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.
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
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.
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.
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.
‘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.