For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Read about how 2020 has gone for The Renaissance Choir. “Covid has made us realise just how much and why music matters.”

It’s fair to say 2020 has not been a typical year for The Renaissance Choir.

A 30-strong ensemble which shares a passion for choral music, we usually sing together every Friday in Emsworth, with a repertoire that spans over five hundred years, from the Renaissance up to the present day. We give concerts in Hampshire and West Sussex, and every year we go on tour, often to Europe.

When Covid hit, we did not stop singing. We’re good friends, as well as good singers, and we wanted to maintain our reputation for making music of a very high standard, even during lockdown.

Music Director, Peter Gambie, said: ‘Being banned from our weekly sing was like a bereavement because we’re all so committed to music and each other. So we had newsletters full of amusing anecdotes, Zoom talks about cacti and planetary motion as well as daily singing exercises and warm-ups’.

We also made a virtual recording.

But there is nothing like physically singing together. In September, when our weekly rehearsals started again, we learnt to sing in masks, and socially distanced. We made a recording of two carols for the Rowans Hospice annual Christmas card. ‘Covid has made us realise just how much and why music matters,’ said one singer.

The end of the year will see us singing more carols together, as well as broadcasting them, and then looking forward to 2021. In our 45th year we hope to perform in Wells and Glastonbury.

We’re looking to recruit new members too. So if you are interested in singing beautiful music in a friendly, welcoming choir do please contact us.


Portsmouth Choral Union returns to ‘in person’ rehearsals

After more than six months, Portsmouth Choral Union held its first live rehearsal on Tuesday October 20th, at St. Mary’s Church Portsea.

The practice was ‘live-streamed’ for those members still unable to attend. During ‘lockdown’ the choir had been holding regular ‘online’ rehearsals, along with a number of social activities, including a quiz night and even an ‘online’ wine tasting event.

After last night’s practice, an enthusiastic David Gostick commented that it was excellent to at last see singers in the flesh, and hear that tone and musical quality had not diminished over the past months. The rehearsal was very much enjoyed by all who attended. The choir are particularly grateful to the Staff of St. Mary’s Church for their help and cooperation in making this possible.


Profile: Susan Yarnall-Monks, soprano, lecturer and voice coach

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

My parents and various teachers were wonderfully supportive – they wouldn’t let me give up till I had got my grade 8 and by then of course I didn’t want to – but it was various performances that made me consider taking up music as a career. While at school I played the part of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, which was hugely challenging but which left me with a love of Mozart. My piano teacher got me into singing but my parents only found out that I had a talent for it when I surprised them by winning a local Eisteddfod!

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

For any woman who wants to combine a professional career with bringing up a family, there will always be sacrifices and compromises to make. I’m not complaining, as I have a wonderful family and have had a wonderful career.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

One of the main challenges is trying to achieve a high quality of music-making in a concert if fellow musicians are stressed or nervous. Quite by contrast, rehearsals are a pleasure, where one can work on different interpretations of the work in a generally more relaxed atmosphere.

I teach on the BMus Vocal Performance degree at Chichester University. I like to give my students the challenge of singing in different languages, in particular French, German and Italian. Last year my students’ repertoire extended to works in Dutch, Finnish, Polish, Swedish and Welsh, which was a challenge for me and them at times!

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have an eclectic musical taste and refuse to be ‘put in a box!’ I love Mozart, Howells, French Romantic composers and Poulenc in particular, but also Scottish songs for Burns night and works by Gershwin.

Which works do you think you perform best?

Art songs, which are miniature narratives capable of picture painting. Oratorio, Opera and Renaissance music.

Which performances are you most proud of?

Singing Fauré’s Requiem, Brahms Requiem and Carmina Burana with the Southampton Choral Society, and Poulenc’s Gloria and Mozart’s Requiem with the Renaissance Choir, because I felt all the musicians were as one with the music.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

When I visited Berlin last year, I was able to attend Daniel Barenboim’s final concert with the Berlin Phil, an incredibly moving performance from a man who has given so much to the musical life of the world. Richard Goode used to perform regularly at Bath Music Festival: he was able to extract so many colours from the piano, you could hardly believe that he was actually playing just one instrument! Also memorable was Eugene Onegin with Susan Chilcott and Thomas Hampson at the Bastille Opera in Paris because I was introduced to Tom afterwards when we were enjoying a post-performance supper and…because the singing was so electrifying.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be flexible and adaptable, remain creative and willing to explore. It’s a tough world out there. Get to know (and perform) music that many people don’t know; there is a lot of good contemporary music around at the moment, and you will get noticed that way. One favourite of mine at the moment is Michael Nyman’s If, with words based on Anne Frank’s diary, because it so poignant and deceptively simple.

How would you define success as a musician?

In my opinion success can be defined by whether you’ve been able to communicate a shared moment. The pianist Malcolm Martineau once spoke about the magic triangle of singer, pianist and audience and the real connection that worked between all three at a masterclass many years ago, and last year heard I him accompanying the soprano Anne Schwanewilms at Wigmore Hall when this was very evident.

Come and hear some of my students sing!

On Tuesday 17 November there will be an English Song Concert given by the University’s B.Mus Vocal Performance degree singers at the University, which will be live-streamed.

Such students need all the help they can get. I am optimistic, though, as although the delivery of musical performance may alter, musicians have shown great adaptability in the current crisis.

Susan Yarnall-Monks is an Associate Lecturer and Vocal Tutor at the University of Chichester Conservatoire. She is a professional soprano and she also enjoys singing with the Renaissance Choir where she is a frequent soloist. She has sung at Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline and in New York as well as European tours of France, Poland, Spain and Italy. Her love of French and English song has led to many recitals and recordings.

She was awarded her PhD (2007) from Sheffield University for her research into the Perception of the Singing Voice. She taught Singing and Music at Kingswood School, Bath for many years and recently retired from teaching voice at St. Paul’s Girls School, London. Susan took part in the Master Teachers Week at Princeton University USA. She is currently President of the European Vocational Training Association (EVTA) which involves organising international conferences for singing teachers from around the world.

She continues to teach singers of all ages and abilities and enjoys the challenge of helping anyone find their voice. She is a Licensed Lay Reader and also runs the Birdham Village Choir, and enjoys sailing, gardening and embroidery.

For her musings, see her blog at https://singunique.com. To view her more than 100 daily video singing exercises, visit The Renaissance Choir’s YouTube channel.

 


The Renaissance Choir returns to rehearsing and is looking to recruit new singers

Last week The Renaissance Choir reconvened at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Southsea, suitably distanced, wearing masks and following detailed consultation and risk assessment. This was the first time we’d met since March, and it was such a joy to sing together again.

A recording we made of the evening’s rehearsal confirmed that the masks somehow created a sort of veiled sound which really helped the timbral blend!

Given the current constraints, we are not currently planning any concerts but will be rehearsing before making two recordings with carousels of images for online release. One is likely to be of Tomás Luis de Victoria’s masterwork Officium Defunctorum. We had intended to perform this in April this year. Another will be Christmas music to raise funds for Rowans Hospice to replace a concert that has had to be cancelled.

If you have an alto, tenor or a bass voice and would like to sing with us, please get in touch – we are recruiting!


Singing to return to Chichester Cathedral

The lay vicars of Chichester Cathedral will return to singing services from Sunday 13 September.

Earlier this year, the Cathedral’s choir, which is made up of six lay (adult) vicars and 14 (boy) choristers, were silenced as the country went into lockdown.

However, following guidance on singing issued by the Government and Church of England, the lay vicars will return to sing their first service at 9.30am this Sunday.

Read more at the link below.


Profile: Jonathan Willcocks, composer and conductor

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

Music was in my family from the beginning and I used to watch my father, David, conducting rehearsals. At an early age I was fascinated as he used his baton to bring in various parts – I originally thought that this was entirely to show me which instruments or singers I should watch!

My early musical training as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge from the age of 8 to 13 has been the most important influence on my musical life and career as a composer and conductor. Life as a chorister involves full immersion for at least 4 hours a day preparing for around 8 services a week. Quite apart from the obvious superb musical foundations, other spinoffs include self-discipline and the building of self-confidence.

I’ve had the fortune of conducting some wonderful choirs and ensembles over the years. I moved to the Portsmouth area in 1975 to take up the post of Director of Music at Portsmouth Grammar School. This led to my also being appointed as conductor of the Portsmouth Choral Union and then in 1979 the Chichester Singers, I agreed to stand in at short notice to conduct a concert when Anne Lawrence, its founder, had to retire suddenly as the result of illness. Over forty years later I am still enjoying making music with them!

Again, some fortune led me into composing: I started writing music not out of any burning urge to compose but because friends at school and university asked me to. One of my earliest large-scale works was “Voices of Time” commissioned by Portsmouth Choral Union in 1980 on the occasion of its centenary, and published by OUP. This led to further commissions. You can visit my website to see a list of all the works that I have composed.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Every rehearsal is a challenge! Concerts work well if rehearsals do. Rehearsals lay the foundations for excellent achievement but they can be hard work, and you have to be both organised but also imaginatively flexible.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

A musical performance is very much a team effort – everyone has something potentially to offer. I get a lot of pleasure in enabling others to perform uplifting music, sometimes to a standard quite beyond what the individual may think they are capable of. That’s one reason why I particularly like working with amateur musicians.

How would you describe your musical language?

My background is in classical music written for an ecclesiastical setting. I try hard to make the piece technically match the ability of the ensemble that commissioned it and to make whatever I write challenging but accessible.

How do you work?

I sit at my desk with a pencil and manuscript, and work in shorthand. I can hear the music more clearly in my head if I don’t use the piano. I then transfer this initial draft to my computer using Sibelius software; this is very much part of the creative process, and it enables me to revisit and revise my work to develop it nearer to its completed form.

Time management skills are useful here, it has never worked for me to wait for inspiration to strike. When working on a composition I force myself to work in a disciplined way and I’ve never missed a commission deadline.

