Profile: Michael Servant, musician and teacher, and Froxfield Choir

Froxfield Choir, under the baton of Michael Servant, is collaborating with local and international classical guitarist Amanda Cook for its concert on Saturday 18 November in St Peter’s Church, High Cross.  It shall be performing Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Romancero Gitano, Pachelbel’s Canon Rosa Mystica and debuting David Roe’s El Mar de los Sargazos. 

What are you looking most forward to when performing at this concert?

Amanda’s a well-known local musician. It’s nice to be able to support her.

There’s not much repertoire for choir and guitar, and I want to push the boat out. In this concert we will be premiering a work by David Roe, who’s a student of Amanda. We’ll also be performing Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of Mystical Rose, with text by Oscar Wilde set to Pachelbel’s Canon, with guitar accompaniment.

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

I’m grateful for the piano lessons that I had to have from an early age. At the age of 20 I visited Norway as a church organist, after which I completed my university studies back here, and then I went back to Norway for 15 years. In that country, amateur music making is part of the cultural fabric in all communities and at all levels of society. Professional musicians are often centrally funded and valued.

After that I was appointed the organist of the church of the English College in Florence. So I’ve appreciated other ways of doing things.

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

Getting the buildup of rehearsals for a concert just right, allowing an appropriate amount of time – not too little (panic ensues) or too much (there’s complacency). My aim is to inject into my group the dynamic of live music making in time to arrive at the concert in optimal condition.

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

As a conductor of amateur singers, to enable them to have the pastime they can imagine. It’s a great pleasure and a privilege.

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

I was once a bassoonist, so I love Carl von Weber’s Bassoon Concerto. Arvo Pärt’s choral works always have a wonderful combination of voices. Bob Chilcott writes fun and inventive works. My choir has performed Cecilia McDowell’s Night Flight, with its challenging and enjoyable rhythms. I’m an organist, so I like Hubert Parry and Herbert Howells.

I must make special mention of Michael Orchard, who sings in the Froxfield Choir and who’s written works for it. His music often has local connections; some of it is set to poems by the WW1 Poet Edward Thomas, who lived nearby in Steep. I particularly like Michael’s treatment of Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

At the age of 17, I was conducting Zadok The Priest. I’d forgotten to stand the choir up at the end of the long introduction: they did so spontaneously, to great effect.

I have so many memories of the magic of live music making!

How would you define success as a musician?

Enabling people to be better at their craft and enjoying themselves more and more.

Be modest! As a professional working with amateurs, don’t disparage amateurs’ ability to put on great musical performances.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

Exactly the same!

About Michael

Michael Servant was appointed Music Director of Froxfield Choir in July 2016. He has extensive experience of conducting amateur choirs, as well as working with orchestras and small ensembles and professional soloists, both vocal and instrumental. Michael has been the Director of Music at the church of St. Nicholas, Poling, and St. Mary Magdalene, Lyminster, both near Arundel, since 2018. He teaches classroom music in primary schools in Fishbourne, West Wittering and Arundel.

Previously Michael worked abroad, including 15 years in Norway, during which time he held many positions including that of Director of Music and organist at Berg Church, Halden; conductor of Berg Choral Society and conductor of Halden Symphony Orchestra. He has also worked in Italy as Director of Music at St. Mark’s Church, the English Church in Florence and taught music at the International School of Florence.

Photo credit: Cath Lowe

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