Following the successful ‘Big Sing’ last summer, our partnership with the Nottingham Music Service (the lead organisation for Nottingham Music Hub) has continued to flourish through a range of projects and new initatives.
Last Autumn, Ellie and Alex worked in 22 schools to prepare young singers for two ‘Christmas in the City’ concerts, which took place in Nottingham’s Albert Hall and the Royal Concert Hall. These concerts included performances from the Hub’s Area Bands, the Robin Hood Youth Orchestra, and Sing City winners. Led by Alex and Ellie, the massed primary choir gave rousing renditions of Santa Claus is coming to town and Avicii’s Hey Brother, and the massed secondary choir delighted us with The Beach Boys’ God only knows. The two choirs joined together for a heart-warming performance of Sing, written by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and an a cappella Zulu lullaby, Thula Mama, both of which featured audience participation taught by Ellie during the concert.
Discussions with colleagues at the Music Service quickly unearthed the desire to have a Hub choir and it was decided that there was enough enthusiasm in the room to make it happen. The Robin Hood Youth Choir was formed in January and has got off to a flying start. Led by Alex and Ellie, rehearsals are on Wednesdays at 4.30pm-5.30pm in Cathedral Hall (during term time). It’s free and open to 8-18 year olds, and there are no auditions.
We have continued to work with the Music Service this last term in helping prepare young children for the Hub’s annual Great Orchestra Experiment. This event provides an opportunity for children, many of whom have never attended a live performance, to see an orchestra play and to participate with high quality musicians. These young people (usually in Year 4) will have been learning a musical instrument as a class through Whole Class Ensemble Teaching or ‘In Harmony’ programmes run by the Hub. They are brought together to experience a whole range of orchestral music presented in a theatrical and engaging way. This year’s programme included Berlioz’s March to the Scaffold, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and John Powell’s music from the film, How to train your dragon. The young people were also treated to performances by the Villiers String Quartet, which included music by composer Elizabeth Kelly, Professor of Composition at the University of Nottingham, who was present on the day too. Part of the success of the event is that young people get to play their instrument (which they’ll only have been learning for a few months) on stage with the Robin Hood Youth Orchestra. Alex and Ellie’s role was to help the children get up to scratch with the vocal parts so they could sing along with the orchestra too!
Over 1,400 children took part across two concerts held at the Albert Hall on Wednesday 27 March. The aim of these projects is to enthuse and inspire these young people, sparking a curiosity about music in them that will hopefully develop into a life-long love, both as audience members and participants.
Responding to the needs of the dedicated young boys in the Cathedral Youth Choir, a new group for boys with changing voices started in September 2018. Like Vivace, the new Cambiata group meet on Fridays at 5pm, an hour before the Youth Choir rehearsal.
During these sessions, the boys work on specially arranged music with the Cathedral’s Director of Music, Alex Patterson, singing one or two per part. As with the nature of the teenage boys’ voice, which is constantly developing, it has been an interesting journey exploring the boys’ emerging voices, which one week could be a raw baritone quality, the next week a deep bass range, and the following week something completely different!
To deal with the need to have flexible music that can be performed at a different pitch quite quickly, we turned to plainsong. The boys were introduced to neume notation and picked up a few plainsong Mass settings. We then moved on to the Advent ‘O’ Antiphons, which we recorded in the Cathedral Crypt alongside some of our Choral Scholars. The videos were then uploaded to our YouTube Channel and shared via social media and mailing list on the appropriate days in the run up to Christmas.
The challenge of having constantly developing voices hasn’t stopped the group being able to perform at a range of events throughout the year. They gave their debut performance as part of the Autumn Cabaret Evening, singing Oliver Tarney’s arrangement of Shenandoah. For Carols by Candlelight, they performed the lively arrangement of Gaudete by Ian Crawford. Their recent performance at Lincoln Cathedral saw them perform a beautiful arrangement of Steal away by Russell Pascoe and Take That’s Rule the world arranged by Ian Crawford.
The boys performed Rule the world again at the Youth Choir’s 1pm Recital on Mothering Sunday in Cathedral Hall. They then joined with the Vivace girls to perform William Byrd’s Ave verum corpus. We are looking forward to hearing more from the combined forces of these two groups in the coming months.
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.
Amy Summers discusses her Missa Brevis, written to celebrate the Cathedral’s 175th Anniversary.
Singing with the choir as a Choral Scholar, I developed some quite broad ideas about how I would personally set the text for each of the movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and so this commission ended up being my first go at letting them out. I knew I wanted the overall feel to be fairly ‘traditional’ and something that the congregation and choir would feel ‘at home’ with, but definitely with a couple of my own twists. Furthermore, my composition teacher in London, John Ashton Thomas, had started to introduce me to the wonderful world of jazz harmony. We found common ground in our interest in theory/the more mathematical side of music, and found ourselves discussing things like the octatonic scale and resulting polychords on manuscript paper and at the piano in great depths. I still feel very much a novice and am currently sketching a string quartet where I can explore this fully, but I can’t say that this didn’t have an influence on my mass - particularly the Gloria.
I had a rough idea for the atmospheres I wanted to create in each movement: a relatively upbeat, slightly mysterious Kyrie, a very lively and contrasting Gloria, a fairly swift, more relaxed Sanctus (with echoes of the Kyrie), and a very stripped-back Agnus Dei which could embody elements of each of the movements. Once I had this draft in place, ideas came fairly naturally. I drafted several completely different versions of the Kyrie over a few weeks and let them sit in my head for a while, before starting afresh and writing something that combined what I felt were the best elements of my sketches. After I composed the main melody in the tenor line, the Kyrie wrote itself, and fairly quickly. At the same time, I was sketching the Sanctus (knowing I wanted it to reflect elements of the Kyrie) and I had rough plans for the Gloria.