With choral compositions, I’ll start with the text. The mood and message of the words need to be mirrored in the music. With instrumental pieces there are different constraints but the music must still suit the occasion and ensemble for which it is being written.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

My interest in counterpoint means that I have a strong affinity with the music of J.S. Bach (for example his B Minor Mass), Mozart (for example his Requiem or the final movement of his Jupiter Symphony) and Elgar, who skilfully knits together various different voice parts using one rhythm. With composers like Wagner, for whom harmony is more dominant, I feel that the listener is missing a vital dimension of the subtle interrelation of voices and instruments.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

Performing what in my opinion are the truly great masterpieces, for instance by Bach (as above), Brahms (for example his Requiem) and Britten (for example his War Requiem).

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Conducting Dame Janet Baker in The Dream of Gerontius, and (on several occasions) Sir Willard White in Elijah and other works count among my most memorable concert experiences. Also there have been a number of instances where I have been asked to be guest conductor for what seemed like an unpromising group of players or singers, which brought unexpected joy and satisfaction in the end.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

As a former director of the Junior Academy, Royal Academy of Music in London I was always candid with students: while encouraging them to strive to fulfil their potential I would also counsel them to consider making a career out of doing something other than music, and keeping their exceptional abilities as players or singers as a lifelong amateur love, rather than trying to earn a living at it. Music is an extremely tough and competitive career, and you have to be exceptionally good at what you do but also have a lot of luck. You also need to have other attributes, you need to develop associated business skills, such as in how to market yourself effectively, and be entirely reliable. The music profession is very unforgiving of sloppy time-keeping or unreliability. For many, it may be a better idea to extract pleasure from music as a serious hobby rather than endure the uncertainty and stress of trying to earn a living from it.

How would you define success as a musician?

Feeling fulfilled and enabling others to feel fulfilled. Leading a rehearsal or a concert in which amateur musicians have achieved more than they thought that they possibly could continues to give me great satisfaction.

What are your observations about the current pandemic situation?

It’s pretty dire. There’s little or no work for professional singers and instrumentalists, many of whom are not eligible for Government support, yet they need to keep practising. Cathedral and church choirs are faced with a huge break in the continuity of choristership: they need day-in, day-out practice, and for skills to be passed on from older to younger singers. Some amateur choirs are faced with the danger of “evaporation” if they are unable to meet and rehearse in the near future. A Government may be able to stop and start the economy, but you can’t do this with music for which continuity is so vital.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Willcocks’ published music includes major choral works, music for children’s choir, many shorter pieces (including anthems and secular choral music), orchestral and instrumental works. Jonathan’s has many recordings, and his music is frequently performed and broadcast in many parts of the world.

Jonathan is currently Musical Director of the Guildford Choral Society, the Chichester Singers, the Leith Hill Musical Festival and the professional chamber orchestra Southern Pro Musica.

For a full biography of Jonathan, please visit http://www.jonathanwillcocks.com.


Choral ballads and difficult discussions: Approaching anti-racism in choral culture

In January 2020, I started preparing the University of Portsmouth’s choirs for a concert called Songs of Pride, Freedom and Resistance: Decolonising Choral Culture but I was not at all prepared for the protracted and important debate about racism and white privilege that it would ignite amongst our choir.

Coronavirus and the lockdown of the university put paid to the concert but, to my mind, the discussion provoked by the programming is one that everyone involved in choral music should be having and one that has become all the more urgent with the death of George Floyd and the emergence of antiracist campaigns like Black Lives Matter. I want to share some of that debate with you in the spirit of encouraging an anti-racist choral culture in Portsmouth and beyond. First, I should set the scene.

I am a 44-year-old white-European male conductor and academic who became interested in connections between music and concepts of race during my postgraduate studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the early 2000s. My PhD (2010) was about figures in jazz culture, like Duke Ellington, who led famous bands and wrote music for those ensembles that represented black history and experience as an act of race pride.

I went on to write a book, The Recordings of Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy (2019), which aimed to show how Kirk’s band defied expectations of what an all-black ensemble should sound like and thereby challenged the racism that prevailed in recording and dance-hall cultures of the interwar period. So, it was perhaps inevitable that I would bring such academic interests into my choral direction work but, as we will see, my own identity makes such an enterprise problematic in itself.

The programme I devised for the aborted concert was founded on the Choral Ballads by the black-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), who is best known in choral circles for his trilogy of works that includes Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (1898). Coleridge-Taylor composed a set of three Choral Ballads for his 1904 trip to the US to conduct the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC. Later, he expanded that set to five for the 1905 Norwich Festival and also reworked one of the original movements for female voices and baritone soloist.

All of this music is very well written for choir, with orchestra and soloist. Unlike much of Coleridge Taylor’s other choral writing, which tends to be mostly homophonic, it makes really good use of counterpoint but is nonetheless tuneful and accessible. In many ways, it is a fantastic choice for any mixed-ability choir like ours and a great opportunity to introduce them and an audience to a great black-British composer.

The Choral Ballads are all settings of anti-slavery poetry written 1842 by the white-American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). Despite their noble intentions, however, the ballads are not without their problems: the lyrics include words used to describe black figures that are now considered highly problematic, albeit archaic, and the exoticism in the musical language is as much rooted in the colonial past. However, it was the words of the Choral Ballads that sparked the debate about whether and how we should perform these works and others in the programme. Here, for reasons of clarity, is a quotation of Longfellow’s text from the opening bars of the third ballad:

Loud he sang the Psalm of David!
He, a Negro, and enslavèd,
Sang of Israel’s victory,
Sang of Zion, bright and free.

To some extent, I had anticipated the debate about the text as I had prepared a presentation about the Choral Ballads which put the language issues in the context of their time and I offered a number of options for the choir to consider. These included, not performing the work at all, acknowledging the historical context and keeping the language as it is, or changing the language as a political act of decolonisation. What I hadn’t anticipated was the way that these options split the choir into factions that each felt very strongly that we should or should not change the language or else not perform the pieces at all.

I tried, as best I could, to please everyone by suggesting in a follow-up presentation that we could overlay words in a glorious and performative cacophony so that singers could make their own decisions but, in retrospect, I can see why that proved unacceptable for some, especially coming from me. On hearing my suggestion, one of our black students stated that if we used the problematic words at all she would leave the rehearsal in offense.

Another was clearly tearful as she explained that she felt she was being told what to do by yet another white figure of power, when her life was full of that sort of experience. That depth of feeling shocked me and I suddenly became aware of my own white privilege and the impossibility of me, in my situation of power, leading us to an agreeable solution on my own. I needed help to get a decision and that lay in much better dialogue both with and between our singers about these issues.

As I realised that I could and should not just impose my will over the choir, we had several meetings in which we discussed the programme and the issues of racial representation that were bound up with its performance. Several of our white singers were of the view that we, as a majority white choir, had no business in performing this repertoire but our black students spoke very passionately about the importance of engaging with such music and pointed to the prevailing problem of white fragility (DiAngelo, 2018) when it comes to addressing such issues.

I also felt that not to perform the work would make us complicit in a long history of effectively, if unconsciously, whitewashing the choral repertoire. There were those that argued that history, however distasteful, cannot be changed and thus the original words of the Choral Ballads should remain but, in the end, we agreed that changing the text marked an important act of de-colonialism and anti-racism. Thus, the passage above became:

Loud he sang the Psalm of David!
He, a brother but enslavèd,
Sang of Israel’s victory,
Sang of Zion, bright and free.

It was an often-difficult and time-consuming discussion but it was one of paramount importance because it caused us all to reflect on how choral-society culture is essentially racist in the way it tends to avoid such matters by effectively excluding black repertoire (apart from the odd token such as Hiawatha) and those who would identify with it. There were some within our choir who despaired that we ‘wasted’ time on this discussion, when there was music to learn, and they urged me to use my power put a stop to it.

That conception of white privilege is, however, a part of the problem and if we are to embrace the challenges set by the Black Lives Matter campaign and dismantle racist structures in choirs as much as in every other part of society, then we need to be brave and have these difficult conversations around such problematic repertoire as a matter of course.

Embracing works like the Choral Ballads and the sorts of discussions about racism that they motivate is but the beginning of a much longer and more difficult journey that will surely challenge many of the established basic principles of ‘good’ choral practice. Such principles include treating the conductor (as much as the composer) as some sort of power-wielding white male god, considering musical rehearsal as more valuable than the discussion of deep ethical issues, and valuing history and traditions of practice and rigour as more important than the rights and feelings of those who are negatively affected by the exercising of white privilege and power. If choirs everywhere took time to reflect on such things and took steps to address them, we would quickly establish a much more inclusive and anti-racist culture.

Dr George Burrows is Reader in Performing Arts and Faculty Research Degrees Coordinator at the University of Portsmouth.


Help with research into safe choir return

Researchers need your input into a survey about safety and risk management for choirs

A team of academics and choir leaders at Brighton and Sussex Medical School is conducting research into helping choirs get back into their regular activities, following coronavirus lockdown.

As well as filling out the survey, the team is also inviting choir members to join them as researchers. If you’re interested, you can fill in your email address at the top of the survey and they will contact you. Or you can leave those fields blank if you’d prefer not to, and you can stay anonymous.

You can also keep up with the research by joining the team’s Facebook group which is automatically open to anyone who has been on Facebook for more than three months.

Click on the link below to complete the survey.


Profile: Andrew Cleary, organist, pianist, teacher and conductor

Who and what have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

Singing was always important in my family – my grandmother was a life-long member of the Hull Choral Union, I attended their concerts regularly from a young age, and my father still sings with the York Music Society – so it was not unusual that I become a chorister at the age of 7 at York Minster. When my family moved to St Albans at the age of 11, I sang in the Abbey choir there, and it was there that I had organ lessons with Stephen Darlington.

I gained an early interest in musical theatre in the Sixth Form at school, working with the National Youth Music Theatre, and going to the Edinburgh Festival to perform in the Band for productions of “Oliver” and “Annie”.

I read music, specialising in performance and conducting, at the University of East Anglia, where I was also organ scholar at Norwich Cathedral. I developed a love of the Baroque repertoire under Robert Wooley, and worked with the Norwich Philharmonic Choir and the Aldeburgh Festival Chorus.

