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.