We are delighted to have been invited to resume singing services in the Cathedral. This has involved extremely careful planning and strict adherence to covid-19 guidelines.
We have all missed the music and fellowship of singing in the choir during several months of enforced silence. This made our reunion for Evensong on October 4th a joyous occasion. Of necessity we had to maintain social distancing, wear masks and avoid socialising, but worshipping and making music together in our lovely cathedral was wonderful.
Our next service is on November 1st when we will sing for the 10.30am Eucharist. Music for this will be the communion setting in F major by Harold Darke, Elgar’s “Ave verum corpus” and a newly commissioned carol by Ian King.
The Cathedral is planning a series of Christmas Carol services and we are greatly looking forward to our participation in this on Friday December 18th – we will be performing twice to allow as many people to join us in the congregation as possible (within strict and safe guidelines).
We will also be singing for the 10.30am Eucharist on Sunday December 20th.
Full details of these and all our planned events can be found here.
One of our soloists’ role in our forthcoming concert makes it not only celebration of the patron saint of music – it’ll be a family affair too.
Soprano Sarah Kings will be taking the lead in one of our music for St Cecilia’s Day pieces from across the centuries – Meditations, composed by her brother.
It’s not the first time she’s performed sibling Steven’s music but she always finds every opportunity a proud moment, even if it does bring an additional pressure to those that come with being one of the choir’s regular soloists.
“I want to give my best,” she says, “but I’m also aware the audience won’t necessarily know the piece, which can take the pressure off a bit!”
It’s obviously a help having your composer on hand for any performance tips and, says Sarah, a choir member for 18 years, Steven is always happy to help.
“Although it tends to be more about what he means and is trying to achieve than the mechanics of singing, which he leaves (in this case) to our conductor Stephen Shellard.” she adds.
Steven and Sarah are Worcester born and bred. He attended Kings School and, now living in Bristol, his roles include accompanist and assistant chorus master to the Bristol Choral Society and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. He also conducts several choirs and is a seasoned pianist, soloist and chamber musician.
He has earned several awards and nominations for composing and his works have been performed at Worcester’s Three Choirs Festival, around Bristol and beyond.
Sarah went to the girls’ grammar school before gaining a music degree and pursuing careers in stock broking and IT. She is currently a carer for her father.
A conducting engagement means Steven can’t attend Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir’s O Sing Aloud! concert in St Martin’s Church, London Road, but Sarah knows he’ll be there in spirit. “He does do the proud brother bit,” she grins. “The sibling pride is usually mutual!”
O Sing Aloud! is on November 23 and also includes works by fellow Worcester composer Ian Venables, an arrangement of American classics by former Worcester Cathedral Director of Music, Dr Donald Hunt.
Performing Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is violinist Shula Oliver and readings will be delivered by Gabrielle Bullock. Christopher Allsop, King’s School’s Assistant Director of Music provides organ and piano accompaniment for the evening that, under the baton of Stephen Shellard, also includes Fauré, Mozart and Parry.
The composer set it specifically for 16 leading singers of the time – their initials appear alongside his or her lines – but eventually arranged versions for chorus, soloists and orchestra and for solo violin and orchestra.
In the original, some parts see the soloists singing as a “choir,” often in as many as 12 parts; in others, they have a solo, some more than others.
Once premiered, it immediately became a Proms staple. Sir Henry himself, wrote thanking Vaughan Williams after that first performance, saying he thought it had “lent real distinction” to it and the work was performed in the following Proms four years straight.
And Sergei Rachmaninov, who was playing his own Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor in that same inaugural concert, was said to have been moved to tears when he heard ‘Serenade’.
The season has since given it almost nearly 30 airings while Vaughan Williams conducted the original version in the 1951 inaugural concerts of the Royal Festival Hall.