Later I moved to study as a postgrad at the Royal College of Music, specialising in early music and performance. Nick Danby challenged me to play the organ with a glass of beer on my wrist!

I became Assistant Organist at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, making regular broadcasts for BBC Radio and television and directing the St Martin’s Scholars and the vocal Ensemble Le Nuove Musiche. One memorable experience was playing the organ in the memorial service for Frankie Howard, where Griff Rhys Jones and Rowan Atkinson gave some of the tributes.

After various posts teaching music at schools, I settled in Portsmouth as Director of Music at The Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS), where I worked closely with the Chamber Choir and the London Mozart Players, commissioning works from Sally Beamish, Cecilia MacDowell and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. I also set up and then directed the Portsmouth Cathedral Girls’ Choir, Cantate.

When working with PMD on a challenging Remembrance Day commission, The Five Acts of Harry Patch, I was struck by Maxwell Davies’ lack of condescension having provided us with quite a challenging work: “do not patronise young musicians, they can always do it, however challenging!”

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

The current lockdown has presented plenty of challenges for my musical groups, but we are starting rehearsals on Zoom shortly. We are keeping it simple, not doing whole performances but working on vocal technique, and enjoying the social side. It’s important to continue, to keep the flame alight amongst choral ensembles in preparation for times when it is safe to meet, rehearse and perform together.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Music-making is inherently sociable and creative, and it is great to work with such fantastic musicians, young and old, to achieve such rewarding and special opportunities together…

How would you describe your musical language?

It’s very varied! I enjoy most styles of music, from Renaissance choral works through to jazz and (some) pop! I have been lucky enough to have been exposed to the wonderful repertoire of the English cathedral tradition, but equally I am now involved with the teaching and production of music theatre and jazz.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I’ve already mentioned my association with the London Mozart Players. We did a St John Passion together which was highly memorable. Other memorable performances include Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, rehearsed over a weekend in the Royal Festival Hall; a production of Dido and Aeneas at the New Theatre Royal; a superb Christmas concert with the Milton Glee Choir and Royal Marines Association Band last year; and a recording of works for Remembrance with PGS, again with the London Mozart Players.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I’ve got wide interests in keyboard and choral music, from Tallis to Gospel, from Bach and Mendelssohn through to Gershwin, Sondheim and Freddie Mercury. Church organists have to improvise during services and this approach appeals to me, leading me to find an interest in jazz piano. During lockdown I have recorded and broadcast a series of well-known jazz ‘muses’ on YouTube and Facebook.

Which works do you think you perform best?

I love performing choral works, such as those by Bach, Handel and Mozart, as well as the wide variety of the English cathedral repertoire, but equally I enjoy performing solo roles such as Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Conducting the PGS Chamber Choir at the Royal Albert Hall in the annual televised Festival of Remembrance on BBC television. I conducted the massed Bands and PGS Chamber Choir, in the work entitled They shall not grow old, with Bryn Terfel and Catherine Jenkins.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Keep an open mind on the kinds of music you will most like to perform, don’t put yourself in a box too early. Work and practice hard. Muck in, if only to gain credibility and experience. And listen to others’ advice!

How would you define success as a musician/composer?

Having an ability to inspire others, through listening and participation, to appreciate and experience the power and thrill of all kinds of music, and enabling inclusive music-making to all ages and abilities.

Andrew Cleary is a freelance teacher, accompanist, organist, choral director, conductor and examiner. He works at the University of Chichester as an Associate Lecturer, vocal coach and répétiteur, especially with students of musical theatre, and also at Portsmouth High School as a singing teacher. He conducts the Fareham Philharmonic Choir and the Milton Glee Choir, is the Assistant MD of the Lee Choral Society and is Music Director and Organist at St Peter’s Church, Bishop’s Waltham.

He always welcomes new members to join his choirs and even during his virtual rehearsals singers are encouraged to sign up and join.

The Fareham Philharmonic Choir has re-scheduled its performance of Bach’s St John Passion, postponed due to lockdown, to 6 March 2021 in Chichester Cathedral.

Andrew Cleary on MiP: https://musicinportsmouth.co.uk/?s=cleary


Profile: David Price, Organist and Master of the Choristers of Portsmouth Cathedral

I was a chorister at Bath Abbey and right from the start was enthralled by the noise from the organ. So, I started with piano at the age of nine. In those days one needed to be proficient at the piano before starting on the organ; these days, it’s easier: churches are welcoming to new organists, providing a performing space.

I recall the pain of finishing being a treble and having to leave the choir. I really sympathise with the plight of boy trebles whose voices are breaking during the current lockdown: they cannot complete their time as trebles.

But I carried on developing my skills as an organist, playing in a weekly service in the Georgian chapel of St John’s Hospice by the Roman baths. Once admonished by the vicar for starting a hymn too slowly, I now always ensure that hymns go at a good pace! I also played the organ in my village church.

My big break was when I attended the Royal School of Church Music 14-day course at Canterbury Cathedral, when I tried out being a chorister for 14 days, and loved it.

By the age of fifteen, I’d decided to be a church organist. This was met with some scepticism, though also support, by my parents.

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

Marcus Sealy was assistant organist at Bath Abbey for 42 years, and a superb role model: he introduced interesting repertoire, and was a great accompanist.

I studied music at Trinity College, London. This was originally established as a training college for church musicians. It has some fabulous stained-glass windows with images of music in the context of worship.

I attended daily evensongs at Westminster Abbey. Its assistant organist Andrew Lumsden, now director of music at Winchester Cathedral, was also greatly influential, encouraging me to observe him playing its great instrument. Christopher Stokes (Organist of St Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey) showed me how to be a grounded church musician, leading choirs as well as playing the organ extremely well.

After in the course of my studies I did an apprenticeship for two years at Croydon Parish Church, where I assisted with the running of a boys’ and a girls’ choir, followed by a stint as Organ Scholar at Rochester Cathedral. Barry Ferguson and Roger Sayer (now organist at Temple Church in London) showed me how to efficiently manage the interactions with the chapter and congregation. This was my first experience of a boarding choir school, where youngsters rehearsed and performed an evensong every day.

While I was at Rochester, we did some great tours to France, Germany and Switzerland – these were early days for choirs going abroad – which included some recordings. For my sins as the organ scholar I was the tour librarian, with quite a challenge to ensure that all the music needed for two weeks away was available! This was before the days of bespoke booklets.

I can recall how I had to play at a service in Trier Cathedral at short notice. Roger Sayer is a brilliant organist but he does not have a good head for heights. Its glorious and vast cathedral is set against a high Roman wall with the console 120 ft up in the air. In order to access the organ, one had to go onto the roof of the north transept, then descend to the triforium gallery down a ladder to reach the “eagle’s nest”. This proved too much for Roger. I also recall how difficult it was to synchronise with the choir, as they were so far away.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

After five years as Assistant Organist of Ely Cathedral, I became director of music at Portsmouth Cathedral, the youngest cathedral organist at that time. Young choristers need to learn the repertoire in time for the services, and there’s always a lot to do to arrange the experienced and less-experienced singers, as well as to manage the expectations of their parents.

Those early days were challenging, as I had to solve a lot of these challenges on my own, but we’ve developed strategies to improve things a great deal: there’s a whole supporting structure around the choristers, including three “choir matrons”, a librarian and gap year students besides the adult singers. The mixture of ages in the choirs gives them strength. The one remaining major challenge is around finance, especially because of Covid-19, where our income has been reduced by a third.

How would you describe your musical language?

I’ve a lot of interests in sounds, colour and textures, less on melody. I’m interested in the “stuff underneath” rather than a pretty tune, and how the voices interact with the texts.

How do you work?

Laboriously and slowly! I do envy people like David Briggs, who can Hear” music and transcribe a whole piece during one transatlantic plane journey! And cathedral musicians are still expected to write from time to time, for example if a new Bishop is being installed.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I am proud of my setting of the St John Passion we do most Good Fridays – much more of a prayer than a concert. Also we put on a Messiah every year, with the use of period instruments which always goes down well: it’s true to the original, with a neat ensemble of period instruments with voices from a wide range of ages.

There is a special relationship between the cathedral and the city of Portsmouth, with unique “threads”. I’ve been involved with many special events associated with the Royal Navy, including the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy in 2004.

On that occasion I led the voices singing a piece entitled D-Day 60: Valete in Pace by Harvey Brough in Caen Abbey, along with Fauré’s Requiem. The Brough piece was commissioned by Portsmouth City Council, and included a libretto by Lee Hall (he of Billy Elliot fame). It was most moving to hear French, German and British performers accompanied by the London Mozart Players. We also sang in the Bayeux Cemetery in the presence of HM The Queen, The Prime Minister and President of France.

Collaborating with Colin White from the Royal Maritime Museum, we recorded a CD with music to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Nelson’s funeral in 2006. We went on tour with it and also had it featured on an episode of BBC Radio 3’s In Tune.

This in turn led to repeat annual tours for the choir– I’ve actually completed 25 of these, culminating earlier this year with a visit to Finland.

The choir has been involved with various events on HMS Victory as well as the commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the aircraft carrier, in 2018 again in the presence of The Queen. It was a particular delight to sing Byrd’s miniature Tudor masterpiece O Lorde, save thy servant, Elizabeth our Queen on board a Queen Elizabeth The First Class warship and to Queen Elizabeth The Second.

Over the years I have recorded eighteen CDs. I’m most proud of a recording made at Ely in the medieval Lady Chapel of the music of Restoration composer, John Amner which was selected as Editor’s Choice.

In Portsmouth we’ve been able to collaborate with two excellent recording companies; HeraldAV who have a huge international portfolio, and also with Convivium Records, run by one of our Lay Clerks that has been steadily building a most impressive catalogue over the last ten years. From these two I would select a CD of Plainsong: The Echo of Angels from Convivium Records – a selection of Gregorian Chant – music that is at the foundation of all Western Classical music and sung in its original form and context. Hear Missa de Angelis: Kyrie on YouTube.