As for the Agnus Dei, I knew I wanted to trial something that I had accidentally created last summer: whilst stitching together audio files of a choral piece I’d recorded, I accidentally placed two different bits of the recording on top of each other. The way they happened to fall meant that when I played it as one, the choir was sustaining a chord and they were suddenly interrupted by a chunk of another section of the recording where the choir were singing an ever so lightly higher chord. The result was a clash, but it wasn’t too dissonant and somehow felt uplifting. So, I attempted to recreate this in the Agnus Dei (to the words ‘Dona nobis pacem’), dividing the voices so that it had the effect of splitting the choir in two. Additionally, like in my accidental creation, the first ‘choir’ then is cut off, leaving the second hanging. I had this idea, along with others for the Agnus Dei, floating in the back of my mind for a while and when I was supposed to be finishing the Kyrie one evening, I felt suddenly inspired and sat down and ended up writing the whole thing!
Having finished the outer movements, I completed the Sanctus quite quickly and ended up leaving the Gloria until last (which, as I mentioned, had not been my original intention) but it was somehow more rewarding to do it like this and in a way made more sense. Given the length of the text, I knew it was going to be the most time-consuming part of the mass to write, and the proportion of energy that its jubilant, celebratory nature demanded was certainly higher than the other movements. Leaving it until last meant that I could now give it my crystal-clear attention. I think I definitely had the most fun writing the Gloria. Stylistically it ended up sounding quite different from the other movements, but I felt I really had to go with my gut, perhaps because I was setting this text for the first time and the ideas felt fresh.
It was a real honour to write for the choir and for this event and, as always, I have a lot to thank Alex for. Just like with any other first performance, I know I have a lot of corners to now reflect on and revisit, but I am excited to keep writing and keep developing.
Thank you, Nottingham Cathedral Choir!
When you were a Choral Scholar here?
During my glory days: 2010 - 2012
What attracted you to be a Choral Scholar?
The promise of great music every week, excellent colleagues and all the incense I could eat.
What did you get out of the experience?
Fantastic friends, the ability to read plainchant and the knowledge to not say ‘sorry’ in the middle of solo lines (which unfortunately did happen once).
What did you go on to do after you left?
After I left Nottingham, I had a year off to learn new things and audition for music colleges. I went on to do a Masters in Vocal Performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, followed by their opera course. After that, I spent a further year at the National Opera Studio before heading out into the real world.
What are you doing now and anything coming up?
For the last couple of years, I’ve been singing professionally and working around the UK and France.
I’ve been a Harewood Artist at English National Opera since 2017 and have performed several roles there. I’m about to start rehearsals for my largest role so far - Leporello in Garsington Opera’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni - which will be staged this Summer. I will make my Welsh National Opera debut early next year as Figaro in their production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro - a role I’ve performed once before during my student days at the University of Nottingham.
I have also a range of concert engagements including Gloucester: Three Choirs Festival in July singing the role of Brander in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust alongside Sarah Connolly (Marguerite), Christopher Purves (Méphistophélès) & Peter Hoare (Faust)
Further details can be found at www.davidirelandsings.com
Overwhelming and unforgettable!
An evening of spine-tingling brilliance. Hearing Spem In Alium live and in the round would have been worth the ticket price all on its own, but nothing could have prepared me for quite how superb some of the other performances were too. The group of pieces including Tallis's O Nata Lux, sung by a small ensemble hidden from view behind the altar, was almost unbearably beautiful, with singing easily as good as anything I've ever heard from more well-known groups such as The Sixteen. What an extraordinary jewel in Nottingham's musical crown St Barnabas is!
Spem in Heaven! That was a landmark performance. Particularly good was the ‘sense surround’ of the singing circle. Coupled with a well-played Chacony from the band and vigorous rendition of the Dixit, all was well. The standing ovation was well deserved.
Spem in Alium last night - sublime! Thank you thank you thank you. My favourite piece of music which has been central in my life since the 80s, simply suffused my being. I was breathing the music deeply whilst quietly sobbing. I was privileged to be sitting in the centre and was delighted that you had set the choir in a circle. Perfect. Thank you again.
Thank you for the most wonderful evening. I thought I had died and gone to heaven as it sounded like angels singing. It was so nice to see a full Cathedral.
The Tallis motet was the most uplifting, amazing thing I’ve heard in a long time. Having a seat without a view might have actually contributed, because closing my eyes allowed the magical waves of sound to flow around me without visual interruption. Totally sublime.
The whole piece was a moving and profound experience.
Former Choral Scholar, Fiona Spencer, describes her experience returning to Nottingham to sing for Spem in Alium
There are few pieces as beautiful as Tallis’ spectacular 40-part motet, Spem in Alium. Written in the 17th century, for eight different choirs, performing Spem is a choral right of passage – not to mention a feat of counting and concentration! So, when Alex sent out a call for singers to bolster the ever fabulous Nottingham Cathedral Choir, I jumped at the chance.
Now living (and of course singing) in Bristol, I travelled up to Nottingham on the Friday evening, looking forward to catching up with old friends in what was sure to be another fantastic concert under Alex Patterson’s baton. Stepping into the Cathedral Hall, the buzz was already palpable. Familiar faces, choral scholars and choir members old and new were assembling in a large circle around the room, scores at the ready. Spem is a big sing. So after two hours of rehearsal, it was time for a quick round of refreshments at the pub, before a good night’s sleep, ready to return again at lunchtime on Saturday. Concert day nerves and excitement were in the air, and after a successful run through of the programme, including Handel’s epic Dixit Dominus, we were ready to welcome a very excited audience into the cathedral.
The concert started with three beautiful motets, carefully selected to compliment the main event. The full, beautiful breadth of the cathedral acoustic was used, with small groups performing in the Lady Chapel, the Blessed Sacrament chapel and on the Sanctuary itself. The fabulous Helix Ensemble gave the choir a short rest, performing Purcell’s Chacony in G minor, the beautiful melody floating around the cathedral as the choir readied themselves for the main event. For Spem in Alium itself, the eight choirs circled the audience for a true surround sound experience. The performance kicked off with the iconic motif which starts in choir one and travels throughout the eight choirs as the piece progresses. Every member of the choir was intent on Alex’s conducting, soaking up the energy he was giving and pouring it into every note and every word. The audience were transfixed throughout, and must have enjoyed what they heard, as they gave a standing ovation as the piece came to a close.
