought the whole occasion together.
None of this would have been possible without Alex and Ellie who, alongside various members of the Choir, organised a spectacular event which ran smoothly and had an informal and relaxed atmosphere throughout. All in aid of the Choir’s recent trip to Lourdes, this magical evening was entertaining to watch and a joy to listen to. Thank you Alex, Ellie and the entire Choir, see you for the next one in February!
Local amateur singer Rik Ludlow takes a look back at our Hymnathon, which took place at the Cathedral on Saturday 18 May 2019 to raise funds for our tour to Lourdes.
As a young child, words meant little – I had scarcely started to talk before I started school. My earliest memories of church and Sunday Service were of sitting through seemingly endless periods of voices droning on…. and on….and on…. with endless dull, unintelligible and meaningless words. Ladies in large hats sat with glazed expressions clutching their even larger handbags whilst I tried to find interest in the wood-grain of the pews as I sat waiting for the 'good bits'. Eventually my patient purgatory period would be rewarded. The large hats would shuffle to their feet and I’d be left sat on the pew surrounded by a crush of bodies, ‘Sunday Best’ coats and handbags. The glorious sound of the church organ would start… Yes - a HIM! This was what made it worthwhile….all the grown ups would sing the same tune several times, and some of the men would sing a different tune that seemed to fit….I would sit and soak it up. Then on to more purgatory and voices droning. After the service, I’d be keen to get straight home and to the toy box. There, I had a dark brown and cream recorder….I could sit in the playroom and play the tunes I had just learned until called for dinner.
It was many years later that I learned that my pre-school apparent inability to talk but ability to play hymn tunes on my recorder was considered unusual – Hallelujah for the power of hymns! I remember working out that a HIM usually referred to a man called Jesus… but sometimes people sang about a 'Mary' but this was also a HIM, even though the Mary in my infant class at school was a 'HER'. This left me confused well into my infant school life. One day our teacher taught us that we must ask “Why” if unsure of anything. I am told that this prompted me to exit from my almost mute state and ask my first question. I asked about HIMs and HERs….to be told that the church HIM had a WHY in it. Hymns (with a y) it was, from then on, words started to make more sense, and the WHY helped me to think about the meanings of the words…. Quite a revelation!
My love of hymns has remained strong over the past six decades: As a church then Cathedral Chorister they became my 'bread and butter' (the anthems were the 'cake'!), and one of the few benefits of eventually losing my treble abilities was that I could at last sing “that other tune that the men sang” and I began to appreciate more fully the rich harmonies embedded in so many hymn tunes.
Now, the words of the Christian liturgy lend a therapeutic value in their regular and predictable repetition. The joy, however, comes from the HYMNS, just as it did 60 or so years on.
The opportunity to attend my first ever Hymnathon courtesy of Nottingham Cathedral was irresistible: 18th May 2019 is in my diary as a full day of joy, thinking about the ‘why’ in each hymn. Alex, Ellie and their relay teams of singers, organists and instrumentalists provided a fabulous ‘Cook’s Tour’ through hymns ancient, modern and revised, with most of the long-established favourites along with many (for me) new, previously undiscovered gems, such as ‘It is well with my soul’.
The selection ranged from the rich Victorian harmonies through to the rock’n’roll, ‘happy clappy’ modernist evangelical.
The format of the day was great: The daytime sessions consisted of several ‘Juke Box hymn collections’, where punters like myself were free to request their favourites for a suitable contribution to the Choir Lourdes fund, either at the time or via online ‘advanced sponsorship’. These were interspersed with related organ interludes from the organists including Robert Gower and Peter Siepmann, and some simply stunning a cappella quartet slots – ‘Amazing Grace’ sung by Alex, Ellie and two of their choir scholars was simply delicious!
The ‘a cappella’ treatment of several hymns, such as ‘Love Divine, all hopes excelling’ with just 4 singers, allowed the full richness of the 4-part harmony to be heard and appreciated. So much of this can be drowned when the organ is used to support, lead or deafen! ‘Panis Angelicus’ sung a cappella by the quartet was like liquid gold. Several of the choir slots included superb descant verses, with the final verse of ‘Crown Him with many crowns’ standing out. Ellie’s Youth Choir really proved their worth, with some very young children singing their hearts out and clearly uplifted by their immersive
experience. My only disappointment was that the Cathedral was not packed with hymn-lovers throughout the afternoon; the musicians and the music were worthy and deserving of more support.
