Mar 14

Strings attached ? Energy-filled concert from the String Sinfonia

Congratulations to all the performers in the University String Sinfonia on a lunchtime concert today, delivered with fierce energy and some ravishing colours.

Directed from the violin by Floriane Peycelon, the programme included ebullient dance-rhythms in Warlock’s Capriol Suite, movements from Parry’s An English Suite redolent of the English countryside, and Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, concluding with John Williams’ depiction of Dartmoor before the FIrst World War in an excerpt from War Horse.

The players are back in action next week, when they team up with the University Cecilian Choir in Ola Gjeilo’s popular Sunrise Mass; details here.

Mar 12

Heroic endeavours in annual Cathedral concert

Congratulations to all the performers involved in Saturday night’s annual Colyer-Fergusson Concert, which saw the Nave of Canterbury Cathedral resounding to the heroic strains of Beethoven, Haydn and the premiere of a new work by Matthew King.

The Chorus and Orchestra came together under the baton of Susan Wanless in Haydn’s dramatic ‘Nelson Mass,’ joined by several alumni, and the Orchestra (led by final-year Law student and Music Scholar, Lydia Cheng), delivered Beethoven’s mighty Eroica symphony with aplomb.

Composer Matthew King and family were present for the first performance of Matthew’s A Hero Passes, an orchestral tribute to his late father, James King OBE, with which the concert opened. Matthew attended rehearsals the night before and on the morning at the Cathedral.

Conductor Susan Wanless and composer Matthew King confer in rehearsal. Photo: Molly Hollman

Matthew King attending the rehearsal of his new commission. Photo: Molly Hollman

Composer Matthew King at the dress rehearsal for ‘A Hero Passes’ with conductor Susan Wanless. Photo: Molly Hollman

Chorus and Orchestra rehearsing Haydn in Canterbury Cathedral

Photo: Molly Hollman

The orchestra reheasing Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’

Composer Matthew King acknowledges the orchestra at the first performance of ‘A Hero Passes’

Music Scholar and final-year Law Student, Lydia Cheng, prepares to lead the orchestral concert for her final time

(Most of!) the violins of the orchestra after the performance

Matthew King and family attending the premiere of ‘A Hero Passes’ in Canterbury Cathedral

Thanks to all the behind-the-scenes crew as well, on what is a particularly long day; here’s Your Loyal Correspondent and the Music Administrator clearly early on the day…There are still plenty of events to come over the next few weeks: see what’s next here.

Mar 08

International Women’s Day: Director of University Music, Susan Wanless

She might not thank me for doing so, but on International Women’s Day it seems fitting to pay tribute to our Head of Department, conductor Susan Wanless, who has been at the helm of extra-curricular music at the University for a very long time. A positive role model for female musicians,  Sue’s career is a great example of how gender should be no barrier to succeeding in musical life and in areas of cultural responsibility and leadership, including wielding a baton in front of the massed ranks of assembled performers in the glare of the public eye.

Sue’s tireless championing of music as part of the life of the University includes conducting the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra each year, including the epic annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in Canterbury Cathedral, as well as a variety of other ensembles. From a humble fifty members originally rehearsing in the Senate Building, the University Chorus has grown to over two hundred students, staff, alumni and members of the local community, now able to rehearse and perform in the magnificent Colyer-Fergusson Hall, itself a testament to the value the University places both on music-making and Sue’s advocacy for cementing it into life at Kent.

Under her leadership, music is now a flourishing part of the University; over four hundred students and staff are involved each academic year, with over fifty musical events taking place in Colyer-Fergusson – both departmental concerts as well as visiting ensembles and performers – throughout the course of the year. The Music department regularly commission new music written especially for its forces to perform – witness this Saturday’s premiere of an orchestral work by Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Kent-based composer Matthew King. When not busy on campus, she can be found on the panel of judges for the Canterbury International Festival’s annual music performance competition. (And, as many of us know, also on the golf course…!)