Buoyed by a brilliant first half performance, in the second half we were joined by the Helix Ensemble to perform Handel’s Dixit Dominus. A notoriously difficult piece to perform, the choir had clearly spent time committing the piece to memory. A confident, and moving performance ensued. My personal highlight of the concert was the outstanding performances from the soloists during the Handel. The Nottingham Cathedral choral scholarships have long been a platform for talented young people to share and hone their gift every Sunday morning. These solos gave them a chance to showcase this. The standard of singing was truly outstanding, particularly when you consider that many other choirs bring in professional soloists to cover this.
It was a fantastic performance, and I was so pleased to be a part of it, and hugely proud of the Cathedral Choir in both the standard of singing, and the ever welcoming, fun atmosphere that surrounds it. Well done everyone.
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.
As I sat in the nave of the Cathedral listening appreciatively to Bach’s Mass in B minor in March 2018, I never imagined that I would be singing there in March 2019. Friends and former members returned to augment the cathedral choir for a performance of Tallis’s Spem in Alium. This unaccompanied motet is only about ten minutes long but, with its forty independent voice parts arranged in eight five-part choirs, it makes such demands on the singers that it does not often feature in choral concerts. Every live performance is a special experience, difficult to capture in sound recordings, and I couldn’t resist the invitation to take part.
In the second half of the concert, the augmented Cathedral Choir and the Helix Ensemble performed Handel’s Dixit Dominus, a lively five-part setting of Psalm 110. As part of our preparation for Dixit Dominus we joined the cathedral choir’s regular Friday evening rehearsals, and it was a pleasure to listen to them at work on the music for Sunday mass. But for Spem in Alium the singers could only be fully assembled on the evening before the concert, so everything had to come together in a remarkably short time. That this was possible is a testament to the skill of the singers and their director Alex Patterson.
As we moved into the Cathedral on the day of the concert, we saw that the audience in the nave was to be surrounded by groups of singers in a horseshoe running from north to south. I realised that my allocated spot in choir four was to be due east, so I would not escape the gaze of the audience. But this turned out to be a good vantage point from which to appreciate the music. Out of the silence single alto and soprano voices emerged from the north side-aisle, soon joined by everyone in the first of the eight choirs, and a Mexican wave of singing passed clockwise then anticlockwise around the audience.
Although in theory I should have been able to sing at the right time just by counting beats, there are such long waits between some entries that I didn’t trust myself to rely on that alone. In most choral works the conductor can help cue the singers, but there are so many independent entries in Spem in Alium that this is not feasible much of the time. For me it was listening to the soprano singers in other choirs that helped me to keep my place in the intricate musical texture. So perhaps my years as a listener came in useful after all.
Our Director of Music, Alex Patterson, shares his thoughts on our recent concert of Spem in Alium / Dixit Dominus
Ellie Martin, Youth Choir Director, sat down with Alex Patterson to discuss the success of our recent Spem in Alium / Dixit Dominus concert on Saturday 2 March. Here is the interview transcript.
Why did you decide to do this concert programme?
The past two years, we’ve done a major work around the end of February / beginning of March time. As well as being very popular and successful with audiences, they work quite well for the choir; people seem to enjoy working on a big piece of music. But how do you top the Monteverdi Vespers and Bach’s Mass in B Minor? Spem in Alium by Tallis was the most obvious choice as it was a very different piece which could also be performed in an interesting way using the space in the Cathedral. Another good reason for doing Spem was that it needs lots of people, so it was a good opportunity for us to go back to our former scholars and cathedral choir members to see if they were interested in coming back to join us. It was also great to open the opportunity up to some of our older youth choir members, some of whom have been singing in mass with the Cathedral Choir regularly for a while now, and some of whom are fairly new to the Cathedral Choir experience.
Once we had settled on doing Spem as the climax of our first half, we had to figure out what to do alongside it. I didn’t want to do another piece in 40 parts as I’ve heard this done before and found it detracted a lot from Spem as a piece. I decided that we’d have some other music by Tallis, which we sing quite frequently at the Cathedral, but instead do it one per part. The Cathedral being ordered the way it is, if you’re sitting in the Nave watching a concert, you can only really see half the building, so having choirs singing from the Lady Chapel and from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel could potentially result in people being intrigued enough to have a wander down there. I was really happy to see people walking round the East End of the Cathedral during the interval, perhaps experiencing that part of the building for the first time.
You started the concert with plainsong. What was your thinking behind this?
Well, once I’d settled on doing Tallis, and thinking that the first half would showcase some more of Tallis’ music, I wanted to have a bit of a palette cleanser and go completely the opposite way of doing something in 40 parts, and just revert it down to one melody. I’m quite a passionate advocate of promoting female composers as well as music that generally isn’t as well-known as it probably should be, so I wanted to include some of the music of Hildegard of Bingen. It almost became like taking people on a journey, doing two pieces by Hildegard where it was just one melody, through to the full 40 parts of Spem. Her music has such a different colour and texture, particularly as we did it with just upper voices with a held pedal note (long note held underneath) in the altos, or with everyone in unison, which I thought would give a nice contrast to Tallis and all the English music.
And the plainsong is something you do every week at the Cathedral as well, so was that another reason to showcase it?
Yes, the style of it is quite up our street really, but what I love about the Hildegard is that it is quite different from the plainsong we normally do and the range can be quite extreme. It was the translation of O virtus sapientiae which really sparked my imagination, as it pre-empted how I saw the shape and spirituality of the first half:
O strength of Wisdom who, circling, circled,
enclosing all in one lifegiving path,
three wings you have:
one soars to the heights,
one distils its essence upon the earth,
and the third is everywhere.
Praise to you, as is fitting,
It was also important to have the strings perform just before we performed Spem, and the Chacony by Purcell (who was Tallis’ successor at the Chapel Royal) was perfect in setting the tone. It also ended in G, which is the starting note for Spem.
So lots of thinking behind the programme?