The evening event made up for this, with the Cathedral well-filled with an appreciative audience, the congregation swelling the sounds of the choir for the ‘participation’ hymns to make a glorious sound, supported by the addition of singers from local choirs. To hear many hundreds of voices uplifted in harmony to the glory of God, and be surrounded by that sea of sound, has to be one of the great experiences of Christian worship.
The end result – I understand the event raised a useful sum towards the Choir trip to Lourdes. My ‘discretionary spend’ budget for the quarter was exceeded and I was hoarse for at least a week (about the same recovery time as my legs needed from my last marathon). Many participants will, like myself, now be aware of other musical gems in the hymn repertoire, and I would like to think that the event allowed many participants to think about the meanings of the lyrics in many of the hymns – the ‘why’ we believe.
Download a copy of the Gala Concert Programme, which included music by W. A. Mozart, Alex Patterson, and Stormzy.
A reflection on the Cathedral Choirs' role on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from Pilgrimage Director, Fr Gregory Tobin
Music is vital in our lives.
It can set the mood, raise morale and draw people together. On our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, we rely heavily on musicians to assist all pilgrims as we journey through life with the pains and loads that are ours.
This year we were blessed on our pilgrimage to have with us the Cathedral Choir of St Barnabas under the leadership of Alex Patterson.
During the preparation for this years pilgrimage Alex went to Lourdes with the Directorate to visit the Churches, Basilicas and the sacred Grotto where the choir would be singing. These few days during February, which coincided with the Feast day (February 11th) of Our Lady of Lourdes, also gave Alex the opportunity to meet the Sanctuary leads on liturgy and music, including the trumpet player who dovetails beautifully with the organ for the big occasions. In a previous life Fr Simon Gillespie spent a lot of time at the Cathedral, and so is very familiar with the personnel, including the Cathedral Choir. He was therefore able to co-ordinate the travel arrangements, accommodation and programme, together with the endless paperwork and T-shirts, which are a must for a journey of this kind.
Our first Mass was outside in the autel de l’esplanade adjacent to the rosary square, so very difficult with the acoustics, but we knew the choir would attract a lot of attention as people crossing the square were drawn over by the quality of the singing.
The following day (Tuesday) a certain sensitivity was needed with the anointing of the sick and the reconciliation service.
Every Wednesday in Lourdes we have an international Mass in the underground basilica (capacity 25,000) with all the pilgrimages in Lourdes at that time from the world over, coming together liturgically. The choir were resplendent as part of the larger Basilica choir and were given the opportunity to sing a motet. All 269 pilgrims from Nottingham were bursting with pride!
Each evening at 9pm there is torchlight procession for an hour. It is a spectacular occasion with the candles, thousands of people and of course the music, which is amplified around the domain. During our pilgrimage we participated twice in the torchlight procession and led it on the Wednesday. The choir took a lead with the Sanctuary leads, and again were give the opportunity to sing an impressive solo piece.
Our garden party gave everyone the opportunity to share their party piece in a sunny relaxed venue. How lovely to see and hear the choir sing some witty ditties to great effect. A nice change from the formal fare.
A concert in a local abbey was enjoyed by all who made the journey up the mountain and was an ideal foretaste for what was to come in Paris.
You expect the Cathedral Choir to be technically perfect and professional in their delivery. What I enjoyed was the moments between the musical performances when the members were just part of the Nottingham pilgrimage engaging with the sick and lifting their spirits.
Music is indeed vital to our lives. The presence of the Cathedral Choir on this year’s Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes brought musical perfection and beauty in a place that challenges us all to excel in all that we do.
Vivace is a small singing group for girls aged 15-18 and rehearses on Fridays at 5pm, an hour before the Youth Choir rehearsal. The group sing a varied repertoire, and learn music in three or four parts. Vivace started around a year ago, and in recent months has given several performances, both in masses and in concerts. They also feature on the Nottingham Cathedral Music YouTube Channel.
Here are some thoughts from the members themselves, and from Youth Choir Director, Ellie Martin, who leads the group:
For me, Vivace has been an opportunity to connect with other singers and learn to sing independently. Singing a cappella and without a conductor have been significant challenges for me, but having the support of the other singers has helped me to greatly improve my confidence in my abilities. The Youth Choir has allowed me to work as part of a larger group of singers, and learn to better understand how to sing harmony parts. Vivace has furthered this, with the songs we sing often being one to a part. I have most enjoyed performing in concerts with Vivace, as they give us a goal to work towards and encourage us to work harder as a collective.