Digging the first hole

The Honourable Jonathan Monckton and Director of Music, Susan Wanless, turning the first sod to mark the construction of the Colyer-Fergusson Building in May, 2011

Sue was also heavily involved in the design and consultation process behind the creation of the Colyer-Fergusson Building, travelling up to London to confer with architects, designers and sound engineers at the point that crucial decisions were being made. Thanks to the generous bequest from the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, chaired at the time by the Honourable Jonathan Monckton, and since opening its doors in December 2012, Colyer-Fergusson has greatly enhanced the possibilities for making music at Kent, and continues to flourish under Sue’s watchful eye. Each year, a host of students graduates from the University with fond memories of having performed in the Nave of the Cathedral, the Crypt, Colyer-Fergusson Hall, churches around the county, and with friendships forged in the white-heat of rehearsing and performing alongside their academic studies; all facilitated by the Music department and Sue’s leadership. Who can forget those summer performances in Eliot Dining Hall, or Chorus rehearsals in the Grimond Building in the Era Before Colyer-Fergusson…Depending on the era in which students passed through the University, they might have been involved in the summer opera projects, in which Sue helmed fully-staged productions of works such as La Traviata, The Magic Flute and Tosca with professional soloists; they might have performed on one of the stages that popped up around campus during ArtsFest, which itself transformed into the current annual music festival celebrating the end of the academic year that is Summer Music Week.

University Orchestra in Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony in Eliot Dining Hall!

Here’s to Sue, and to women musicians who are making such an impact on musical life in their communities everywhere!

Mar 07

Scholars’ Spotlight: Hannah Ost

Continuing the series profiling Music Scholars at the University of Kent; this week, first-year conductor, music director and instrumentalist studying Drama and English Language and Linguistics, Hannah Ost.

An early childhood video shows a little six year old girl (me) sat at a grand piano, tentatively hammering the notes of a nursery rhyme. My mum had been teaching me piano from aged five and by junior school I was just about ready to take my first grade. Eight of them later and I am now a Music Performance Scholar at the University of Kent!

Music has always been one of my main passions. I spent my Saturday mornings at a music centre, playing lead cello in a youth orchestra, singing in a choir and taking lessons in not only piano but other instruments like African drums and recorders too. I performed in concerts and recitals, whilst steadily working through the ABRSM grades in piano.

Growing up in a family of singers, car journeys became concerts for the four-part version of the Von-Trapps, or sometimes SATB choir recitals. My sister and I were in choirs all throughout our education and in late junior school, I became a chorister for the Rochester Cathedral Girls Choir, performing on Classic FM at age nine and staying up until midnight on the 24th December to chorally welcome in Christmas Day. I joined my secondary school Chamber Choir as a soprano and I was part of the Kent County Choirs for almost the whole of my secondary education. Being a member of so many choirs meant I developed a real passion for the workings of the voice and I worked hard to improve my voice in a wide range of genres.

I joined a Musical Theatre school when I was fourteen and learnt how to sing jazz, musical theatre and belt, finding my background in classical singing to be a huge help in the development of my voice. I started a YouTube channel, posting covers and original songs and I auditioned for shows, performing in musicals, which became my main passion from Sixth Form onwards. I showcased a repertoire of Stephen Sondheim music for my Music A Level, having taken Music GCSE in Key Stage Four, and took a couple of professional singing lessons to help me sing what were several particularly challenging pieces.

At Sixth Form at Fort Pitt Grammar School, I started to broaden my musical interests and a friend recommended me for a job at a local theatre company I had performed with. Through this, I became the youngest ever employee of a youth theatre company called RARE Productions, joining the team as a Musical Director, aged seventeen. Now, I am the coordinator of my local area; as well as my musical directing, I manage the show team and am the main point of communication between my area and the Head Offices.

Finding that I really enjoyed musical directing, I started my own choir at school and taught a complex and diverse repertoire to the students who joined. I found I could combine piano and voice in a unique way, so accompanying, conducting and teaching added to my musical passions. I went on to write, direct and musically direct my own show at Fort Pitt, playing keys and conducting our live band in the final performances.

So, onto university life. Well, I’ve only been here for a term and a half but I don’t think I could have been busier if I tried! Auditioning for the scholarship was very nerve-wracking, especially since I had had a bad case of ‘Freshers’ Flu’ for about a month! I was told I’d achieved a scholarship in Musical Directing and am using the money from this to fly out to America this summer, to work as a resident Musical Director/Pianist at French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts – a prestigious performance-based summer camp, in the state of New York!

I have founded my own vocal tuition society called ‘The Pitch Project’ and I now hold weekly vocal classes for my members, using all the skills I have learnt from my background in voice and musical directing to teach a wide range of vocal techniques and genres. I have had great feedback from those involved and meetings regarding a future collaboration with Kent Sing! I have been a Musical Director for the Musical Theatre Society, leading some rehearsals in both of their showcases so far and I also had lots of fun playing keyboard in the pit band for their recent musical Bonnie and Clyde at the Marlowe Studio.