Yes, definitely. But it all goes beyond the programme of music too. I really wanted to tie it all in with the Cathedral’s 175th Anniversary this year too. It was clear that this would be a great opportunity to launch the celebrations and would also highlight the gems of the Cathedral, like the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which still retains the original Pugin decoration. With the 1st March being Pugin’s birthday, it was nice to align our performance to the closest Saturday to it – 2nd March. The publicity is also Pugin-inspired - the ceiling of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with its yellow stars on a blue sky, was a starting point for the flyer, which had yellow text on a blue sky background.
Tell us about Spem in Alium as a piece – why is it special?
It’s just quite a remarkable piece of Renaissance polyphony and a piece that I think begs a live performance. You need to be in the space with the performers. There’s a lot of ebb and flow, a real tug-of-war for the listener’s ear with some different antiphonal effects where the choirs are in constant dialogue with each other, but critically, he reserves all 40 parts singing together for key moments - the first one isn’t until bar 40. Later on in the piece there are also moments where he gives a beat’s rest for the entire choir before they’re all in again at the same time, but just for a few beats of the music. It’s exhilarating and full of such variety of emotion. There are times when the music is very still and so tender, but times where it’s incredibly syncopated and there are so many rhythmic ideas happening at the same time. It’s constantly changing and you just enter this different sound world – it’s got this magical quality, almost like you are swimming underwater.
Tell us a bit more about why you decided to do it with the eight choirs standing around the Cathedral, rather than just having everyone at the front in a traditional set-up. That will have affected how you heard the piece, depending on where you were sitting, so what was the thought process behind that?
One of the downsides we have at the Cathedral is that the nave is actually quite small, resulting in quite limited seating. You might end up stuck behind a pillar or in the side aisles without a good view. One of the things I wanted to make sure we did was to make sure that the people in the side aisles were close to something in the concert, which is another reason why we did different motets around the cathedral, in the chapels and behind the altar. We knew that it was going to be a sell-out concert, so we wanted the 100 people sitting in the transepts to be able to have a unique view of the choir.
Spem is one of those pieces that, as a conductor it’s quite an amazing experience conducting it, because you feel everything, all the choirs pulling against each other or handing musical ideas over to each other. To be in the middle of that is something quite special, so to be able to share that with other members of the audience was a really lovely experience. I wanted them to feel part of it, almost participating in it, despite not singing it.
So you mentioned people coming back to sing in Spem. How did you go about getting at least 40 singers on board?
We’re in regular contact with our alumni due to some of the long-standing friendships that have developed, so there are people who do regularly come back and sing. It was about trying to piece everything together in a spreadsheet and figure out where the blanks were. As well as the alumni, we also brought on board some friends of the choir who sing with other choirs in the city.
Why do you think people were so keen to take part?
For some people, I think it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I know quite a few singers wanted to do it because they’d never done Spem before. I think the reputation of the Cathedral Choir has also grown quite considerably over recent years and given its wonderful acoustic, the opportunity to sing in the Cathedral is really appealing for a lot of singers.
Let’s talk about Dixit Dominus. You worked with the Helix Ensemble for this piece. Can you tell me about the group and your experience working with them?
We worked with the Helix Ensemble for the first time in the B Minor Mass concert last year, and they seemed to really enjoy it. They seemed to get a lot out of working with us as a Cathedral Choir and some of the players who joined us for Tobias and the Angel last June were still buzzing about the Bach. For this concert I wanted to make sure that we did a piece where they could come back and be a part of it, which is why we included Handel’s Dixit Dominus. They are a wonderful group of people to work with. There’s no sense of snobbishness or elitism with that group, it’s just about music and trying to make the music as good as possible whilst also being supportive of each other and enjoying themselves. It was great to be joined once again by John Keys (Director of Music at St Mary’s Church, in the Lace Market) on the chamber organ. We’ve worked with him quite a lot and maintain a very positive relationship with St Mary’s, which goes back to my predecessor Neil Page.
What was the thinking behind having step-out soloists from the choir for Dixit, rather than bringing soloists in like for the Bach?
Well one of the key things about the Cathedral Choir is that it’s a developing choir and we want to give our singers platforms and opportunities for them to develop as musicians. With the nature of Dixit Dominus, I thought it would be good to offer those solos to members of the choir who were singing in the concert. I was really blown away by the dedication to learning the music and wanting to work on the music before the concert to get it completely right and to do it justice. I think it’s quite nice that it’s not about ‘I’m the soloist’…there’s no ego there and we’re all working towards the same goal. I think that’s quite a nice thing and it seemed to work well with the piece because the number of solo arias is quite small.
The concert was a sell-out with lots of people buying tickets on the door for seats with no view of the choir. Why do you think people were willing to buy a ticket even though they wouldn’t necessarily see the performers?
I know just from anecdotal feedback that we had before and after the concert, that people wanted to hear Spem in Alium live, so that was quite a huge draw. I do think the reputation of the Cathedral Choir has grown quite considerably and that people thought, ‘Oh, the Cathedral Choir are doing something, let’s go and support that because it’ll be good’. I’ve seen that with a lot of the events we’ve done over the past year, like with the Cabaret, which is something completely different. But people seem to sort of trust the Cathedral Choir brand now, and know that they’re going to be in for a good evening of music, whether it be jazz and barbershop, Carols by Candlelight, which was also very busy, or this concert.
What was the biggest challenge about the whole concert?
Definitely getting Spem together. As we had people coming from all over the UK to sing in it, we couldn’t have a proper rehearsal with all 40 parts until the evening before the concert so it was quite unknown as to how it might come together, never mind whether it would work with the choirs spread around the Cathedral.
So you weren’t sure if that layout you wanted would work until you actually rehearsed it the night before the concert?
I had no idea. We had a Plan B, which I was reluctant to do, but luckily we didn’t need it!
What were the highlights of the concert for you?
The response to Spem was incredible. The applause went on for quite a long time. You could see that people were visibly moved, and then they gave us a standing ovation. It was overwhelming really, when you think, actually yeah that was something quite special. You could sense, from where I was anyway, that people were transported and were having a very rich experience, be that spiritual, musical, religious…there was a lot going on, and it reminded me why I do live music, and why I enjoy working with choirs in that building.