“A fitting ending to 14 minutes of sublime poetry coupled with some of the composer’s most transcendent music: a divine pairing that ascends to heavenly heights and returns to earth with the harmonious strains of the angelic harp hovering in the air,” writes one author.
And what could be a better tribute to the patron saint of music herself? Come and hear it performed in St Martin’s Church, Worcester on Saturday, November 23. Tickets here.
One of the central pieces of our St Cecilia celebration concert is Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.
This lush, evocative work is more often than not performed with violin and orchestra, but it was originally scored for violin and piano. That is how it will be heard in St Martin’s Church on November 23.
Vaughan Williams began working on the piece in 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War. He did not score it for orchestra until 1920.
Here’s a few more ‘did you knows?’ about this most English of English-sounding music.
The work was inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name.
Vaughan Williams said that tune came into his head on a cliff walk while holidaying in Margate and he stopped to make some notes. This was on the first day of World War One and ships were holding fleet exercises off the coast. The composer then found himself under a citizen’s arrest by a keen young scout who thought he was a spy scribbling down details of the English coastline.
Actor Peter Sallis (Last of the Summer Wine and the voice of Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame) is said to have requested that a copy of The Lark Ascending be buried with him.
The Lark Ascending regularly tops the polls. This year it regained number one status in the Classic FM Hall of Fame chart after a rare slip to number three in 2018. It has also been voted the nation’s favourite Desert Island Discs track and, in a 2011 American radio survey, New Yorkers ranked it number two as the music they most wanted to hear to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks.
Dedicated to violinist Marie Hall, she gave the work its first performance in Bristol in 1920. Adrian Boult led the orchestral debut in London the following year.
We’re delighted to welcome Shulah Oliver onto our concert platform for this performance. One of the Chamber Music @ Worcester Festival’s founders and artistic directorial team, she regularly performs concertos and gives recitals throughout the UK and Europe.
Tickets for our concert, which also includes Serenade to Music are available from Eventbrite.
We sing about her, we have concerts in her honour – but who was St Cecilia and why is she the patron saint of musicians?
Well she’s thought to have come from one of third century Rome’s aristocratic and wealthy families and was said to have worn sackcloth next to her skin and constantly called upon the angels, saints and virgins to preserve her own maidenhood.
That didn’t stop her being given in marriage to the Roman Valerian but she is said to have spent the ceremony singing ‘in her heart’ to God or listening to heavenly music. No doubt Valerian was delighted when she told him on the wedding night that she had taken a vow of virginity and was now protected by an angel.
Understandably, her new husband was quite keen to see this angel,but his wife told him that wouldn’t be possible until he had travelled part way along one of Rome’s most important roads, the Via Appia and been baptised by the Pope.
This he duly did and returned to see the angel, who is then said to have crowned Cecilia with a garland of roses and lilies. Word of all this reached Valerian’s brother Tibertius who responded with his own baptism and the brothers went on to dedicate their lives to burying those killed for their faith by the city’s then prefect. The siblings were ultimately executed for their trouble.
Cecilia, meanwhile, spent her life preaching and was said to have converted over 400 people as a result but this, too, led to her arrest. She was condemned to die by suffocation in the public baths. However, despite being shut up for around 48 hours as the fires were stoked to a blazing heat, she survived – without even breaking a sweat.
So the city’s same prefect then ordered her decapitation. She was struck three times but lived on for another three days while crowds visited, collecting her blood as she continued to preach and pray.
She is buried under the high altar of her titular church in Trastevere, Rome, and is regarded as the patroness of musicians/music because of all she heard and sang on her wedding day.
Our concert, in St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, comes one day after her feast day, November 22. For tickets please visit our home page or Eventbrite.
Want to get an insight into what it’s like being part of Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir? This article in the 2019 Spring issue of WR Magazine is a great read and gives you a taste of our stringent rehearsal process!
Our Remembrance concert is being hosted in Worcester, almost exactly 100 years to the day of the 1918 Armistice.
