Tag Archives: Cecilian Choir

Back to singing again! Although somewhat differently…

It was a relief this week to resume rehearsals; the concert-hall has been silent since March, but, for the first time, choral rehearsals for the University Chamber and Cecilian Choirs resumed – although a little differently to the way they took place before…

The floor of the concert-hall has been marked out with a grid, and chairs placed evenly at a distance of three metres; each choir only uses one or other set of chairs at either end of the hall, and rehearsal time is limited to one hour with the COVID-compliant air-conditioning running throughout (not a problem at the moment, but it’ll be interesting as external temperatures start to drop as we head towards winter…). And there’s no socialising before or after rehearsals, no mingling in the foyer; the singers have to sit socially-distanced outside, come into the hall in line, and leave the rehearsal in rows and follow the one-way system out from the building rather than mingling afterwards.

A socially-distanced Chamber Choir rehearsal

Sitting so far apart from one another, in rows rather than the usual gentle crescent-shape, is going to take some getting used to. No longer can you rely on those either side of you for support, drawing your sound and theirs together as part of the overall ensemble sound. And the singers at the back row are languishing a considerable distance from the front row, from the piano, and from the conductor. The wonderful intimacy of singing as part of a cluster of people has been replaced by a stark arrangement akin to an examination hall.

A first, socially-distanced rehearsal with the Cecilian Choir

But – it might yield different skills. The singers are going to have to develop a more confident sense of robust, internal rhythm; they’re going to have to watch more; they are going to have to listen harder to relate to what’s going on around them. Whilst we are working in this new, strange set-up, it might actually lead us to develop other skills to the ones we would normally develop in ensemble rehearsals. This term, repertoire includes richly-hued works by Will Todd, Steven Griffin, Michael Haydn, and the wonderful Advent antiphons; it will be fascinating to see how we learn them under the new ways of working – how differently, more quickly or slowly – and what the finished product will sound like.

And who  knows; taking those newly-developed skills back into singing in traditional formation (whenever that might be) might lead to a better overall ensemble sound. Like choirs everywhere at the moment, we are just going to have to wait to find out…

Cecilian Choir launches the Advent season in meditative Breathing Space event

Congratulations to the University Cecilian Choir, which launched the season of Advent last Friday with a highly atmospheric combination of antiphons, carols and periods of silence in a special Breathing Space occasion at St Michael and All Angels, Hernhill.

The interior of the church was bathed in candlelight for this unusual event, which is part of a series run by the church during the dark winter months, as an opportunity to escape from the pressures of the Digital Age and find the chance to enjoy a reflective, meditative space on the last Friday of each month. The Cecilian Choir travelled out to the fifteenth-century church to sing a sequence of carols, each prefaced by one of the great Advent antiphons, creating a contrast between the solemnity of the plainsong and the colours of the carols which followed.

The sequence began with a glass-clear rendition of the opening verse to Once in royal David’s city from second-year soprano, Felicity Bourdillon, which opened the door into the ensuing procession of carols and antiphons, punctuated by periods of stillness illuminated by the dancing candles set around the church.

The Choir, comprising staff and students at the University, relished the opportunity to usher in the season from the closeness of the choir-stalls. Afterwards, congregation and performers left in silence, following the line of candles flickering along the sides of the footpath leading away from the church and into the Christmas season.

Where science meets art: the Cecilian Choir and Cellular Dynamics

The University Cecilian Choir recently performed Ola Gjeilo’s colourful Sunrise Mass as part of the continuing Cellular Dynamics project, an initiative between the Music department and the School of Biosciences bringing together live music and cutting-edge research images.

Gjeilo’s orchestral mass setting is a perfect foil for the array of images and media culled from the School of Bioscience’s research portfolio, which unfolded live on the screen over the heads of the performers, managed by Reader in Pharmacology and Deputy Head of School, Dr Dan Lloyd.

Amidst a hushed darkness, the music and projections combined to create a marvellously meditative atmosphere, which held the audience enthralled throughout the performance.