The second would be a release in 2019 from Herald Av of the music of Advent and Christmas Verbum caro factum est– and for two years how this has featured daily on Classic FM. I’m hugely proud of all the young people, aged from 7 upwards who have taken part in these recordings alongside our professional adults. Hear Gaudete (arr. Fitzgerald) performed in Ypres Cathedral as featured on our CD on YouTube. The CD is available to buy via this link.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Given my comments about musical language above, you won’t be surprised that I love composers such as Jackson, Stopford, Gorecki, Pärt and Tavener.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Do it! Don’t be put off by relatively low salaries: it’s vital to find a job that makes you happy.

How would you define success as a musician/composer?

Feeling fulfilled and happy in a role.

There is something very special about being part of a community of musicians such as one finds here at Portsmouth Cathedral. Compared to jobbing musicians, for cathedral musicians here there’s continuity around the building and the rhythm of worship. And that is satisfying.

Continuing to work during lockdown

We are working hard to carry on with this tradition during lockdown via Zoom, which enables us to keep our skills sharp and to brush up on complex repertoire, although we need to get back together soon so as to craft the homogeneity of sounds. I’m part of a group of people working with the RSCM to advise church authorities on how to get music back in a safe manner. It’s hard work but we will get there. Here’s an article about my work with the Bishop of London’s Recovery Group.

If you want to know more about the music programme at Portsmouth Cathedral please take a look here. And if you want to support our work with youngsters whether through our choristerships, our gap year scheme or Cathedral Sing (our schools’ outreach project), take a look here.

David Price is Organist and Master of the Choristers at Portsmouth Cathedral. Before he came to Portsmouth he was Assistant Organist of Ely Cathedral having previously held Organ Scholarships at Rochester Cathedral and Croydon Parish Church.

During his time at Ely he toured Germany, Belgium, Holland, Poland and the Czech Republic with the Cathedral Choir. The choir’s John Amner recording for Hyperion was critically acclaimed and was the Editor’s Choice in ‘The Gramophone’ music magazine. His work with the choir also led to performances with John Rutter, The Britten Sinfonia, concerts at Snape Maltings, John Tavener, The Parley of Instruments and The Royal Academy of Music. Whilst at Ely he pioneered the use of the building for twilight tours using music, drama and poetry.

Since David has been at Portsmouth the profile of the Cathedral’s music has been raised to new heights through twenty international tours across Europe, numerous recordings, many flagship events with the Royal Navy and the City of Portsmouth as well as regular work for the BBC and ITV. The daily round of worship is now led by three cathedral choirs involving boy choristers, a dedicated team of Lay Clerks and Choral Scholars, girl choristers and a choir of mixed adults. The cathedral organ has been extensively refurbished and enhanced under his care culminating in the addition of a set West End en chamade Trumpets in 2017.

In addition to his duties at the Cathedral, David serves on the Council of the Royal School of Church Music. He served two terms on the Association of English Cathedral’s Music & Liturgy Committee and on term on the Church of England’s General Synod.

The University of Portsmouth conferred David Price with an Honorary Doctorate of Music in recognition of the significant contribution he has made to the development of music at the Cathedral and for his contribution to the cultural life of the city. In 2013 he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship of the Guild of Church Musicians and presented with this at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral.

Recent recital venues for David include Westminster Abbey, Wells Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, Chambery Cathedral and Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps and Trinity Church, Copenhagen in Denmark. His St John Passion for Good Friday was published by Encore Publications in a series of the gospel passions alongside John Scott, Philip Moore and Richard Lloyd.

He is married to Kitty and they live in an historic house in Old Portsmouth, though they can often be found with their dog Minstrel, in their small retreat in The French Alps.


Profile: William Waine, conductor and singer

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

I got myself into the choir at my father’s Parish Church in Romford, Essex, at the age of six – as soon as I was allowed! Jonathan Venner, the choirmaster, has inspired great music there for over 40 years. Jonathan’s son, Matthew, was my first singing teacher and really developed me and encouraged (dragged!) me through my academic and choral interviews at Oxford. I wouldn’t have gone on and done that, or any of this, without them.

Stephen Darlington, who was then Organist and Tutor in Music at Christ Church, showed me what professional singing could be like. If William Byrd was on the music list, you’d walk into the rehearsal knowing it was going to be electrifying, even from the first bar. But he balanced these high standards with care and support. We did some amazing things at Christ Church and I just couldn’t give it all up and use the law degree I was studying for as intended…

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

I think one of the hardest things for musicians is comparing yourself with what others are doing and seeing how you measure up, but I am quite lucky in that I can usually avoid the temptation. So much of what I do is a real privilege – singing great music in amazing buildings, to lovely congregations and audiences, conducting people and sharing my enjoyment of the things I love with them, or teaching young people to appreciate great music – and knowing how lucky I am really helps with any blues.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

The choral world is sociable and engenders life-long friendships. One of the joys of “fixing” singers for NMH concerts is that I can put together teams of people I love to hang out with, let alone work with. It’s just as important to me that everyone gets on and is happy in each other’s company, as well as them being outstanding musicians. It means the singers respect and care for each other, revelling in each other’s talents and seeing the fun and joy in the whole enterprise.

Similarly, with my choral societies, I like the atmosphere to be relaxed. Having fun and loving being part of it with each other sets you well on the way to better music-making.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

I am really proud of four performances I’ve put on recently in Chichester Cathedral – three Messiahs and one St John Passion. The first two were performed by the Cathedral’s small team of Lay Vicars, and the last two by NMH. We do them with only two or three singers and one instrumentalist on each part, with the choir stepping out to do the solos. This brings such intimacy and clarity to these works, and I think enhances its emotional impact.

In 2017 I took part in a staged production of Messiah put on by the Bristol Old Vic, directed by Tom Morris (who directed the National Theatre’s famous production of War Horse), and featuring a stellar cast of soloists and The English Concert, one of the country’s foremost baroque orchestras. I was lucky enough to be in the chorus and it is one of the most enjoyable, most fulfilling and most moving things I have been involved with. I couldn’t really believe how the concept germinated and developed from rehearsals to end product was also really enlightening.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I adore Handel: he is so skilled at pulling at the heartstrings at the right moment, and knows exactly how to manipulate the emotions of a crowd. He delivers the exact dramatic mood at exactly the required moment – think Zadok the Priest at a coronation or O Lord whose mercies numberless in his oratorio Saul. I conducted some of the Music for the Royal Fireworks last year and found it absolutely thrilling. I think most baroque music is dance music, and you can find so much joy and excitement in that.

I find music emotive in its rightful context or for an occasion, so I love singing Palestrina, Victoria and Byrd, particularly at Westminster Cathedral, and works of Vaughan Williams (such as Valiant-for-Truth) and Walton (Coronation Te Deum) that are performed less often. A treble soloist of St Paul’s nearly left me in tears with his top B flat at the end of MacMillan’s Christus Vincit. I am also doing a lot of Alec Roth at the moment – his music is exuberant and playful, yet profound.

Which works do you think you perform best?

As a singer I think I am built for renaissance polyphony, particularly at lower pitches so I can sing all the high notes the sopranos usually get. The men’s voices CD we recorded in Chichester was such fun.

As a conductor I actually get most of out my evensongs with the Chichester Cathedral Voluntary Choir. I love taking staples of the repertoire like Brewer in D and trying to draw out something fresh and emotionally interesting, even in more functional music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was a child my mother and I would go to St Paul’s Cathedral on Good Friday, sit under the dome and hear Allegri’s Miserere drifting down from the Whispering Gallery during Matins. For me to sing that piece in that building at that service last year was something I would never have imagined.

In 2019 I took part in a performance of Earthrise (more Alec Roth) in Salisbury Cathedral, part of the Salisbury International Arts Festival. Everyone started in the cloisters and were gathered together by the choir singing Te lucis ante terminum (“Before the ending of the day”) by Thomas Tallis. We moved into the Cathedral, where the light from Gaia, a vast, detailed illuminated sculpture of Earth by Luke Jerram, was reflected in the baptismal font, and sang Alec’s piece about the havoc humans are wreaking on the earth. It was all quite something. Here is a link to some images.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

No matter where you think you should be, or how well you think you should be doing; for all the auditions and pressures and anxieties; always remember that you do it because you love breathing life into the notes on the page, and sharing that love with the people who come to hear you.

How would you define success as a musician/composer?

If you are happy in the work that you are doing and it brings you joy, then you’re successful.

Support for the arts

Arts and choral music in Britain faces a really uncertain future at the moment. We were in a bit of a funding crisis even before coronavirus struck. Think about how important it is to you and do something to make sure it comes back stronger. It could be joining a choral society or choir, not getting a refund for cancelled concerts, or donating money to a venue, ensemble or charity. Just don’t take it for granted.

William Waine began singing at the age of six in the choir of his father’s Parish Church, before taking up a Choral Scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. William sang with the world-famous Cathedral Choir on Gramophone Award-nominated recordings, and tours to the USA and China. Since 2017, after spells in the choirs of Gloucester and Chichester Cathedrals, he has been based in London, working with various ensembles including the choirs of Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedrals; The Erebus Ensemble; The Hanover Band; and The English Concert. As a soloist he has appeared across the UK; live on BBC Radio Three; and as far afield as Sydney, Australia and Christchurch, New Zealand.

He founded and manages NMH with whom he performs regularly in Chichester; is the founding Musical Director of the Chichester Cathedral Voluntary Choir; and the Musical Director of Cantemus based in Havant. He teaches singing at Ditcham Park School in Petersfield and Streatham & Clapham Prep School.


Profile: David Russell, composer, singer and pianist

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to spend so much time in musical activity?

I come from a musical family: both my parents played the piano (though my father learnt to play by ear in the “knees up Mother Brown” style!); I have a twin brother who played violin and a sister who played recorder and then clarinet – I chose the piano since it was in the one room which had heating. I was fortunate to be the only student studying music at A-level so obtained 1:1 tuition.

When I moved to Chichester, I quickly joined the Chichester Singers, where I met my wife Judith. We both are still proudly singing with the choir. She also persuaded me to join CAOS – the Chichester Amateur Operatic Society, where I enjoyed lead roles, initially in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and then later in classic musicals, such as Oklahoma and Annie Get Your Gun.