Outside of the music department, my studies in Drama and English Language and Linguistics have complimented my passion for vocal studies; I have learnt more about where the voice comes from, how the body acts as a resonator and how to correctly position vowels and consonants in speech. English has especially supported my love of writing and using some money from my scholarship, I self-released a debut EP of original music, called Let Me Read, both in hard copy and on various online music platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Google Play Music. This past December, I took my keyboard and ukulele (which, along with mandolin and guitar, I have been steadily teaching myself for about five years) to Ewan’s studios at ETB Mixing and recorded all the instrumental and vocal lines for four original songs in just nine hours! Needless to say, it was a crazy day!

When I’m not practising over in Colyer-Fergusson, or in the library studying (or in my bed, sleeping), you might find me gigging at pubs and bars around Canterbury, both on-campus and off. I am enjoying networking with local musicians and have met so many wonderful people during my first year at University so far. I can’t wait for what the rest of my time here will bring!

Listen to Hannah on Spotify here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Mar 05

Marvellous acts of quiet heroism: new orchestral commission to be unveiled this Saturday

The University Symphony Orchestra is industriously rehearsing ahead of this Saturday’s annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in Canterbury Cathedral, and this year unveils a commission by the University Music department from Kent-based composer and Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Matthew King.

The orchestra in rehearsal with conductor, Susan Wanless

Matthew’s piece will share the Nave with two musical titans; Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Haydn’s ‘Nelson Mass;’ I caught up with Matthew ahead of this Saturday’s premiere to ask him about the work and the concepts behind it.

How does your piece relate to (or take on!) the two titans on the programme: Beethoven and Haydn?

I didn’t really want to ‘take them on’. Obviously Beethoven’s Eroica is this massive event at the dawn of Romanticism (a bit like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the start of Modernism) and Haydn’s Nelson Mass is one of a set of pieces which he wrote at the end of his life – it’s only called ‘Nelson Mass’ because Horatio Nelson happened to attend an early performance – but I believe Haydn’s original title was ‘Mass for Troubled Times’ which I have to admit still seems a very relevant title! In any case, both of the ‘titan’ works you mention have an essentially public quality, whereas my piece is very different… and much more intimate in character. Two things connect my piece to Beethoven though: one is the ‘heroic’ key of E flat major (also the key of ‘Nimrod’ in Elgar’s Enigma Variations) and the other is the prominent use of three french horns.

Yours is a highly personal response to the commission request: did this make it easier or harder to write ?

James King OBE

Well easier, in the sense that it was really the only way that I could respond to the idea of ‘heroism’ at the time. But it was written as a tribute to my Dad, who died in March 2017, and that made the process of composing it quite raw emotionally. When you are a small child you tend to view your parents in a heroic way, and in fact Dad had some of the right attributes: he was very tall and good-looking and also very kind. As you get older you realise your parents are human beings with their own foibles, but in Dad’s case his essential kindness always shone through. He ran a special school and, when he died, there were many lovely tributes written about him by young people he’d helped over the years. I guess I wanted my piece to be a kind of pre-verbal tribute, at some kind of deep emotional level. I don’t mean it’s a great emotional splurge – simply that it tries to get to grips with mourning and loss and reflection in quite a measured way.

‘Hero’ can be a very tricky term: how did you deal with it ? I’m thinking it can easily date, or the sense that one man’s hero is often another’s villain…

Yes. I suppose the old idea of heroism as associated with political power, or military strength or whatever, is rather problematic nowadays. I guess there’s a vestige of that old notion of ‘hero’ in the way we view someone like Winston Churchill, or public figures like Martin Luther King or Emmeline Pankhurst: people who prevailed against evil and injustice on a huge scale. I’m also interested in ‘quiet heroism’ – the many unnoticed acts of kindness and generosity that go on all the time. Even in the recent snowy weather there were all sorts of reports of really marvellous acts of quiet heroism from people who certainly didn’t stop to think whether they were being heroic or not. In fact perhaps one definition of heroism might be ‘selfless acts of generosity undertaken by people who have no idea that what they are being is heroic!’

Matthew King

Did the fact that it’s being performed in the Cathedral have any influence or effect on the piece ?

Yes, actually it did. I’ve written for that space a few times. Back in the 1990s I wrote a very big community opera called Jonah which was staged in the Nave, and I learned quite a lot of things from that experience! It’s an awe inspiring building of course, and it has a really huge acoustic which can be difficult to handle, especially in music that has rapid harmonic change. I keep the harmonic pace of my music quite slow, and I tried to create orchestral effects that would blend well with the resonance of the building. I also make use of the space by locating the principal trumpet player up in the organ loft so that his solos come down from on high!

