Review: Petersfield Musical Festival’s 2023 choral workshop

“Dance in the Street”

The workshop this year was a slightly different venture from the norm. Instead of studying works to be sung in the Festival, as is our usual custom, we spent a day singing from the ‘Bob Chilcott Songbook’, which contains both traditional songs and original pieces.

Our conductor for the day was Jeremy Backhouse, conductor of both the 150-strong Vivace Chorus in Guildford, and the Vasari Singers, one of the UK’s leading Chamber Choirs. We hoped thereby to attract singers from outside the Festival’s usual pool, and we were not disappointed. There were people from Vivace, and also from the Renaissance Choir, to name just two.

Jeremy, quietly spoken and with a beaming smile, opened the day’s singing with ‘Danny Boy’, on the grounds that we would all know the tune. We soon got to grips with Chilcott’s attractive version, and quickly got a thumbs-up from Jeremy.

Our next venture was to sing a delightful composition of Chilcott’s, ‘Aka-Tonbo’, all in Japanese. The music fitted the language beautifully (it was a nostalgic song featuring red dragonflies!) We enjoyed it very much and it, too, soon got a thumbs up.

After a fortifying coffee, when we all mingled happily, we tackled a rather difficult jig, in rapid 6/8, ‘Dance in the Street’. Chilcott wrote it for the Vasari Singers so it was unsurprising that it took us somewhat longer to master! A lyrical setting of ‘All through the Night’ followed, which of course was very familiar.

There was a charming setting of Wordsworth’s ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’, a Chilcott original, which we liked very much, followed by the Skye Boat Song. Jeremy’s cheerful patience saw us through a return to ‘Dance in the Street’ (almost up to speed.) The continual contrast between the familiar and the new was exactly right.

I found it just a little disappointing that the book did not contain a traditional English song – we sang for the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, but it was a shame there was, for example, no ‘John Peel’ or ‘Brigg Fair’ à la Chilcott! However, the day was a huge success, and at its end we sang through all the songs we’d studied. ‘ Dance in the Street’ was the finale to a very happy workshop.

Marcia Fielden, Petersfield Musical Festival

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