I had started writing songs with my original landlord, Norman Barrett, who was a singer at the Selsey holiday camps in his spare time. We continued to spend many years composing songs, sometimes of a religious nature, sometimes pop ballads – and after he died, and I retired, I’ve concentrated on 4-part choral pieces, including entering Christmas Carols in the BBC Radio 3 annual competition.

About 14 years ago I was lucky enough to join Chichester Voices (CV), a 20 strong chamber choir. Their MD Andrew Naylor has been incredibly supportive in encouraging performances of my compositions, and I still sing bass with them. As my twin conducts a choir in Keyworth, Nottingham, I also have an outlet in the Midlands for my pieces!

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

My biggest musical challenge was probably as MD of CAOS in the 1980s directing The Mikado in the Minerva Theatre. It came as bit of a shock trying to conduct an orchestra when the performer on stage decides to sing at their own tempo, or pauses suddenly in the middle of a patter song!

Many years later the Corpus Christi Amateur Dramatic Society (CCADS) put on the first production of Aspects of Love outside London at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, and I was MD. Although this was to great acclaim, it was jolly hard work to accommodate one of the quite edgy 7/4-time Lloyd Webber choruses, and then play one of the 2-piano parts for the week of the show.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Collaboration for me started at an early age, where I’d play piano and violin sonatas with my brother Colin. It gives great pleasure to appreciate the nuances of accompanying or playing a duet, and piano duets with friends remain a great delight. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate more and more the supporting role of the accompanist, whether for a singer or instrumentalist, and particularly treasure the time in rehearsal preparing for a recital. It’s great to share the innate musicality of performing with musicians of high calibre.

I’ve enjoyed singing with Cavatina, an a cappella 4-part group, based in Barnham. We singers are wonderfully exposed, but there’s a spine-tingling impact when it all comes together.

I’ve partnered up with David Bathurst to tell the story of Flanders and Swan, impersonating Donald Swann at the piano, which has engendered so many laughs, and some vivid memories for audience members who saw them live! At the other end of the spectrum, performing a piece like Verdi’s Requiem with a large choir and orchestra is all-encompassing and emotionally rewarding.

How would you describe your musical language?

I describe them as melody-driven ballads, many of which have had orchestral arrangements added by Tony Pegler, a close friend and superb musician. My religious music compositions are in a modern style, not too far removed from John Rutter.

How do you work?

I sit at the piano with a laptop nearby with composing software on it. I’ve just completed a setting of The Silver Swan (originally by Orlando Gibbons) and an Ubi Caritas in 4-part SATB for CV.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I wrote a 4-part anthem for my daughter Lizzie’s wedding entitled My True Love Hath my Heart which was a joy and privilege.

I’ve arranged songs such as Céline Dion’s All By Myself and Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight for my a cappella group.

With CAOS I’ve most enjoyed acting as Eisenstein, in Die Fledermaus, and as Jud Fry in Oklahoma, both in the Minerva Theatre.

I’ve been the bass soloist in Fauré’s Requiem with the Chichester Singers at a singing day, and performed the role of the Captain of the Pinafore in a staged concert of HMS Pinafore in Chichester Cathedral, under the legendary Kenneth Alwyn.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have a particular love for (late) Romantic composers such as Brahms, Mahler and Elgar (particularly his The Dream of Gerontius), but also love contemporary choral music by composers such as Whitacre and Lauridsen.

Which works do you think you perform best?

The comic songs with David Bathurst telling the story of Flanders and Swan: I seem to excel when good comic timing is needed, and I can just about manage the tongue-twisters of Tom Lehrer, such as Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing A Great and Glorious Victory by Jonathan Willcocks in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day concert with a selection of singers from the Chichester Singers and in Carnegie Hall, New York in 2013. It was amazing to stand on the same stage where the Beatles performed and where Tchaikovsky had conducted the inaugural concert.

Singing The Dream of Gerontius with the Chichester Singers and Dame Janet Baker in Chichester Cathedral.

Watching La Traviata in Sydney Opera House during a trip to New Zealand and Australia.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

It’s not a career that is well rewarded financially, unless you are extremely talented (or lucky), but it is one that’s well rewarded emotionally. And music engenders close friendships: you drop your guard, wear your heart on your sleeve, and openly acknowledge to the others in your group what the whole experience is doing to you. If you choose a separate, enjoyable career, then non-professional music-making can be nearly as fulfilling, in my experience, and probably less stressful!

How would you define success as a musician/composer?

It’s important for there to be mutual respect among peers. It’s also vital to be able to communicate with the audience – happiness is contagious. Finally, live events cannot be replicated by virtual performances, so do support the former when it becomes possible again.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane during lockdown?

I’ve been busier than ever: I’ve written 4 pieces since the middle of March. But I am missing the special pleasure of group choral singing….

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Still writing, playing and singing. In Chichester!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sharing the music that I love, either as a performer or listener. It gives me great personal pleasure to know that, for example, my brother might be performing a Verdi Requiem in Nottingham on the same evening as my sister in York and myself in Chichester! Similarly, I have a happy memory of seeing my daughter and her husband performing Elijah in the Barbican – 30 years after my wife Judith and I performed it as a young married couple. Family music-making, as family itself, is so important to me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My refurbished Rogers upright piano from 1929 which was a wedding present to Judith and myself from Judith’s mother.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Composing and singing, playing golf and croquet, spending time with our grandchildren, and enjoying wine – including on monthly Monday afternoons with the U3A Wine Appreciation Group, now I’ve stepped into the unseen world of retirement!

What is your present state of mind?

Happy, and in a good position to remind myself how lucky I am. I feel that I’m still able to make the most of the opportunities I am presented with and I’m looking forward to again enjoying the camaraderie of choral singing – and hugging the grandchildren.

Things I would like to recommend

Concerts for the Singers and Voices are in abeyance at present but please check out recent lockdown performances on YouTube, such as by The Chichester Singers.

Theatre companies have been dreadfully affected by the current crisis, so I would urge you to help support local groups, if possible, again by checking websites of CCADS and the Chichester Festival Theatre, amongst others. These groups have released videos of popular productions for free to air viewing.

David Russell lives in Fishbourne and is a retired Chartered Surveyor who has spent as much of his spare time as possible in non-professional music-making. He is a composer and pianist and is a Life Member of CAOS Musical Productions; he has sung with Chichester Singers for over 40 years and with Chichester Voices for nearly 15; is a member of Cavatina, and is currently Musical Director of Just Us – a concert party performing treasured memories from shows and musical comedy for Care Homes and Charities.


Profile: Peter Gambie, conductor

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

My father was an enthusiastic if flawed tenor and my mother was an accomplished pianist who won scholarships to the Royal Academy of Music and Royal School of Needlework. She chose the latter.

Mike English, my music and organ teacher and choirmaster, was my mentor. I recall him showing me the score of Spem in Alium at the age of nine. It was nearly as tall as me and immediately went on my bucket list. He introduced me to conducting Tudor church music from the age of fourteen. He gave me my first professional engagements as a countertenor, performing the standard repertoire of Purcell.

In more recent years, I’ve been delighted to come full circle by engaging Mike’s son Jon who is a very fine professional tenor.

With his encouragement I applied to and got a place at Dartington College of Arts. I studied composing under the dominating figure of Helen Glatz, who was a disciple of Gustav Holst. My principal studies were composing and choral conducting. My sitar tutor, Ustad Imrat Khan, had a profound influence on me, introducing me to the philosophy and poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, as well as the aural challenge of Indian music, which has 22 divisions in each octave.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

I’d like to recount two completely different concert experiences as conductor.

The last time I conducted St Matthew Passion with the Southampton Choral Society (SCS) and players from the BSO and the Royal Phil, the Evangelist suddenly became unavailable one week before the concert. His deputy then pulled out just 18 hours before the concert, leaving me scrambling through the night for a replacement. I did find a substitute for him but I was exhausted by the time of the concert.

I have always been fascinated by JS Bach’s B Minor Mass. It’s a vast work which encompasses the human spirit, communicating hope and faith, and transcends all cultures. It may be something to do with maturity and understanding the human condition – but the last time I conducted it (in 2007) was perhaps the first time I fully understood it.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

There’s often a titanic struggle between a conductor and soloists, which is not always completely resolved. Mood, style and ornamentation don’t appear to be problematic, but tempi are often an issue. It can be quite difficult to make the transition from the rehearsal, where the conductor calls the shots, to the performance, where the conductor has to follow the soloist.

I love working with the mezzo-soprano Diana Moore: she has the rare combination of a very pure voice with the ability to always wanting to listen and learn. We worked together on a Verdi Requiem where we were able to produce a quite different interpretation after I’d asked her to view it as an opera, rather than as a sacred piece.

And I love working with amateur groups such as the Renaissance Choir, which I’ve described as a “marriage made in heaven”. Our close relationship means that the choir responds willingly to me and we achieve an excellent output as a result. Empathy is key.

How would you describe your musical language?

I would describe it as “heartfelt”. I aim to communicate the composer’s original intent through extensive research. Knowing music “from the inside” means that you have to understand the composer as a person and then communicate that to your audience.

How do you work?

Industriously. I am busy around 3 hours a day, 365 days a year: I’ve already mentioned my interest in researching the repertoire. Besides that, I will be investigating new music, working out novel programming and so on.

Which performances are you most proud of?

During its week-long tour to Rome and the city of Palestrina in 2016, the Renaissance Choir both visited Palestrina’s house and sang in Palestrina Cathedral.

Going to Palestrina’s house was an enormous privilege – it felt a bit like a pilgrimage – and standing in his living room, singing his music, was a truly magical moment. The manager of the museum was clearly very moved.

I believe that the choir’s later performance in the exquisitely beautiful and acoustically perfect Palestrina cathedral was simply the best concert it has ever given. We received a standing ovation from the entire audience, which included members of the elite Palestrina Federation. It was wonderful to have visited the cathedral which the great man oversaw the design from an acoustic perspective.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have a love of many works by Victoria, Palestrina, Tallis, Byrd and Lassus, derived from my early days singing in my church choir, as well as Mozart, Poulenc and Stockhausen. The interest in Stockhausen derives from my studies at Dartington, which possessed a studio filled with superb synthesisers where I composed a lot of experimental music.