Who are your musical heroes ?

Well they tend to be whoever I’m listening to at the time so it changes from week to week really: recently I’ve been watching some of the great Hitchcock movies with my family and finding renewed admiration for Bernard Herrmann, I’ve been reading all of Jane Austen’s novels and have really been blown away by her marvellous talent. I’ve been listening to Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite and loving it’s raw energy. My daughters like Beyoncé’s Lemonade and I think it’s exciting when (and this is quite rare) musical talent and commercial success are completely compatible!

A friend introduced me last week to the controversial American cultural commentator, Camille Paglia, and I thought she was interesting. I’ve been playing some extraordinary meditative music by Federico Mompou, the Catalan composer on the piano.

Next month it will be a different list!

Matthew’s A Hero Passes will be given its premiere on Saturday 10 March in Canterbury Cathedral by the University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Susan Wanless; details here.

Feb 26

Image Gallery: Chamber Choir #EarBox and Breathing Space events

Many congratulations to the University Chamber Choir, which Friday performed at two very different events on the same day.

The lunchtime concert in Studio 3 Gallery saw the Choir fill the resonant space against the backdrop of the gallery’s latest exhibition, ‘The Ash Archive,’ to an audience that just kept on arriving – never have so many chairs been called for! Thanks to Rose Thompson, the gallery’s co-ordinator, for helping to bring the event together.

Later that evening, the Choir travelled out to the village of Hernhill, to sing at the church’s Breathing Space event, a sequence of music and silence by candlelight that afforded an hour-long period of tranquility, calm and reflection. Our thanks to Reverend Paulette Stubbings for making the Choir so welcome, we hope to return to St Michael’s in May – watch this space…

The Chamber Choir is back in action this Friday when it performs in the Eastern Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, in a programme including Pergolesi’s vivid Stabat Mater.

Feb 22

Lunchtime Concert next week as part of WorldFest at the University of Kent

Next week’s Lunchtime Concert brings music from South India, as the Music Department joins the University’s WorldFest celebrations of multiculturalism and diversity, on Wednesday 28 February at 1.10pm.Postgraduate University Music Performance Scholar, Ramnath Venkat Bhagavath is studying for a Masters in Applied Actuarial Science at the University of Kent, and brings a strong performing tradition to the campus. In 2016, Ramnath performed in the renowned ‘Swathi Sangeethotsav’ at the royal palace of Trivandrum, an event which attracts musicians from across the globe.

The Lunchtime Concert concert will feature a selection of different ragas and thalas in the Carnatic music tradition, accompanied by violin, mridangam and ghatam.

Admission is free, with suggested donation £3: more details online here.

Furley Page logo

Sponsors of the Lunchtime Concert series

Feb 19

Blue: new exhibition now open

We’re delighted to announce that our new exhibition here in the Colyer-Fergusson Gallery is now open.

Blue, by Canterbury artist Adam De Ville, is a sequence of paintings united by colour, which explores ideas of identity, belonging, loss and technology. The title painting in the series is also linked to a performance of Pergolesi’s magnificent Stabat Mater, which the Chamber Choir performs in the Cathedral Crypt next week, for which Adam’s painting features on the programme cover. A haunting, evocative image of a lone woman, the painting seems to relate to the grief of the Virgin Mary during Christ’s crucifixion, set in dramatic fashion by Pergolesi shortly before his death.

The exhibition is open until Friday 9 March during normal working hours and at weekends; admission is free, and there is disabled access.

Read more about the insipiration behind the exhibition in a previous post here: find out more about Adam De Ville here.

Feb 14

Breathing Space with the University Chamber Choir

There’s an opportunity to escape the hurly-burly of modern life into a sequence of music and silence on Friday 23 February, as the University Chamber Choir travels out to the village of Hernhill, near Faversham, as part of a series of Breathing Space events.  Hosted by the church of St Michael’s, the hour-long event affords an opportunity to experience a rare moment of peace and tranquility in a candlelit, fifteenth-century church.

Breathing Space is a series of contemplative services during the dark hours of winter days, during which the church is mainly in darkness with some candlelight. The event at 7.30pm comprises a sequence of music, interwoven with periods of silence, performed by the Chamber Choir; there will be no words, no instructions, no expectations; attenders simply find a seat and enjoy the atmosphere and peace, and may leave whenever they wish – a short prayer is spoken at the close.  It’s open to all – whether a regular churchgoer, someone who has never set foot in a church, of whatever faith (or none) as part of the church’s well-being programme.