I was also very proud of the soloists in Dixit, particularly with some of the soloists who had come on quite a long journey in the 3-4 weeks beforehand in developing their performances and then knocking it out the park in the concert. That was really great.
The concert as a whole seemed to have quite a profound impact on people in a variety of ways. It reminded me that what we do as a Cathedral Choir is actually quite important and reaches way beyond the 11.15 Mass.
So what would you like to do next?
That would be telling! I don’t want to fall into the trap of what a lot of other choirs do and just keep doing the same standard repertoire. I’m always trying to think of new ways to do things, so if we’re going to do a standard piece of music, can we do it in a new way or can we present it in such a way that it’s giving opportunities to other people. We’ve built up some great relationships over the past few years, most notably the Nottingham Music Hub, so perhaps we can develop opportunities for young players to sit side by side with the adults, replicating what we already do with our singers in the Youth Choir. We’re in regular contact with them about how we can develop projects for the future and create further opportunities for children and young people, regardless of background, and I see our concerts playing a big role here.
Do you think that you wanting to do things in a new and interesting way, or involving other organisations, comes from your experience working for the Arts Council, or do you think it’s a more personal thing?
I think it’s always been a personal thing. I’ve always felt like an outsider when it comes to classical music, because I came to classical music via film music, which I know is frown upon by some people. I’m just passionate about music, be that film music, plainsong, Benjamin Britten, 80s pop, whatever, and I love working with people to try and make music with them, regardless of background of training. I think it’s very easy to be bogged down in the way things ‘should’ be – be that the actual music theory or the sort of social construct of concerts, which I’m quite keen to break. For me, the music is not what’s on the page but what happens in the room between people.
What are the best things about being Director of Music at Nottingham Cathedral?
To be able to work with such a wide range of people and to see how they develop over time, and to see them go off and do a varied range of things and come back to sing with us. It’s about the people. That’s at the heart of what I want to do. The set-up that we’ve got here provides a nurturing environment for people to develop as musicians and grow in confidence, and I like that we can do that whilst maintaining quite a high standard of music-making so that Masses are well served musically.
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.
How and when did you become composer-in-residence?
I’d been previously commissioned to write a setting of the Salve Regina for the Cathedral Choir in October 2016 which was recorded as part of the choir CD of Marian music last year. Upon graduating in music from University of Nottingham in July 2017, I was keen to start out as a composer and write as much music as possible for live performers. As a composer himself and having been the Cathedral’s Composer-in-Residence before he became Director of Music, Alex was extremely mindful and suggested I write some more things for the choir. I was thrilled when he offered me the official position of Composer-in-residence!
What have you been writing for us as Composer-in-Residence?
My first commission was an unaccompanied Asperges me performed in November 2017, followed by my Advent carol I sing of a maiden for soprano soloist, choir and organ accompaniment. This was the first time I’d ever written for organ so I was very grateful to have the support of our organist, Robert Gower, who gave me full feedback and answered all of my questions about pedaling! I started off 2018 with a Nunc Dimittis and shortly after chose the text Salvator Mundi to set for Passiontide. I was honoured to write not only for the main Cathedral Choir but also the Youth Choir in my Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost for Pentecost, and then to set Rupert Brooke’s text The Soldier to music and have it performed in the Festival Mass during the Nottingham Cathedral Music Festival as part of the WW1 Centenary.
What did you get out of the Composer-in-Residence experience?
Having a choir whose sound and voices I know so well allowed me to experiment a lot. The longer-term nature of my post meant I could do more than just trial and error things in a one-off project; I could develop skills I wanted to improve on, such as working on my part writing. This has definitely enhanced the context for singers who’ve generously offered me feedback; all of which has been extensively valuable.
As a composer it’s also vital to be able to write for specific conditions, so writing for live services and real performers is an unquestionably useful skill and something I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to do. For example, composing Asperges me was a very attractive exercise as I had to incorporate optional restricted length and repeats into the music in accordance with its function and place in the service.
Are you writing for other choirs and ensembles outside of the Cathedral?
This year I’ve written several pieces for the City of Bristol Choir including a piece for male voice choir, organ and harp and a Christmas carol which was accompanied by the Bristol Ensemble. I was also honoured to write a couple of pieces for the University of Nottingham’s Viva Voce and Tour Choir. More recently I’ve had a commission from the RSCM which will be featured in their 2018 Anthems for Choirs book!
What have been your musical highlights with performances of your music over the past year?
Being able to sing my Salvator Mundi and Alex’s Missa Brevis with the Cathedral Choir as part of our trip to Westminster Cathedral in July was a real privilege this year, and I was also delighted to have the Cathedral Choir’s recording of my Salve Regina played on BBC Radio 3 as part of International Women’s Day back in March. That said, I’ve been so pleased with and so grateful for every performance and rehearsal of my music this year by Alex and the choir.
What does the future hold?
In September I’ll be starting an MMus in Composition at Trinity College of Music in London where I hope to specialise in choral writing, so I’m very grateful to have had this head start as Composer-in-Residence. Moreover, I’m excited to be writing my first Missa Brevis for Nottingham Cathedral Choir, which has been commissioned specially for the 175th Anniversary of the Cathedral and will be premiered in 2019!
On Saturday 21 July 2018, a selection of both current and former members of the Cathedral Choir gathered in Central London (coping marvellously well with the difficult heatwave conditions) to sing the 6pm Mass at Wesminster Cathedral.
As this was the choir’s first visit to Wesminster, we wanted to bring a flavour of Nottingham with us, so the music included parts of the Missa Brevis by Alex (not Paul) Patterson (written for our Cathedral Flower and Music Festival in 2010) and Salvator Mundi by our Composer-in-Residence Amy Summers (premiered by the choir earlier this year).
The Mass was celebrated by Fr Christopher Thomas, one-time curate at Nottingham and now General
Secretary for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, who continues to be a strong advocate for the music here at Nottingham Cathedral.
The Nottingham Music Service (NMS) started in 2002 as part of the Nottingham City Council and, in 2014, became an independent registered charity.