Which works do you think you perform best? Why?

Obviously, renaissance music.

But Poulenc’s eccentricity appeals to me. His appeal derives from the fact that he is emotionally contradictory with himself: his frequent bi-tonality (writing in two keys at the same time) might suggest that he is unsure of his religious faith. He is always a challenge and a joy to perform.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I can recall going to my first opera, The Marriage of Figaro, at the age of 12, with Tito Gobbi, Joan Carlyle and Geraint Evans. I recall the huge genius in Mstislav Rostropovich as he gave the world premiere of Lutoslawski’s cello concerto. Also while at Dartington I remember sitting at the feet of Ustad Imrat Khan, as he played sitar in the dark.

My worst concert experience was when I was performing Mozart’s Laudate Dominum with the SCS with Dame Emma Kirkby. In the first movement I realised I’d taken the wrong score with me to the podium. Instead of trying to conduct the work for another 40 minutes from memory, I stopped the orchestra, walked off and grabbed the score. It was highly embarrassing but Dame Emma was very gracious about it.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

I have taught hundreds of students, but to my knowledge only three of them have actually made it as professional musicians. Don’t embark on this career unless you are really sure!

How would you define success as a musician?

In my opinion, if a musician is happy, they are successful, and I have been blessed with a great deal of happiness. Unfortunately, this is not a given, as some musicians become unhappy and injured.

Susan Yarnall Monks’ daily singing videos

Do go and have a look at these short videos, which choir member and singing teacher Susan Yarnall Monks produces every day. She’s got a huge range of skills, and contributes greatly in rehearsals, yet she is very humble about herself.

 

Peter Gambie studied music at Dartington College and Reading University. In the 1970s, Dartington was a unique mixture of hippy culture and fans of Renaissance music, so Peter learnt to be a conductor as well as a sitar player. He also spent many hours in an electronic music studio, much to the despair of his singing and violin tutors.

His early career was a mix of teaching in schools in Hampshire and composing weird-sounding electronic music, some of which was performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (often to audiences of less than ten people). Radio 3 also broadcasted Peter’s compositions but it is not known whether anyone listened.

Realising that electronic music wasn’t catching on, Peter focussed on teaching, establishing a method of music education which became a model for secondary schools across the county and beyond (until successive governments decided that music in schools was a luxury). But he was still searching for something…. until he became The Renaissance Choir’s conductor in 1992, which has provided him with some of his richest musical experiences.

“A marriage made in heaven” is his summary, describing the many wonderful moments they share in their quest for musical perfection. The choir seeks professional standards and understanding, constantly challenging themselves with music of increasing complexity. Empathy between conductor and choir is central to high-quality performances: both parties are fortunate that this quality is developed to an advanced degree. Even a twitched eyebrow brings the appropriate response.

Peter is also proud of his long association with Southampton Choral Society. His nine years on the podium have included performing with Dame Emma Kirkby; scooping a £10,000 Community Arts Award from the BBC which resulted in the commission of a major work about slavery; and performances of the standard classical repertoire for orchestra and large chorus, including an original version of Orff’s Carmina Burana involving video images, Bach’s B minor mass and St Matthew Passion, Mozart’s Requiem and many more.

Peter and his wife, Mary, are the busy and proud grandparents of nine grandchildren.


Profile – Ben Lathbury, choral conductor, concert pianist and lecturer

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

Right from a young age I was good at the piano, though at one stage I did fancy becoming a paramedic or a doctor. My uncle Tony was (and still is) a paramedic and I think I wanted to be one ever since I could say it! I read for an Undergraduate and subsequently a Master’s degree in Music Performance at the University of Chichester, followed by a PGCE and four years teaching Performing Arts at the Chichester Free School.

Whilst I was studying at Chichester, I was most fortunate in having mentors for piano in Duncan Honeybourne and Jonathan Plowright. Why were they so good? Going to university, I think I’d suffered something of a setback after initially being rejected from Music College. Duncan did a tremendous job building my confidence back up, and then when I started with Jonathan in my 3rd year and Masters year, he balanced me back in the other direction, myself having possibly become a little too over-confident and cocky! They’re also both superb pianists who were very generous with their time. I’d also like to mention the excellent input from my academic advisor Arthur Robson who has helped me to make inspiring choices of repertoire and who has guided me on conducting skills.

So how did it all develop from here?

In 2015 I was appointed Director of Music at Holy Trinity Church, Bosham. One thing led to another, and I have steadily built up my portfolio of musical activities, as described in my bio below. It’s all very varied and enjoyable.

How would you describe your musical language?

Stephen Hough once said, “the notes are the language, but as a performer, you must speak your own words.” I am always looking to bring something new to the table, and to take risks, especially if the work is well-known.

I’ve adopted this approach recently when I conducted Messiah with Portsmouth Festival Choir in March. I listened to many recordings of it, which made me make innovative choices over things like grace notes, tempi, dynamics and general musical colourings.

And what about your latest repertoire?

I’ve enjoyed making my daily music videos, as described below. Listen to #31 Hello (The Book of Mormon) which bears out my love of musical theatre, all 10 voices! Or listen to #42 Kiss the Bairns, which I have been rehearsing with two of my choirs recently. I’m thrilled that Eric Whitacre loved my rendering of his piece This Marriage (#22).

Pulling this all together every day has been a challenge technically and vocally – there’s only so long one can sing falsetto! But on occasion I have enlisted the support from friends, such as music student Kiera in #29 and #45.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Rachmaninov has been a huge influence on me since the age of 15. I was thrilled to have performed his Piano Concerto No.2 in Bosham church to a packed audience last year.

I also regularly perform in the Chichester Chamber Ensemble with Natalia Corolscaia (violin) and Laura Ritchie (cello), which is a great pleasure. As a pianist, I didn’t have a huge amount of opportunities when I was growing up to play in an ensemble setting, so being able to work with other really high calibre musicians in my professional life is a real pleasure. One of our biggest challenges has probably been Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio, which we have performed three times together and is always a joy.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Don’t be afraid to take on other work to subsidise what you love to do, especially when you are starting out. You’ve got to try many different things and put yourself out there widely, so perseverance is a virtue. There are so many different things one can do as a musician, be it performing, teaching, conducting, composing; the list goes on. One of the things I love about my particular work pattern is that it’s very rare for two days to be the same in any given week. As somebody who occasionally has a short attention span, this works well for me!

I used to think that doing gigs for free was something that should never ever be done under any circumstances. The reality is it’s far more complicated than that. The key thing to keep in mind, though, is not to undersell yourself, and to value your time accordingly. I might agree to do a gig for free if it is going to be “professionally valuable” – an opportunity to play an exceptional piano, for example, or to ingratiate myself with a colleague or employer.

But I would warn people against falling into the trap of a generic “working for exposure”; I haven’t tried it myself, but I have it on good authority that exposure won’t pay your mortgage. Professional musicians should be paid, and regularly accepting work that doesn’t pay undermines our industry – one that is generally quite poorly paid anyway.

How would you define success as a musician?

I’m a strong advocate of the philosophy that success is categorically not defined by how much money one earns. If I did think that, I wouldn’t have become a musician. There’s an almost moronically simplistic notion that so much of our capitalist society seems to live by that is “whoever gets out with the most money at the end is the winner”.

For me, success is being able to pick and choose what one does and still be comfortable. I probably spend 20-30 hours a week (depending on the time of year) actively “working” as a musician in some capacity or other, and manage quite comfortably. This gives me time to pursue other interests I have, such as magic, computer programming and writing (some of which doubles up as work from time to time insofar as they generate income), as well as giving me the time to give clear focus and dedication to my personal relationships, especially with my wife and stepson.

Music for Lockdown

During the lockdown, I have pledged to produce one music video on YouTube each day.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2H-nDfO9k4PoKNX6au4LGvVVLDUMOnck
Or see https://www.chichester-piano.co.uk/music-for-lockdown.

They comprise solo piano works, choral classics and even some musical theatre favourites.

These are mainly as a way of maintaining some semblance of normality and also to give me something to do. As the lockdown has gone on, the videos have gradually become more complex, starting out with solo piano pieces, moving onto solo singing pieces and now even 4-part choral harmony and one-man polyphony.

The choral videos, in particular, have proven to be very popular, and it’s really pleasing to see them bringing joy to so many people at this very challenging time, especially given that so many people are cut off from making music in whatever capacity they are used to.

Since my performing and conducting work has taken a substantial hit since the lockdown, I have set up a Patreon page in the hope that some people may be willing and able to help support me through this challenging time.

https://www.patreon.com/musicforlockdown

 

Ben Lathbury is an award-winning musician, originally from the Midlands. Following early success in numerous competitions, Ben moved to Sussex in 2006 to study at the University of Chichester, where he established himself as a pianist of considerable talent.

In 2009, Ben received a scholarship to fund his Master’s degree in Music Performance, studying with international pianist Jonathan Plowright. Since its completion, Ben has won a number of competitions, given dozens of solo recitals and has appeared as a special guest soloist with orchestras across the UK. He has been recognized as a champion of 20th century American repertoire; his interpretation of Leroy Anderson’s Concerto in C garnered critical acclaim and his performances of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue earned him a nomination for “Best Classical Act” in the 2017 Guide Awards and have been hailed as “magnificent”.

In addition to his talent as a pianist, Ben is widely respected as a choral conductor, organist, and singer. Recent engagements have included performances of Handel’s Messiah, Vierne’s Messe Solennelle, Fauré’s & Rutter’s Requiems, Stainer’s Crucifixion and Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise. He is Director of Music at Holy Trinity Church in Bosham and Musical Director for a number of local choral groups. In 2016, Ben founded the Music in Bosham recital series and in May 2018 he was appointed to the post of Musical Director for Portsmouth Festival Choir. In 2019 he became an Associate Lecturer in Piano at the University of Chichester.


