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.