NMS is the lead organisation for the Nottingham Music Education Hub. The National Plan for Music Education, published by the Department for Education in 2011, requres Music Education Hubs and all state-funded schools and academies to work together to ensure that all young people are able to access the entitlements enshrined in that plan. The vision of NMS is that all children and young people in Nottingham have an inspiring and rewarding experience of making music with others, and, as such, NMS works in collaboration with several partner organisations to promote music in the city and contribute to the community.
This year, thanks to the combined skill-set of our new Youth Choir Director, Ellie, and Director of Music, Alex, the Cathedral Music Department have been able to work with NMS to help deliver their Singing Strategy in city schools. Throughout the months of May and June, Ellie and Alex visited 21 schools to deliver singing workshops in preparation for a combined ‘Summer Sing’ performance at Nottingham’s Albert Hall. They introduced the children and young people to good singing technique and taught a set of secular songs which would be performed together with all schools. On Wednesday 20 June, over 800 school children gathered in the Albert Hall for workshops with Alex and the a cappella ensemble, Apollo5, before sharing events for family and friends.
The success of this partnership has resulted in the development of a new partnership between NMS and the Cathedral’s Music Department. This autumn will see a similar series of school workshops culminating in performances at NMS’s ‘Christmas in the City’ concerts at the Albert Hall and Royal Concert Hall, as well as a new Hub Youth Choir based at the Cathedral led by Ellie and Alex.
Through our new Nottingham Cathedral Music Charitable Trust, we were able to receive funding from Arts Council England’s highly competitive Grants for the Arts programme to support a collaboration with Streetwise Opera (a charity working with those who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness) and local charity Music for Everyone to perform the community opera Tobias and the Angel by Jonathan Dove and David Lan.
The funding helped cover the sizable costs of such an undertaking, including a two month period of rehearsals before coming together to perform the piece on Saturday 9 June 2018 at the Cathedral. The creative team included Director Robin Reece-Crawford and Musical Director Alex Patterson who previously collaborated on a community performance of Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde in Nottingham’s Albert Hall in 2013.
Over 100 musicians were involved, including: Nottingham Cathedral Choir, Cathedral Youth Choir, Music for Everyone Youth Choirs (Junior & Senior Voices and Nottingham Youth Voices), Streetwise Opera ‘Explore’ group, eight professional opera singers (including our very own Youth Choir Director, Ellie Martin, as Edna and former Choral Scholar, Emily Hodkinson, as Sara) and a nine-piece orchestra.
This project has represented a deepening of our relationship with Streetwise Opera with whom we have been working with to provide volunteering opportunities and we are looking forward to building our relationship with Music for Everyone as we embark on a year-long Festival of Youth in 2019.
The impact of the whole project, particularly the final performance, has been heart-warming and encouraging:
“I thought it was brilliant, every group did their part, not just us, every group. It was absolutely great to be part of something like that.” Streetwise Opera Participant
“We really enjoyed the opera on Saturday. It is a real experience for the young people to work both with professional musicians and the members of the Streetwise Opera, and to sing, to a high standard, music to which they would almost certainly not have access elsewhere. The girls have really enjoyed the experience and seem to respond positively to the high expectations that are set both musically and in terms of being responsible for themselves and the younger children in the choir. Involvement with the Streetwise singers in particular has opened the girls’ eyes to the way in which music, and music-making can, and should, be accessible to all.” Youth Choir Parent
“It was fantastic to be part of this project and to see that music at the Cathedral is really flourishing. I can't imagine how much hard work it has taken to put together the opera, let alone the whole festival, so what the team have done with the first one is amazing.” Opera Soloist
“The whole Music Festival brought about a real sense of community, bringing together a whole range of people from both the Cathedral and the City. Most notable with Choral Scholars and Cathedral Choir volunteers working alongside the Women of St Barnabas and members of Streetwise Opera to coordinate all front of house and refreshment duties across the four days. Tobias and the Angel was a completely unique experience in that it was truly collaborative and inclusive without sacrificing very high artistic quality. The pre-performance talk was accessible and fun, drawing in an engaging crowd, and bringing together all the threads of the event – faith, community and basic human things – giving a big reason as to why we do what we do.” Choir Member
Highlights from William Ruff’s review of our Music Festival published in the Nottingham Post.
Just when you thought that Nottingham's musical calendar was full, along comes Nottingham Cathedral and presents an exciting new Music Festival, mixing some of the top names in the world of classical music with an array of local talent. And the centenaries which inspired last week's concerts could hardly have been more relevant and worthy of commemoration: the ending of World War One and the first steps towards giving all women the vote.
The Festival presented six concerts, as well as a special Mass featuring music exclusively by female composers. Variety was a keynote: guitarist Hugh Millington (pictured left) and soprano Grace Bale both gave solo recitals whilst all-female vocal group Papagena (pictured above) had something for everyone with their Nuns and Roses programme.
They brought equal intelligence to Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel, settings of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. The song cycle seems to start decisively with the music evoking the purposeful tread of the wanderer striding out on the open road. But life isn't straightforward and both singer and accompanist were at the their finest in the song Youth and Love when life's choices seemed trickier to make. Which is preferable: love and the settled life it offers or solitude and the freedom to wander? In between the Butterworth and Vaughan Williams song cycles came many surprises: none more so than Anthony Payne's setting of Adlestrop, first shimmering and then exploding with a sense of wonder at the miraculous beauty of the natural world as seen through the window of a train.
Hugely successful was the Festival's central event, Jonathan Dove's opera Tobias and the Angel, which combines musical and dramatic power to celebrate faith and the human capacity to triumph over adversity. The story features Tobit, a man who loses his sight and sends his son Tobias on an eventful journey: not only giant fishes, murderous demons and romantic encounters - but also where he discovers that a stranger who befriends him is the angel Raphael. Ensuring that everything ended happily, conductor (and Festival Director) Alex Patterson had assembled some impressive soloists (notably Wesley Biggs as Tobit and James Beddoe as his son Tobias) as well as a spectacular array of singers and instrumentalists, including Streetwise Opera, Music for Everyone and the Cathedral's own choirs. It was a joyous, uplifting occasion, inspiring for all those performing and spectating - and whetting the appetite for future Festivals.