Today, Ben lives in Rose Green with his wife Megan, stepson Dylan, their dog Hermione and their two cats, Persephone & Ozymandias. In his spare time, Ben enjoys theatre, chess, writing and computer programming. He has a particular passion for choral and piano music featured in video games and often incorporates such works into his programmes.


Profile: Ann Pinhey, conductor

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

I won a scholarship to Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, London, and was introduced to music by a very enthusiastic teacher, so I began piano lessons at 13. Whilst at school, I was introduced to the music of Benjamin Britten, as the English Opera Group used to come to the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. I vividly remember hearing The Rape of Lucretia with Kathleen Ferrier. Let’s make an opera was also great fun. I can still remember some of the audience participation songs! I used to go to the Proms frequently and stand in the Arena for 2 shillings!

I studied piano and organ at the Guildhall School of Music for a year, before I abandoned the graduate course. While I was there, I was asked by a fellow student, Buxton Orr, if I would copy out a piece of music for his composition class the following day with Benjamin Frankel, who was a prolific film composer. The latter looked at the music and said,” Did you do this? It’s beautiful. Do you want a job?” Thus began my career as a professional music copyist when everything was done by hand. Computers did not exist in those days!

Most of my work was copying the orchestral parts for film scores such as The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It was all great fun. I remember being taken out to lunch by Malcolm Arnold. He was smoking a huge Churchillian cigar. I told him I loved the smell of cigars. He clicked his fingers at the waiter and said,” Get the young lady a cigar!” A huge one appeared. Two puffs and I was as green as grass, but I took the cigar home!

I also worked for Novello and Boosey and Hawkes. For the latter I worked on tracing paper with a special pen, as the work had to look exactly like printed music. I also worked for Donald Swann, Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir John Eliot Gardner. I sang under the latter when he was conductor of the Portsmouth Festival Choir in the 1970s, a memorable experience!

Later I became orchestral manager for the Leppard Ensemble. Raymond Leppard had just come down from Cambridge and formed his small chamber orchestra, which eventually merged with the Goldsburgh Orchestra to become the English Chamber Orchestra in 1960. I vividly remember a concert that Raymond gave at the Wigmore Hall where he was the pianist – and conductor – in a Mozart piano concerto. I turned the pages for him…nerve racking!

So how did it all develop from here?

After getting married, I moved to Compton, near Petersfield. I became a teacher at Lavant House, a girls’ independent school, where I remained for many years. I was head of the Junior Department and taught all subjects. Eventually I became Director of Music.

In the 1980s I became music critic of the Petersfield Herald and until quite recently, was the music critic of the Petersfield Post, a paper which no longer appears to print reviews of concerts! It is difficult being a music critic for a local paper, as you often have to review the performances of people you know. I do have high standards and people are at liberty to disagree with me!

What about your choral work?

Although I’ve never studied conducting, I was persuaded to take over the Harting Choral Society in the late 1970s. I went on to conduct the Meon Consort and the Thursday Singers. In 1984 I formed the small choral group, Musica Sacra. We performed within a 20-mile radius of Petersfield, giving free concerts for over 15 years and raising over £20,000 for charity. We performed more than 300 works by more than 100 composers, often singing the music of Charpentier, whose music I had transcribed from the composer’s original manuscripts.

After Musica Sacra was disbanded in 1999, I set up the Petersfield Chamber Choir in 2000, which ran for 13 years.

In 2014 I formed the Gemini Consort. It is a group of 12 experienced musicians, who all sing and some of whom play instruments. The aim is to use all their talents. The music performed ranges from the Baroque to the present day and includes music by Handel, Mozart, Poulenc and Britten. We love works written by Arvo Pärt, James MacMillan and Cecilia McDowall. The solo instruments are recorder, flute and trumpet.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

The highlight for me was a performance of the Bach St Matthew Passion which I conducted in 2010 with the Petersfield Chamber Choir and Orchestra. It was a massive undertaking, but was a great success, so much so that I decided to do the St John Passion the following year! All soloists came from the choir and the orchestra was made up of local musicians.

Of the St Matthew Passion, Jonathan Willcocks wrote, “The line of music-lovers waiting on Saturday night outside St Peter’s Church in the hope that “return” tickets might become available suggested that something rather special was happening…the true laurel leaves must rest with Ann Pinhey, whose concept and planning in every detail this memorable evening was”.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

While at school I was introduced to the music of Benjamin Britten when my music teacher played his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. I find his music deeply moving, exciting and gripping. I’ve performed all his choral works. While conducting with Musica Sacra, I developed a love of Charpentier, in particular. I love the operas of Janáček. Handel wrote some great music for voice, such as the duets in Julius Caesar.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable performance was seeing Raymond Leppard conduct his realisation of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea at Glyndebourne in the 1960s. It was the first time I had heard anything by the composer. I was transfixed! I love it and have performed a great deal of his music ever since!

And what about your love of painting?

In 1989 I took up a new hobby, painting. I am totally self-taught and began with watercolours. I moved on to collages and am now immersed in working with alcohol ink on plastic paper and acrylic pouring work.

Tell me about your fund-raising activities.

All my concerts have enjoyed free admission (apart from the 2 Passions, as I had to pay the orchestra and so charge a small amount for tickets, although £1,000 was still collected for The Rosemary Foundation as the audience left!). The retiring collection has always been given to local charities, for whom I have raised over £55,000. We now donate solely to The Rosemary Foundation. So far we have given it £20,000 – a most worthy cause.

Follow Ann on Instagram.


Profile: Geoff Porter, conductor, singer, pianist and organist

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

I was fortunate to be at The Kings’ School, Ely, which was strong in music. I also attended The Mackenzie School of Music and Drama in Cambridge for singing lessons. Subsequently, I secured key roles as a tenor in The Magic Flute by the Ely Opera Group and in A Country Girl by the St. Ives Operatic Society.

Who have been the most important influences on your musical life?

Dr Arthur Wills, Organist of Ely Cathedral and Director of Music at The Kings’ School, taught me piano. At The Teacher Training College at Milton, Portsmouth, Margaret Jewell (Head of Music Department) persuaded me to switch from maths to music and Hugh Davis (Assistant Organist at Portsmouth Cathedral and conductor of the Portsmouth Choral Union), my tutor, arranged for me to have singing lessons in London, under the tutelage of the tenor, Gerald English.

Hugh also encouraged me to join The Cathedral Choir and I was appointed to Portsmouth Grammar School as Director of Music for The Lower School. Later, I became Director of Music at St Albans, Havant, where pupils – and I – became accustomed to brass band practice at 8 o’clock in the morning!

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

I have been engaged as a tenor soloist for many local choirs. This has led to several memorable and challenging performances, including The Messiah with the Drayton Choral Society (later the Portsmouth Baroque Choir) at Portsmouth Guildhall. Whilst Director of Music at St James’ Church, Emsworth, I arranged broadcasts for TV and radio, including Songs of Praise. On two occasions, I sang Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus with The South Downs Music Society at the King’s Theatre, Southsea.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Singing with others in a group or choir is always rewarding. As a director, it is so satisfying to see how far people can be encouraged to come on a journey of musical improvement.

How would you describe your musical language?

As a soloist, I liked to bring out the emotion and drama of a piece. As a conductor, I try to work on contrasts of dynamics, rhythm and melody.

How do you work?

I like to choose and conduct pieces that will demonstrate the performers’ strengths, with suitable, but challenging material, which I hope the audience will enjoy.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I’ve already mentioned Die Fledermaus. I deputised for Raymond Calcraft as director of music with the Highbury Singers which became the Renaissance Choir. In 1986, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, I conducted the choir in the pre-performance rehearsal of hitherto unperformed works by Guerrero and Rodrigo, who himself was present.

To raise money for Stansted House, I have arranged forty Musical Evenings there in The Music Room. In 2013, I set up Los Ladrones, a vocal quintet. This group specializes in the revival of gems of Victorian and Edwardian British Musical Theatre and especially the lesser-known works of Arthur Sullivan.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I enjoy the music of Handel and have performed as a soloist in The Messiah 13 times. I was a founder member of Havant Light Opera in 1978 with whom I have directed works by Arthur Sullivan, an under-rated composer who wrote many fine pieces, both with and without Gilbert. I have been MD for The Mikado with both Littlehampton and Chichester Operatic Societies.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

13 choirs (over 600 voices) were involved in The 2016 London Welsh Festival of Male Choirs at the Royal Albert Hall. In preparation for this, I navigated The Solent Male Voice Choir through rehearsals, when seven songs had to be sung in Welsh, by heart.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

As an amateur, try out lots of different sizes of groups and types of music-making, taking any opportunity to perform solos.

How would you define success as a musician/composer?

Simply seeing both performers and the audience enjoying a concert.

What are your immediate plans?

After several happy years with The Solent Male Voice Choir, I’m excited about the prospect of conducting The Hampshire Police Male Voice Choir and directing them in the Cornwall International Male Voice Choir Festival in 2021.


Profile: Ian Schofield, composer and singer

Ian Schofield was born in the Lancashire town of Oswaldtwistle in 1949. He studied Composition at the University of Southampton under Dr. Eric Graebner and Prof. Peter Evans. He has lived and taught in Portsmouth since 1972 and was, until retirement, a lecturer on the specialist pre-professional music course at South Downs College.

His Te Deum, commissioned by Jonathan Willcocks and the Portsmouth Choral Union, has been performed widely in the UK. The Christmas sequence Illuminare Jerusalem has had numerous performances throughout Great Britain, including the Royal Albert Hall – as well as performances and a broadcast by choirs in the USA. Recent compositions include a Concerto for Violin and Viola that was premiered in London in November 2012. A setting of the Stabat Mater text received its first performance in 2015 by Guildford Choral Society. His Cantata Freedom, on the subject of slavery was commissioned by Southampton Choral Society – with funding from a BBC Arts in the Community Award. Other recent works include a Sinfonietta based upon the melody L’Homme Armé, a concerto for cello and string orchestra, and Stream of Life – a setting of five texts by Rabindranath Tagore, for Peter Gambie and The Renaissance Choir.

