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.
Youth Choir parent, Andrea Lark, looks back at the Youth Choir's Summer Concert on Friday 12 July 2019.
All photographs by Ian R Marshall Photography
On a sunny Friday in mid-July (not a raindrop in sight!) the Cathedral Youth Choir gathered for their summer concert and much-anticipated performance of “Captain Noah and his floating zoo”. The excitement in the Cathedral Hall was palpable. This was to be the culmination of several weeks of intense rehearsal for the 30+ members of the Youth Choir, who range in age from 7 – 18.
To open the concert, the large and supportive audience of family, friends, parishioners and Cathedral clergy were treated to a range of individual items to open the concert. The girls’ group Vivace sang a beautiful arrangement of ‘Dream a little dream of me’ with musical sensitivity, whilst boys’ group Cambiata’s moving performance of the spiritual ‘Steal away’ created a prayerful sense of calm. Several solo instrumental and vocal items followed, including the piano works Raindrop Prelude by Chopin, JS Bach’s Gigue in G major, an arrangement for oboe of Fauré’s Après un rêve, and a piano arrangement of Alice the camel, which was played with confidence and enthusiasm by one of the Youth Choir’s youngest members.
Solo singers performed from a similarly diverse range of genres, spanning pop songs and traditional folk melodies, as well as music from films, opera and musicals. The young people’s love of music and their enthusiasm for sharing this in performance was a joy to see and greatly appreciated by the warmly supportive audience.
The first half of the concert concluded with the presentation by Bishop Patrick of certificates to the five ‘founding’ members of Vivace who will leave Nottingham at the end of the summer to pursue higher education. Their energy (the group is aptly named!) and commitment as well as their support for the youngest members of the choir will be missed.
Following a brief interval, the Youth Choir gathered to perform Captain Noah and his floating zoo. Written in 1970 by Joseph Horowitz, with often humorous lyrics by Michael Flanders, this cantata retells the story of Noah from Genesis chapters 6 – 9. The choir clearly enjoyed performing this and made the challenging music sound easy (I’m assured by Youth Choir Director Ellie Martin that it’s not!). The harmonisations, tricky rhythmic phrases and at times demanding tempo were tackled with confidence, and the singers responded sensitively to the mood of the music and were attentive to their (very accomplished!) pianist, and to Ellie’s direction. Every word was crisply enunciated and clearly audible, and the singers captured the mood of the music brilliantly. As the monotonous drumming of the rain petered out, the younger members went happily ‘running down the gangplank’ and the singers joyfully announced the appearance of the rainbow and God’s promise never to send another flood in the uplifting final waltz.
This collective team effort from the Youth Choir, its Director Ellie, rehearsal pianist Eden, and accompanist for the concert, Michael Martin, contributed to an engaging performance of a very high standard. As a parent of a ‘retiring’ member of the Youth Choir it was lovely to see, once again, the choir members’ enjoyment in singing together, the joy they bring to others and the strength and enthusiasm with which they contribute to the musical life of the Cathedral.
I remember a conversation a couple of years ago with our then Cathedral Dean, Canon Geoffrey Hunton, who admitted it was a dream of his that one year the Cathedral Choir would join the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I was very much interested in the idea and 2019 felt like the right time to do it – celebrating the joint 175th anniversaries of both our Cathedral Church and the birth of St Bernadette. Once Ellie Martin had joined the music department, it became clear that opening up the opportunity to our Youth Choir members was a vital part of the trip, and so began a long period of planning, organising and, ultimately, a huge amount of fundraising, in order to make the trip happen.
Followers of our work will be well aware of the range of events that have taken place specifically to raise funds for the trip – from our Hymnathon in May (a logistical minefield in itself!) and our Cabaret Evening in June, to a whole host of cake sales, tombolas, recitals, carolling, and more concerts. The support from the Cathedral community has been incredibly heart-warming, and knowing we had such support from the home team as we made our journey to Lourdes was a huge relief. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to all those who donated towards the costs of this trip and we hope that the accounts from those who were there and experienced it first hand will be a testament to how
important this trip was for so many people.
Putting a tour together like this doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, energy, patience and teamwork. The support of Pilgrimage Director, Fr Gregory Tobin, and Assistant Director, Fr Simon Gillespie, was integral to the success of the liturgies in Lourdes. I spent a lot of time with Fr Simon to work through the musical choices, compose new psalm settings, and select a huge variety of music. The support of the Diocesan Safeguarding Team and the tireless efforts of Ellie Martin in ensuring the safety of all on the trip cannot be overstated. We are grateful too for the support of Lisa Mackenzie and Hannah Whelan throughout the tour in helping to look after our tour members.
We are particularly grateful for the support of John-Charles Tanner, a relatively new parishioner to the Cathedral, who just happened to be close friends with Alain Cherel, the celebrated trumpeter of the Sanctuary at Lourdes. John-Charles was able to act as a conduit between Alex (who speaks very little French) and Alain (who speaks very little English), to facilitate showcasing the choir at the Marian Procession, Eucharistic Procession and International Mass. He was also responsible for arranging our concerts in Abbatiale de Saint-Savin and l'Eglise Saint Jean, Tarbes, for saving the day after hearing the news about Notre-Dame and enabling us to sing Mass at La Madeleine. His support and encouragement throughout the process (including shaking our blue donation buckets at Sunday Recitals) has been crucial to the tour and we are so grateful for all his help.