The historic church of St Michael’s stands at the centre of the village of Hernhill; indeed, a church of some sort has stood on the site since the Saxons. The present building dates from the mid-fifteenth century, although some aspects of the church that was built in the twelfth century are still discernible. With a rood screen from the sixteen hundreds and a functioning bell-tower that still rings the changes at Sunday service, the church is a place that spans the centuries. It also has a connections to one of England’s darker moments; somewhere in the graveyard, in an unmarked grave, lie several of those who were killed in the Battle of Bossendon Wood in neighbouring Boughton, which in 1838 saw the last armed uprising on English soil…

The Chamber Choir, conducted by Your Loyal Correspondent and second-year assistant conductor, Matthew Cooke, will perform suitably meditative music by Tallis, Rachmaninov, Paul Mealor, Russell Hepplewhite, Sarah Rimkus and Will Todd. The event is free to attend; the church recommends bringing a torch in order to navigate entering the church for the event and at the close as it will be dark. Find the church online here.

Keep an eye out for future wellbeing musical events later this term, including music and birdsong in Studio 3 Gallery and a forest soundscape in the concert-hall…



Feb 13

Scholars’ Spotlight: Carmen Mackey

Continuing the series profiling Music Scholars at the University of Kent; this week, first-year alto reading Drama and University Music Performance Scholarship student, Carmen Mackey.

My name is Carmen Mackey and I primarily sing here at the University of Kent along with a bit of bass guitar on the side. At this point, I suppose it would make sense if I said I had a musical family who raised me surrounded by music and that I’m called Carmen after the opera. This is not the case – my parents (who are not very musical) simply liked the name!

I’ve always enjoyed performing so from a young age I attended extra-curricular stage schools. In year 7 I started classical singing lessons and since then have completed grades 2-8 in singing. I was incredibly lucky with my high school, St. Philomena’s Catholic High School For Girls and the musical opportunities it presented. With the school’s chapel choir each year we toured a different city in Europe, singing in Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Liege and Porto. Some stand out moments from this was performing the ‘Laudamus Te’ duet from Vivaldi’s Gloria in Porto Cathedral and singing the ‘Libera Me’ from Faure’s Requiem in the Kaiser Wilhelm Church Berlin.

In school, I also took part in the yearly musical and got the chance to play Fagin from Oliver, The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, Rooster from Annie and Nicely-Nicely Johnson from Guys and Dolls. At this stage, I will remind you that it was an all-girls school and because I can sing quite low the male roles were bestowed upon me. For my singing teacher’s opera studies degree, she wrote an opera version of the Room on the Broom book by Julia Donaldson in which I played the cat which was great fun. From year 10 – 13 I compered my school’s termly concerts at which I was grateful for the opportunity to host as well as perform. As Head Girl of my school, I set up and directed the Musical Theatre Club which I ran for 2 years. Just recently I went back to my school to see this year’s production of Sister Act at which I felt like a proud mum watching my proteges.

In Year 11 my singing teacher asked me if I would join her church choir as they were down an alto, and it was there, at St. Mary’s Church Choir Beddington, that I was really challenged and pushed as I was suddenly in a group of about 8-12 adults a mass in SATB who just picked up music and sang it, only rehearsing for about an hour before. It was here that my sight reading, blending and working within an ensemble vastly improved.

I started learning the bass guitar when I was 16 and have been involved in a jazz band in school and participated in band workshops at the Roundhouse in Camden. Last year I got a Merit in grade 4 Bass, so although it’s still relatively new compared to some other people who have been playing various instruments since they were 6, I really enjoy playing and it has been a useful challenge learning bass clef!

Carmen (centre row, third from right) with the University Chamber Choir in the Carol Service at Canterbury Cathedral in December

Since starting out at Kent, I have joined the University Chorus, Cecilian Choir, Chamber Choir, the Lost Consort singing plainsong, the Musical Theatre Society and just recently General Harding’s Tomfoolery. I’ve always enjoyed music as a subject in school, studying it at GCSE and A-level; part of the reason for choosing the University of Kent is the incredible extra-curricular department it offers that  I am thrilled to be a part of.

You can watch a short clip of Carmen singing with the Chamber Choir live on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, when it was broadcast from the Gulbenkian, in December here.

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