The Cathedral Choir has a long history of joining up with the Anglican Choir of St Mary’s in the Lacemarket. We have fond memories of performing major works like the Brahms’ Requiem (2010), Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (2012), and more recently, the Monteverdi Vespers (2017).
As our respective Directors of Music (John Keys and Alex Patterson) both serve as Trustees of the Albert Hall’s Binns Organ, the choirs collaborated once more in a rousing programme of music to celebrate the centenaries of two composer’s deaths - that of Hubert Parry and Lili Boulanger - and also to commemorate the end of the First World War.
The programme included a wealth of music by Parry - I was glad, Blest pair of sirens, Jerusalem (with audience participation) and extracts from his Songs of Farewell: ‘My soul, there is a country’, ‘Never, weather-beaten sail’ and ‘There is an old belief’. Choral Scholar Grace Bale gave a performance of Pie Jesu by Lili Boulanger and the choir performed lesser known works by George Dyson and Roger Quilter.
When were you a choral scholar?
From September 2013 to June 2014, during my gap year.
What did you get out of the choral scholarship experience?
Amongst the wealth of benefits, I have to pick the massive increase in my sight-reading ability, the huge range of repertoire I sang over the year and wonderful social life within the choir! Moreover, the opportunity to perform in a variety of concerts and different performance situations. It was a vital part of my musical and social development!
Tell us about any musical highlights
A particular highlight of mine was the joint performance of Duruflé Requiem with St Barnabas and St Mary’s Choir and the Orchestra of the Restoration, performing the mezzo-soprano solo, as it was my first time performing as a soloist with choir and orchestra. It was so exciting to not only stand up in front of a large audience and perform such beautiful music, but to also see my name, picture and biography featured in the programme! Other highlights included the BBC Radio Nottingham Christmas Broadcast in 2013, the Cathedral Flower and Music Festival and performing Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia, which is a piece that has really resonated with me!
What have you been up to following your time at the Cathedral?
I studied Music at the University of York from 2014-17 and had the time of my life performing a huge variety of choral, operatic and contemporary music! I was a founding member of the York based Aspect Opera, performing Britten’s chamber operas The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring. I was an Alto Scholar with Genesis Sixteen from 2016-17, the training scheme run by The Sixteen’s Harry Christophers and Eamonn Dougan. Furthermore, since graduating I have been working as a Freelance Soloist and spending a year as a Fellow of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, receiving top quality training in performance and music education, alongside performing as an octet at various events, such as the London A Cappella Festival.
What does the future hold?
In September 2018, I shall begin my studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on the MMus Performance Course, where I shall continue my studies to become an opera singer and hone my craft.
Dave Pitt, one of our Basses in the Cathedral Choir, and keen cyclist, looks back at our most recent excursion.
There’s something very wonderful about travelling alone when you know you will be among friends when you reach your destination. So it was for me as I cycled the last few uphill miles to the highest point in Cambridgeshire on the first Saturday after Easter, to join other Cathedral Choir members past and present, together with other friends, for a weekend of singing. You may well imagine that, following the musical demands of Holy Week, the Cathedral Choir would be putting its collective feet up for a well-earned rest, but it seems we just can’t get enough of what we love doing!
The village of Great Chishill, just east of Royston and close to the ancient Icknield Way, happens to be the home of Lisa Mackenzie, our first ever Choral Scholar, who has stayed in touch and sung with us many times since leaving Nottingham. The 13th century St Swithun’s church, with its flint walls so typical of the East Anglian region, is undergoing major repair work, and Lisa had invited us to perform a concert to help with the community’s fundraising efforts. In return we were treated to the warmest hospitality and were delighted to join the parishioners again for their Sunday morning family worship.
Whether in the UK or abroad, I have always found it a special experience to sing for communities where live choral music doesn’t often happen. The depth of appreciation expressed by our hosts was very moving and quite humbling, and as I set off on my (rather wet) ride home I felt happy that we had once again been able to enjoy ourselves while bringing enjoyment to others. I can think of few more worthwhile pursuits.
To be honest, we only came along to the concert to be polite, but were genuinely moved by your performance and even shed a few tears. You have definitely converted us to choral appreciation and we look forward to the choir's next visit
My husband doesn't really like classical music and I assumed he would just fall asleep in a corner, but we both loved every minute, thank you.
A reflection by Eden Lavelle, Assistant Director of Music:
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is not a piece to be undertaken lightly. I have seen a number of adult choirs struggle with its myriad challenges over the years: controlled dissonance, complex rhythms, long phrases, and the Latin text, to name a few. As such, the prospect of the Youth Choir – many of whose members are under the age of ten and new to the task of reading music – caused me, as their rehearsal pianist, some concern. However, from our very first rehearsal in February, the way in which Ellie Martin handled our rather limited rehearsal time assuaged all my anxieties. Knowing that the task of reading such complex music might have been a stumbling block for some members of the Youth Choir, Ellie taught much of the piece aurally, with commendable efficiency, musicality, and patience. As a result, the way in which the choir’s eyes were fixed on Ellie throughout the performance served as proof that vast swathes of the music had actually been memorised. This, combined with the choir’s
unshakable focus, had the added benefit of enabling them to respond to everything Ellie was showing
them through her skilful conducting, meaning that, as well as being an accurate and detailed recreation of the score, the performance was a living, breathing, and deeply expressive musical and religious experience for both performers and audience members alike.
A personal highlight was the eighth movement, ‘Fac ut ardeat cor meum’, a complex two-part fugue that is undeniably the most challenging bit of the piece. After weeks of struggling to conquer this particular movement, Ellie and I asked the Youth Choir if they would find it helpful to have some members of the Cathedral Choir come along to help. Inspiringly, however, this suggestion was met with defiance. After two months of hard work, the choir was determined to stand on its own two feet and showcase its talent. As it happened, this movement turned out to be, in my opinion, the most cohesive, impassioned, and exciting part of the performance, enhanced by my knowledge of how challenging the music is and how dedicated the choir had been with getting to grips with it. Credit and thanks must also be given to SaraBande, the local string quartet who so kindly volunteered their services, and the soloists: choral scholars Grace Bale, Rebecca Sarginson, Kate Price, and Georgia Grattan.