As Director of Music, it’s always good to see that the choir’s work is being recognised as an integral part of the Cathedral and wider Diocesan mission. The relationship between the two seemed to be so intrinsically linked throughout the Pilgrimage. To see members of the Cathedral congregation, wider Diocesan pilgrims, and pilgrims from all over the world visibly moved by what we were doing (such as singing hymns for pilgrims outside the Baths), beaming with pride (as we sang Bruckner’s Ave Maria at the Marian Procession, or singing throughout the International Mass), or in quiet contemplation (during the Reconciliation Service), felt like a huge validation for the work we do, not just as part of the Lourdes experience, but back at home on a weekly basis. The support of Bishop Patrick throughout the trip, alongside other Nottingham pilgrims, at our concert in l'Eglise Saint Jean, Tarbes, was a particular highlight.
We are blessed by such a wonderful community, which has been enriched, and relationships deepened, as a result of this experience. I cannot thank you all enough for the role you’ve played in making it happen.
Our son Benjamin is a new member of the Youth Choir, joining in January 2019. Everyone has been very welcoming, and we were really pleased when Benjamin was invited on the Lourdes-Paris trip. Benjamin was keen to go, as the choir were going to sing at Notre-Dame and we thought it would be a lovely opportunity for us to visit Paris ahead of the choir and do some sightseeing. Then on 15th April, we all received the tragic news that Notre-Dame was on fire. Singing in Notre-Dame was off, but the Choir would still sing in Paris.
The 14th July arrived quickly, and we waved the choir bon voyage on their journey to Lourdes. It was great to see and hear the choir on the Lourdes YouTube channel. They sounded fantastic. We arrived in Paris on 17th July. Our apartment was in the 5th Arondissement, near Rue Moffetard, which is full of food shops, cafes and restaurants.We bought a Paris museum pass and visited lots of art galleries. We love our son, but it was refreshing not to have a 15-year-old with us saying how bored he was!
The choir arrived on Friday 19th July. We had a couple of hours with Benjamin and heard all about singing in the International Mass in front of 5,000 people and how well the choir had been received at a couple of concerts outside of Lourdes. On the Saturday morning we met up with the choir near Notre-Dame. They may not have been able to sing in Notre-Dame, but they performed two songs outside it and were well received by all the tourists (including a good number of parents who had also decided to visit Paris).
The choir sang at two masses over the weekend, firstly, on Saturday evening at Saint Eustache, which is a very impressive gothic style church. It houses the largest organ in France and Mozart held his mother’s funeral here. The choir sang really well, but due to the height of the church their sound was slightly lost. The second mass, on Sunday morning, was at La Madeleine. This church was originally built as a temple of glory for Napoleon’s armies. At one point it was going to be a railway station and finally in 1842 it was consecrated as a church. The acoustics here were great and the choir sounded fantastic. They were accompanied by a countertenor cantor who had a very unique voice. La Madeleine also has a famous organ, and Gabriel Fauré was an organist here. The organ was very loud and electrifying.
Our time in Paris was over. We said our goodbyes and raced back to Nottingham via the Eurostar ahead of the Choir. Huge thanks needs to be given to Alex, Ellie, Hannah and Lisa for leading the Choir and looking after everyone. I’m sure it was very tiring for them, but they enabled all the young people to have experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Benjamin had a great time and is still talking about the music, all the places where the choir performed and the people he sang with.
My tour to Lourdes and Paris was fabulous. Apart from all the late nights and then waking up early, it was so fun and a great experience. My favourite parts of the trip to Lourdes were the international mass, the garden party, and the concerts.
In Paris, we mainly only had free time, and I enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame and the Louvre Museum. We took many pictures and got a small tan.
I hope we can fundraise enough to go every year. As well as us enjoying the trip, the people who got the experience of listening to us appreciated it thoroughly as well. We even had a couple who put in 20 euros and then swapped it with 50 euros at our concert.
As well as having this experience, I also got to know everyone more and grow stronger faithfully.
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.
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
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.
The Cathedral Diary during December is full of a whole range of organisations who have chosen to hold their annual Christmas Services and Concerts in our Cathedral Church. 2017 was no different
with the Cathedral supporting charities such as the Alzheimer's Society, Rainbows, and Maggie’s.
This year our Youth Choir contributed carols to Maggie’s ‘Carols by Candlelight’ Concert on
Thursday 7 December alongside the Trent Brass Quintet and Southwell Choral Society.
2017 also saw the return of the BBC Radio Nottingham Carol Service, last held here in 2013. It is always a pleasure to welcome BBC Radio Nottingham to the Cathedral and we have it on good authority that they enjoy working in the lovely acoustic.
The Carol Service featured a range of traditional carols including one particular request from the BBC, Neil Page’s arrangement of ‘While Shepherds Watched’ to the tune ‘Cranbrook’, commonly used for the Yorkshire folksong ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht 'At’. The Cathedral Choirs gave performances of John Rutter’s ‘The Colours of Christmas’ and Bob Chilcott’s ‘Where Riches Is Everlastingly’, also accompanying soloist Emma Browne in Adolphe Adam’s ‘O Holy Night’. No carol service is ever complete without a touch of brass and we were delighted to welcome back the members of Essentially Brass who performed ‘I Wonder As I Wander’ with soloist Emma Browne and also ‘Gaudete’ and a lively festive medley ‘The Many Sounds of Christmas’. Members of the Bestwood Male Voice Choir and the Linby and Papplewick WI (LAPWINGS) rounded off the service which was later broadcast on BBC Radio Nottingham on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.