The central part of the evening of words and music, in St Martin’s Church, London Road, will be a performance of a new chamber ensemble arrangement of Fauré’s Requiem, featuring violin, cello, harp and organ.
The readings will be given by Gabrielle Bullock and Stephen will conduct us in the first concert of our musical milestone year.
Taking place on November 10 at 7.30pm, the evening heralds our 20th anniversary season, a year in which a gala dinner, a performance of Brahms German Requiem, featuring the composer’s arrangement for two piano accompaniment, and an anniversary cathedral Evensong and reception are planned.
Celebrations for this special year have been in the pipeline for some time but were originally completely unforeseen when, in 1998, then lay clerk Stephen Shellard outlined his dream to lead and conduct his own choir to Worcester Cathedral’s Chapter.
“I wanted to gather together the best amateur singers from across the Worcestershire diocese and beyond to form the first male and female choir to sing in the cathedral in its 900-plus years, but I never envisioned that it would be here 20 years later and such a successful and established part of the Cathedral and Worcester’s musical life,” reflects Stephen, now Senior Lay Clerk.
“Now the first concert of our anniversary season is coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Armistice and will feature moving words and music in tribute to all those who have fought and died in the line of duty since the First World War.”
Tickets for the Remembrance concert ( £12, under 16s half price), are available on01386 860389 and at the door.For more information, go to www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk. You can also find the choir on Facebook, Google + Instagram and Twitter (@WCCC2).
Weeks in the planning (you could even argue years since it was three years since they came to us), our ‘away day’ to sing with our Lichfield Chamber Choir colleagues on their home turf was worth all the work. With our hosts sounding sublime in the first half’s Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera, a setting of First World War poems it was a pleasure to join them in the second for Haydn’s Missa in Tempore Belli.Thee was also a grand opportunity between rehearsal and concert to check out Lichfield itself, especially for those on a first time visit.All in all, a grand day out and we weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the occasion. Lichfield’s conductor Martyn Rawles had some very nice things to say afterwards in thanking our MD Stephen and his ‘wonderful choir’.We’re delighted that he found us, he said, such a responsive group and that it was ‘quite something how we and Lichfield all came together in such a short space of time.Apparently, an orchestra member told him she could not remember the last time she had played for such a good choir!We’re all now looking forward to our next joint gig!
She is due to join hundreds of other walkers putting their best feet forward on the weekend ofJune 2 and 3 on the popular circular route, which visits every summit around the Vale of Llangollen in north east Wales.
Its total ascent is around 2,000 the equivalent, say the organisers, of going up Snowdon twice over.
Eileen who is aiming to raise £1,000, has set up a JustGiving page and is urging people to contribute to the cause.
“Like many people, cancer has affected many of my close friends and relatives,” she says. “This is a chance for me to support an excellent cause by walking in the beautiful valley where I grew up. Let’s hope for good weather!”
The prestigious event, which attracts green-fingered enthusiasts and world-leading professionals from across the country and beyond, is celebrating the Great Exhibition of 1851 and we have been invited to recreate a key moment from its grand opening ceremony.
Organised by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, the Exhibition was held in the the Crystal Palace, a magnificent glass structure especially built in Hyde Park, and was the first in a series of World Fairs recognising cultural and industrial achievement.
The elaborate opening ceremony, whose centrepiece featured a crystal fountain flowing with Malvern water, was attended by the celebrities of the day, including Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, and featured state processions and grand music.
The latter featured a magnificent 600-voice rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, and it is that moment we will be reproducing – albeit on a smaller scale – to herald the opening of this year’s spring show.
“We are delighted to have been asked to lend our voices to this wonderful annual event, a highlight of any gardening calendar,” says our musical director Stephen Shellard, who will be conducting the singers at the ceremony on Thursday, May 10.
“We won’t be delivering quite the same level of sound as those original 600 voices did but we can guarantee this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival will begin on a realy high note!”