Finally, it was worth noting that the gravity of the occasion was not lost on the Youth Choir. They did
not shy away from the enormous responsibility of performing a setting of a text as important as the
‘Stabat mater’ in the Cathedral itself on Good Friday, one of the most significant days in the Church’s
calendar. It was wonderful to see the Cathedral provide an opportunity for young people to come
together from all corners of the diocese on such an important day, with the faith that they would do
nothing but enhance people’s Good Friday experience.
I sincerely hope that this concert has been recognised for the resounding success it was, and that it will pave the way for more high-profile opportunities for the Youth Choir in the future. Having been distracted by the task of accompanying the rehearsals, it filled me with pride to be able to sit back during the concert and marvel at the finished product. Many congratulations to Ellie and the Youth Choir for their achievement.
Our Composer-in-Residence, Amy Summers, has been very busy this year writing new pieces for the Catholic liturgy - all performed for the first time at Sunday 11.15am Masses.
A new sublime setting of the Asperges Me was first performed on 5 November 2017 (also receiving numerous performances since) and a new carol, I Sing Of A Maiden, quickly followed on 10 December. 2018 has been extremely fruitful with a Nunc Dimittis on 4 February and Salvator Mundi performed on 18 March (despite the snow!) and again during this year’s Chrism Mass.
It was a real privilege to hear our recording of Amy’s Salve Regina (written way back in 2016) broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 7 March. This was part of BBC Introducing highlighting the work of female composers.
Amy continues to write for us with great aplomb and there are many new pieces in the pipeline. Both Cathedral Choirs will give the first performance of Gracious Spirit at Pentecost, Sunday 20 May. Amy is also working on a special piece for our Music Festival commemorating the centenary of World War One which will have its first performance on Sunday 10 June in our 11.15am Festival Mass alongside music solely by female composers.
We were delighted to receive further funding from Snape Maltings (formerly Aldeburgh Music) to run a second singing project with local schools. This follows on from our previous Friday Afternoons project in 2017 which saw local school children sing the music of Jonathan Dove as part of the international singing project which started in 2013 to celebrate the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten.
This year, Ellie Martin, our Youth Choir Director, engaged with local school children to teach songs by Luke Styles and Nico Muhly and develop creative responses to these songs in preparation for a final
sharing event at the Cathedral. The project began with an interative Continuing Professional
Development session for school teachers who were then able to observe Ellie ‘in action’ as she worked with our Cathedral Youth Choir - highlighting excellent approaches to choral leading and how to introduce contemporary music to young singers (with remarkable ease). Each school then received a singing workshop in which to learn a song of their choice and put together their own creative response.
Due to heavy snow-fall and the resulting school closures, our sharing event on Friday 2 March was postponed and rescheduled to Friday 23 March when pupils from St Margaret Clitherow, Seely Primary, and Park Vale Academy came together to share their performances to an appreciative audience of family and friends. The informal concert finished with a performance (from memory) of ‘Old Abram Brown’, one of Britten’s original Friday Afternoons songs, which Ellie taught to the children just moments before the concert.
We are grateful to the staff and students of these schools for engaging so deeply with the project and hope to continue working with local schools to provide opportunities for youth music making at the Cathedral.
‘A performance which stared death in the face whilst energetically asserting the joy of being alive'
William Ruff (Nottingham Post) reviews our performance of J. S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor which took place on Saturday 10 March 2018 in the Cathedral.
Bach's B Minor Mass is the Everest of choral works. Where some performances make you only too aware of the huff and puff needed to reach the summit, conductor Alex Patterson and his forces seemed to defy gravity, flying above the many obstacles which the score places in the way of the unwary. Of course, this sense of effortlessness can only be generated by meticulous preparation.
The 31 members of the Cathedral Choir pack a powerful punch. The 'k' which kick-started the Kyrie eleison was explosive, heralding a performance which gleamed brightly and had a strong sense of purposeful conviction throughout. The way the opening was moulded also boded well, the sound allowed to swell towards the ends of phrases like buds opening to full ripeness.
In fact it was the subtle control of dynamics which gave the performance so much of its 3D effect. Other notable features included the fearlessly fast speeds which Alex Patterson adopted for the end of the Gloria and for the Hosanna , the Choir clearly relishing the chance to release all those notes stored in their bloodstream. The Sanctus was allowed to float heavenwards whilst moments such as the Gratias agimus and the Pleni sunt coeli had a much earthier, dance-like quality.
The soloists (Charlotte Brosnan, Roderick Morris, James Lister and Alistair Ollerenshaw) brought style, agility, eloquence, beauty of tone and a dramatic approach to storytelling to their demanding roles.
And the accompanying Helix Ensemble shone too, both collectively and in their tricky solos (for violin, flute, oboe and horn). Those wonderfully resplendent moments when the orchestra proclaims full-throated joy - with high trumpets and exuberant drums - were amongst the most memorable in a performance which stared death in the face whilst joyfully and energetically asserting the joy of being alive.
The Diocesan Choir workshop is held twice a year in Cathedral Hall and is an opportunity
for singers from across the Diocese to learn new music in preparation for Diocesan events alongside the Cathedral Choral Scholars. New members are always welcome and one such member, Irene Smura, reflects on her first experience with the choir:
As a child I attended Mass at St Barnabas Cathedral until the family moved to another parish. I love singing but never had the opportunity to sing in a Church choir. At the beginning of 2018, I decided to join the Diocesan Choir and contacted Alex Patterson who was happy for me to join.
I attended the Workshop day (Saturday 24 February) for the Chrism Mass and enjoyed meeting others from other churches who welcomed me as a newcomer to the choir. The music we sang was a real pleasure to learn and sing especially Ave Verum Corpus by Edward Elgar and also learning to sing plainsong. I came away from the Workshop feeling uplifted.
I have never attended a Chrism Mass before but it was an awesome experience. I was guided in my singing by the other choir members and I thought it went exceptionally well in that I was emotionally and spiritually moved. I feel privileged to have been able to sing as a member of the choir and it has helped my vocal development and appreciation of Church music.