In addition to composition and lecturing, Ian also works as a freelance music editor, where he specialises in Renaissance and Baroque choral music, and 19th century Italian choral and operatic works. He has prepared performances of editions of works by Rossini and Donizetti, as well as lesser-known composers such as Mayr, Mercadante, Pacini and Lillo. His editions have been used in London concert halls, on BBC Radio 3 and, further afield, in Italy and Germany, as well as on Ireland’s National Radio, and notably on recordings by Opera Rara.

Simon O’Hea is in conversation with Ian.

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

There wasn’t an enormous amount of music at home in my very early years, though my father did have piano lessons and I remember him practising and I think I attended some of his lessons from time to time. I enjoyed listening to the popular classics that would be heard – usually at the end – of BBC Radio programmes such as Family Favourites and I always liked the more stirring hymns at school: I Vow to Thee, And Did Those Feet, and though more meditative Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. At junior school there was only singing in assembly and a Friday afternoon ‘all sing together’. However, senior school required me to learn the recorder and that, along with an electronic keyboard at home, introduced me to music notation. The enthusiastic music teacher organised evening trips to hear classical concerts and I want to most, if not all of them: Liverpool Philharmonic, The Halle Orchestra and various BBC Orchestras. I especially enjoyed those concerts with choirs: Verdi Requiem, Dream of Gerontius, a concert performance of Verdi’s Aida and Messiah and so on. My enthusiasm for music at school increased enormously when I discovered that anyone taking O level music would have to miss PE and Games.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Certainly the choral concerts that I heard whilst at school were the ones that made the greatest impression on me, and my first attempt at composition – after my earliest very basic harmony lessons – was a song for our school choir. It was called The Jovial Monk, I don’t remember anything else about it.

When I moved to Portsmouth to attend the Teacher Training College here, one of the lecturers was Hugh Davis who, at that time, was deputy organist at Portsmouth Cathedral and conductor of the Portsmouth Choral Union. He encouraged me to write several pieces for the College Choir and later, for the Choral Union. One of my first major choral works ‘Fire From Heaven’ was written for Portsmouth Baroque Choir at the request of their then conductor Christopher Burgess, for whom I subsequently wrote several other pieces. The first performance of Fire from Heaven led to a commission from Portsmouth Cathedral to write a work for their 800th anniversary celebrations, and also introduced me to the singer Ian Caddy who has been enormously supportive in promoting and publishing my music.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It can be difficult to produce a work if you don’t like the combination of instruments you’re offered and/or if a text that you don’t like has been chosen for you. A good example of the latter would be the Renaissance Choir’s Stream of Life commission. At first I really didn’t care for the poems that had been selected. There seemed to be no regularity to them – no way that I could get any meaningful musical structure from them, and I did spend three or four months getting nowhere at all. However, once I devised a more ‘motivic’ approach to setting the texts, I began to appreciate them much more and found them very moving.

Which works are you most proud of?

I am especially proud of my setting of the Stabat Mater text for strings, soprano and chorus. It’s a text I’d wanted to set for a long while, in fact I think I’d had maybe three earlier attempts – all of which I gave up on. All the verses, of which there are many, have exactly the same poetic meter – so you could, if you wanted, use the same music for every verse. The challenge is to respond appropriately to the sentiments of each verse whilst ensuring there is sufficient musical contrast without destroying musical unity. The closing text Paradisi Gloria also seems to demand a quiet and tranquil ending – though many composers, Rossini and Dvorak for example, have tacked on an uplifting fugal Amen. I’m pleased with the way my setting fades almost into nothingness.

I am also pleased to see how often my Te Deum has been performed, and I have received good feedback for it. My most recent large-scale work is a setting of the Credo text for chorus and orchestra – interspersed into the Credo are settings of texts by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, and these are sung by a soprano solo. I think I’ve merged the two texts successfully and it has a vigorous fugal ending in complete contrast to my Stabat Mater.

How would you characterise your musical language?

Tonal, melodic, rhythmic, with modal inflections. And accessible without being “sickly sweet”. I like to make discreet use of dissonance for dramatic purposes.

How do you work?

As most of my music is vocal, ideas are suggested by the chosen texts. Sometimes I begin work at a desk – with paper and pencil, other times at a piano, it just depends on what I’m working at and what stage of the process I’m at. In the case of Stream of Life, I used a lot of manuscript paper and did a lot of improvising at the piano.

I don’t like to compose on the computer, although it is useful to hear it played back, and listening in that way will frequently encourage me to make changes. Of course computers are now very useful for preparing finished copies of the music for printing.

Its always useful to have people listen to what you’re working on and I have three or four friends whose opinions I value: I always listen to what they say and I don’t mind harsh, but constructive criticism.

What are you working on now?

Aqua Luna, a short sextet for strings. I’m also editing some rare, virtually forgotten operas by Donizetti, part of Opera Rara. Donizetti’s manuscripts are incredibly untidy, and it’s fascinating deciphering them and seeing the music begin to emerge. He worked incredibly quickly – once describing Rossini, who wrote The Barber of Seville in three weeks – as lazy. I’m constantly amazed at the quality of the music that he produced with such speed.

How would you define success?

When writing to a commission I ask myself, “Do I like it?” Then, “Do I think the performers will like it” and “Will the audience like it?” Whether I like it is, to a certain extent dependant upon my answers to my second and third questions. If, after a performance, performers and audience members tell me they’ve enjoyed rehearsing, performing and listening to the work then I’m happy.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring composers?

Understand the client’s brief and the performer’s abilities; for instance, are you writing for professionals or amateurs? Be practical, don’t write for huge forces that no one is ever going to be able to afford – or for strange combinations of instruments: there’s a very limited market for bagpipe and cowbell duets with organ accompaniment! Write for the same instrumentation/voices as used by a well know composer – so that you know that there is something that can be performed alongside your work, without incurring extra costs. When I composed my Te Deum, part of the brief was to use the same instrumentation that Handel had used in his Coronation Anthems (I was allowed one additional percussionist). Also be prepared to be flexible; the Te Deum was once paired with Mozart’s Requiem which doesn’t use oboes, but does use clarinets – I was asked if I could provide my oboe parts transposed for clarinet. I had no issue with that, but I know several composers who would have created quite a fuss and who probably would have lost a performance.

Listen to “Stream of life” on Spotify.

Read about it on the Renaissance Choir website.


Preview: “Songs of Pride, Freedom and Resistance” with the University of Portsmouth Choirs

CONCERT UNFORTUNATELY CANCELLED

The University of Portsmouth’s choirs bring together students, staff and townsfolk to sing under the direction of Dr George Burrows on Saturday 21 Mar at 7:30pm at St Mary’s Church, Portsea. In keeping with university culture, the choir perform mixed programmes that most often explore a topic or theme that is linked to staff research interests.

This programme brings together a mixed programme of choral music by a whole raft of composers from the past and present that represents the experiences of the racialized ‘other’ in different parts of the modern world. It also connects Dr Burrows’ research into racial discourse in jazz in featuring Mary Lou Williams’ choral music.

Williams’ was a brilliant jazz pianist and composer, who converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1950s and began writing choral music. Her choral masterpiece is St. Martin de Porres, a work about the first black saint. In 2019, Dr Burrows received a Berger-Carter-Berger fellowship from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University to research Williams’ choral works for this concert.

Those works will be performed alongside Choral Ballads by the black-British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, which are choral settings of Songs of Slavery by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that deal with the injustices of African-American slavery.

A new commission by the female Sri Lankan composer, Gayathri Khemadasa, turns the programme towards another part of the world where racial tensions have long prevailed.

On a lighter note, songs from hit musicals like Hamilton reflect Britain’s part in colonialism that led to much enslavement and racial tension.

Read Choral ballads and difficult discussions: Approaching anti-racism in choral culture by George Burrows on the Noticeboard.


Profile: David Gostick

David Gostick’s life is overflowing with music. His days are spent selecting, editing, preparing and tailoring music to get the best out of those who perform it. He’s also working on studies for his doctorate in music.

David’s a distinguished conductor and has been the Musical Director of the Portsmouth Choral Union (PCU) since 2012. Arguably, the PCU is the leading amateur chorus in the South East of England.

Currently, David is working flat out for the PCU’s next big concert at St Mary’s, Fratton, Portsmouth at 7.30pm on Saturday 6 April 2019. Entitled “Dramatic Classics”, the concert is sure to live up to its billing.

David loves any music which tells a story, so has included the oratorio “Crossing of the Red Sea” by the brilliant Austrian pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel in the evening’s performance. This masterpiece tells the tale of Moses crossing the Red Sea with Pharaoh in hot pursuit.

David says it is engaging music involving some fantastic chorus work and remarkable, wild solos for soprano voice. The highly adaptable soprano Claire Seaton will be sure to delight the audience during the concert. It has a wonderful showpiece aria which also featured on the Wesley “Confitebor” recording made by the PCU in 2017.

There’s a story behind the story too. Hummel’s manuscript was thought to have been lost. Infact it was hiding in the British Library for over a hundred years. Herman Max dug it out and brought it back to life in a recording.

The PCU is presenting this work for the first time in the UK. (No need to brush up your German, Latin or ancient Hebrew, David’s translated it to be sung in English.)

Hummel is often mistakenly thought of as a one-hit wonder. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although his renowned trumpet concerto is universally well known and liked, he also wrote wonderful concerti for bassoon, mandolin and piano as well as operas and choral works. He studied under Mozart, Haydn and Salieri and was a big mate of Beethoven. All of this comes out in his music.

Also in the programme is Mozart’s Mass in C minor (K427 unfinished). The Mass was premiered in Salzburg in 1783. The solo “Et incarnatus est” was sung by Mozart’s fiancée Constanze whom he had brought to meet his family for the first time.

David began learning the ‘cello and piano when he was eight. He sang in the church choir in Kenley, South London. He also read music at Oxford.

Like Hummel and Mozart, David is married to a professional singer who performs under the name of Faye Eldret. They live down in Dorset, with their children George and Harriet. George, who’s eight, is joining Salisbury Cathedral Choir. When David actually does have time to spare, he walks the family dog and looks after two hives of bees. His honey is much sought after to soothe the throats of his enthusiastic choir members.

Author: Stuart Reed

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