I have been part of Vivace since it first started, and it has been a great experience. The group has really helped me to develop my confidence in singing in front of other people and the fact that we usually only have one or two people to a part means that there is nowhere to hide. I have also found it very helpful for improving my sight singing skills and my ability to work together with others in a choir; we have often sung pieces a cappella and/or without a conductor, which has meant that we've had to listen to each other a lot more. Being part of Vivace has definitely been a challenge at times, but it has also been very enjoyable and rewarding.
Being in Vivace has really improved my aural and sight-reading skills, as well as helping me make new friends and introducing me to so many new and different styles of music. I have really benefitted from being in the group, and in the year I have spent singing with them, I have
Youth Choir has given me the chance to be part of a group of all ages which can sometimes be fun and sometimes challenging. Vivace means I can develop my musical skills even more but still in a group. My singing has definitely improved and I’ve really enjoyed the singing at performances and evening masses.
Vivace has been a really enjoyable part of my singing at Nottingham Cathedral. I’ve particularly enjoyed singing a diverse range of music and the challenge of singing without a conductor. I’ve formed close friendships with the older girls in the choir and I’m looking forward to singing in Lourdes with them. Vivace and the Cathedral Choirs have given me a wonderful opportunity, as a young Catholic, to participate in the life of the Church. Vivace has been a really important part of my musical development and the skills, experience and confidence I’ve gained from my involvement with this group, and with music at the Cathedral, will be invaluable when I begin my studies at conservatoire in September.
Vivace started when Ellie wanted to challenge us older girls from youth choir with more advanced repertoire. In the beginning we didn't know what to call ourselves but we thought it should be musical so we thought of a word which could describe us all, which is 'lively!’ Vivace is the Italian musical term for lively. I have gained a lot from this group. My sight singing has improved greatly, which was a huge challenge for me, but working as a group we support each other in rehearsals. One of my favourite experiences was performing at Lincoln Cathedral where us girls performed two beautiful songs - one with a conductor and one without, which is another skill we have gained by listening to each other and to how everyone's voices work. I am looking forward to what else we have yet to achieve, especially when we go on tour with the Youth Choir and Cathedral Choir.
I initially started this group in order to address the large age range in the Youth Choir (age 7-18). I wanted the older girls in the choir to have more of a challenge, and it was important that they had a sense of ownership of the group, which is why they named it themselves (after much deliberation!). The girls all still sing in Youth Choir, and some of them sing in Cathedral Choir as well.
It has been a very busy few months for our ever-growing Cathedral Youth Choir, who are going from strength to strength. There are now over 30 dedicated members who turn up for rehearsals week in, week out. Rehearsals are on Fridays at 6-7pm, and are led by Youth Choir Director, Ellie Martin, and accompanied by Eden Lavelle or Alex Patterson.
In November, the Youth Choir were asked to lead the music for the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes Reunion Mass. Attended by the Bishop of Nottingham, this was a more momentous Mass than their usual 6pm Mass, but they rose to the occasion, giving beautiful and sensitive renditions of Caccini’s Ave Maria and Frisina’s Anima Christi.
The choir, along with our two sub-groups, Vivace (girls aged 15-18) and Cambiata (boys with changing voices), also played a significant role in our Carols by Candlelight service, joining in with the Cathedral Choir, and also singing their own pieces. The evening was quite magical, and for the Youth Choir to make such a valuable musical contribution is real testament to their hard work and dedication. That every member (some as young as seven) also managed to carry a candle, whilst negotiating walking, singing, sheet music and limited space, without setting fire to anything, is also a remarkable achievement!
On 24th December, the Youth Choir led all the music for the 6pm Christmas Eve Vigil Mass - one of their most important events in the liturgical calendar. There were special performances from Vivace and Cambiata, and as is tradition, the choir sang for half an hour prior to Mass on the altar steps to an already full Cathedral. Stronger than ever in number and in voice, the choir delighted the congregation with popular favourites, such as Michael Neaum’s Winds through the Olive Trees and Rutter’s Star Carol, and with lesser known pieces, such as Larkin’s Adam lay ybounden and Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, set to the folk song ‘O waly waly’, arranged by Alan Bullard.
In January, it was decided that it was about time the Youth Choir had a social trip together. Accompanied by Alex and Ellie, they went to see ‘Heroes and Villains’, a family concert at the Royal Concert Hall presented by Nottingham Philharmonic Orchestra. Children were encouraged to dress up in a superhero costume and enter a competition for the opportunity to conduct the orchestra on stage. Amazingly, Youth Choir member Frances-Anna’s name was picked out of the hat, which provided some extra entertainment for the other members. It was an enjoyable evening all round, and a lovely opportunity for the choir members to socialise without the pressure of rehearsing or performing.
Rather excitingly, the Youth Choir were requested to perform at a wedding in the Cathedral in February, which was a welcome first. By request, they performed Chilcott’s Londonderry Air, Schubert’s Ave Maria and Rutter’s The Lord bless you and keep you, expertly conducted by Eden Lavelle. By all accounts (the most notable from the bride and groom) their behaviour was exemplary and their singing beautiful. The members of the choir were very pleased to have been specifically asked, and all enjoyed being part of the couple’s special day. They have since been asked to sing at another wedding this Summer.
One of our major ventures for the Youth Choir this term was the trip to Lincoln Cathedral. Kate Bailey, parent of Youth Choir member, Flossie Bailey (aged 9), writes:
It is March 2019 and there are many exciting ‘world firsts’ happening in the modern world - the invention of the first robotic valet system for airports and the launch of a magazine solely for music festival goers...... but none of them are quite as exciting as the first ever trip out of
On Mothering Sunday, the Youth Choir joined with the Cathedral Choir for all the music at the 11.15 Mass, with conducting from both Alex and Ellie. Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth and Franck’s Panis Angelicus are known to the young singers, but Vaughan Williams’ magnificent Mass in G minor is not, and is no mean feat. Once again, the young people rose to the challenge admirably and held their own in Mass alongside the Cathedral Choir. Following Mass, the youth choir gave a short concert in the Cathedral Hall as part of our 1pm Recital Series, featuring some of the music they had recently performed in Lincoln. There was also a cake sale to accompany their lovely singing, for which many youth choir members and parents baked cakes. There was a considerably large audience, made up of parents, members of the congregation, and members of the Cathedral Choir. The response, in terms of applause and comments from individuals afterwards, was overwhelmingly positive, and an impressive amount of money was raised to help support the Youth Choir.
This next term will be hugely exciting for the choir. They will feature in the Cathedral’s Hymnathon and Gala Concert on Saturday 18 May, singing music with the Cathedral Choir and on their own. Vivace and Cambiata will take part in the Summer Cabaret on Saturday 15 June, alongside members of the Cathedral Choir. On Friday 12 July, the Youth Choir will give their own Summer Concert. The first half of the concert will feature solo or small group singing and instrumental performances from members, followed by Joseph Hotovitz’s lively cantata, Captain Noah and his floating zoo in the second half – not to be missed! Then, a couple of days later, many of the Youth Choir members will join the Cathedral Choir on tour to Lourdes, where they will provide music for the various liturgies and give concerts in the local area. The choirs will stop off in Paris on the way back to sing Mass in Notre-Dame Cathedral and Saint-Eustache. This will be the first time Youth Choir members have been on a Cathedral Music tour, and will be exciting musical and travelling experience for them, and an important opportunity to form or develop friendships.
Older members of the Youth Choir in need of an extra challenge are being encouraged to sing more regularly with the Cathedral Choir in the 11.15 Mass, which provides a supportive environment for them to develop further in confidence and musicianship. It is hoped that some members may wish to join the Cathedral Choir in the future.
The Youth Choir is open to children aged 7-18, and is free to join, with no audition. Please keep following and supporting the Youth Choir in their endeavours. It is very much appreciated by them and by the Cathedral Music Department.
Photo credit: Ian R Marshall
Described as Thomas Tallis' 'crowning achievement', the 40-part Spem in alium was set to be a challenge. One of the first pieces I sang with the Cathedral Choir was Tallis' Salvator Mundi, and at the time, sight-reading it was an immense task for me, and for the new recruits from the Youth Choir. Since then, having sung a wide range of music, from Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now' with Vivace (the girls' group at the Cathedral) to Bach's Mass in B Minor, singing a solo line amongst seven other choirs didn't seem such an impossible task.
Rehearsals began in the new year and it became evident that we needed to commit in order to perform all the music we had set out to perform. The phrase 'focus on the rhythm first, then the notes' became an important motto throughout both the Handel and the Tallis. The relentless rhythms and challenging harmonies taught us to really listen to each other and work as a whole choir, which has since benefited us in rehearsals and at Mass. Performing the pieces was nerve-racking and intensely dramatic, yet an amazing experience. Singing alongside such an incredible orchestra elevated what we had done in rehearsals and encapsulated the grandeur of the works. It proved an excellent celebration of the Cathedral's 175th Anniversary and demonstrated the hard work of the choir.
Being a part of both the Cathedral Choir and the Youth Choir has prepared me well for further study of music at university. I'm excited to pursue choral music as part of my degree, and to see what the future holds for Cathedral Music. I'm most looking forward to singing at the Summer Cabaret and in Lourdes, where I will continue to learn more about music and improve on the skills I've built so far.
It has been an exciting year for our Cathedral Youth Choir. We appointed our new Youth Choir Director, Ellie Martin, a year ago, which has enabled a stronger focus on our young singers and their involvement with the Cathedral and the local community.
As well as regularly leading the music in the 6pm Mass, the Youth Choir has been involved in many other events over the course of the year. They were invited to sing as part of the Salaam Shalom (SaSh) Kitchen Mitzvah in November 2017 in aid of a National Jewish initiative which aims to bring different communities of different faiths to do good things for the world. They also led the music alongside our Cathedral Choir in the Maggie’s Carol Concert and the BBC Radio Nottingham Carol Service. They also sang beautifully in their regular slot singing at the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass.
A highlight for the Youth Choir was taking part in the community opera Tobias and the Angel by Jonathan Dove and David Lan - the climax of the Cathedral’s first Music Festival, playing the important roles of the sparrows and the fish. This was an excellent opportunity for the Youth Choir, as it allowed them to work together with other young people in youth choirs from local music charity Music for Everyone, as well as professional soloists, the Cathedral Choir, and Streetwise Opera.
We were delighted to premiere a new piece, Gracious Spirit, on Pentecost Sunday, written by Composer-in-Residence Amy Summers, which was specially composed to feature the young singers.
The academic year ended with the Youth Choir’s own Summer Concert in the Cathedral Hall to celebrate all their learning throughout the year. They performed a mixture of sacred and secular pieces to an appreciative audience. This was also an opportunity for members to perform vocal or instrumental solos, and many of the members took up this opportunity - for one of our members, it was the first time she had ever performed on her clarinet in public. This was a very special occasion, and it is hoped that these concerts will happen more often, as they are important in developing confidence in performance skills, as well as being a good opportunity for the young people to support and encourage each other.
There have been great strides made over the past ten months in developing our Youth Choir thanks to the support of many in our Congregation. A testament to this was the Youth Choir’s involvement in singing at the Ordination of Deacons on Saturday 14 July, where Bishop Patrick McKinney publicly acknowledged how much they’ve progressed - “giving our adult choir a run for their money!” Well done Youth Choir!
“The group has definitely helped with not being so reliant on sheet music and having someone leading us. I think we've learnt to listen to each other better, so we're more together as a group. It's also been helpful to sing different parts and work out harmonies.” - Ainé
Vivace have performed in the 6pm Mass, and recently performed in their first 11.15am Mass, where they sang two pieces a cappella. The group also performs close harmony secular music, in order to provide them with a variety of styles. They performed a challenging arrangement of Make You Feel My Love in the Youth Choir’s Summer Concert.
“I love girls’ group as it's brought us girls closer in friendship. I've benefitted massively from the group, as we learn how to sing as an ensemble, and have all challenged ourselves at trying different parts. I'm looking forward to singing different genres of songs. My favourite part of the year was when we performed the Make You Feel My Love, as we worked hard and achieved a great performance.” - Róisín
The atmosphere in rehearsals is a supportive one, where the girls encourage and help each other. The girls in the group also act as mentors to the younger members in the main Youth Choir, helping them to develop good rehearsal technique, and assisting them when they need help. Two of the members of Vivace have been singing with the adult Cathedral Choir for the 11.15am Mass for about a year. Through the formation of this group, the other members were encouraged to do the same, and now all the girls sing with the Cathedral Choir. Several of them also regularly cantor for Masses throughout the year.
“I like this group as it gives me the opportunity to improve my voice and my harmony skills. It also pushes me to learn music by ear, rather than reading it which is an important skill. I’ve made many new friends from joining this group and I’ve really benefited from being in it - becoming a better singer and musician.” - Hester
Responding to the needs of the dedicated young boys in the Youth Choir, a new group for boys with changing voices will be starting in September and we’re looking forward to seeing these young singers develop as their adult voices emerge over the next few years.