The Cecilian Choir comprises staff, students and alumni at the University, and the performance, together with the String Sinfonia, was conducted by Deputy Director of Music, Dan Harding. The Choir and Sinfonia will perform the Sunrise Mass again on Friday 8 June at St Mary of Charity, Faversham, as part of Summer Music Week.

Images © Matt Wilson / University of Kent

Cecilian Choir prepares for Christmas

This year, the University Cecilian Choir is back and bigger than ever as it prepares for its Christmas concert, a mouth-watering selection of music and seasonal readings to launch the festive season.

The Cecilian Choir and Pops Orchestra

The choir, a by-invitation ensemble comprising undergraduate and postgraduate students, staff and alumni made its first public appearance last week (pictured above), with a smaller incarnation performing John Williams’ moving Hymn to the Fallen as part of a short remembrance event in Colyer-Fergusson Hall, accompanied by the new University Pops Orchestra. So far this term, the Choir has been preparing Ola Gjeilo’s richly-colourful Sunrise Mass for a special performing in March (about which more later…); currently, however, it’s full-on seasonal music as we prepare for A Christmas Cornucopia on the 1 December.

Will Wollen

The concert brings together carols and music by Handel, JS Bach and seasonal instrumental gems by Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Corelli, combined with a sequence of readings ranging from Thomas Hardy and William Barnes to (of course) Dickens’ well-loved A Christmas Carol. The readings will be brought to vigorous life by Will Wollen, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre Studies, and the instrumentalists of the String Sinfonia.

Prepare for crisp wintry scenes in Vivaldi’s Winter, meditative carols by Peter Warlock and Holst, joyous movements from Handel’s Messiah and words from George Eliot, Italo Calvino, Nancy Mitford and more as  A Christmas Cornucopia bubbles with festive cheer next month; find out more here

The singing will never be done: Cecilian Choir perform Memorial Ground

Thank you to all the members of the University Cecilian Choir and other performers, who took part in Memorial Ground by David Lang earlier today.

Combining music with poetry by Siegfried Sassoon, and a new poem by Nancy Gaffield, ‘The Turtle Dove,’ a member of the School of English, with archive image projection from the Special Collections and Archives, curated by Joanna Baines, David Lang’s haunting commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme filled the resonant acoustic of Studio 3 Gallery, with percussion played by postgraduate Cory Adams. The sombre mood of the event was set by third-year trumpeter, Alex Reid, who prefaced the performance with ‘The Last Post.’ The readings were by James Cavalier, Masters student in Creative Writing.

Vintage photographThe arriving audience was greeted by the evocative sound of an original period portable phonograph playing records from the time, generously loaned for the occasion by Andrew Briggs, member of staff and also a member of the Choir.

In rehearsal: Memorial Ground

The University Cecilian Choir spent this afternoon rehearsing Memorial Ground over in Studio 3 Gallery, ahead of performance next Thursday.

The event brings together a new choral piece by the American composer David Lang, together with poetry by Siegfried Sassoon, and also period images drawn from the University’s Special Collections and Archives. Here, the ‘hymn’ of the piece is interspersed with a new poem, The Turtle Dove, by Nancy Gaffield, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of English.

img_0886img_0883The performance on Thursday 10 November at 1.10pm in Studio 3 Gallery, which will be prefaced by a performance of The Last Post, is free, and is one of three events taking place across two days as we commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme; more details here.

Summoned by bells: rehearsing ‘Memorial Ground’

So far this term, the University Cecilian Choir has been at work rehearsing Memorial Ground, a commission by the 14-18NOW project from composer David Lang to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. This fragmentary, hesitant choral piece is full of energy-charged moments of stillness, and the Choir’s performance next month will combine the work with poems by Siegfried Sassoon as well as a new poem by poet Nancy Gaffield, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of English and the author of Tokaido Road and Continental Drift.


The University Cecilian Choir

In rehearsal this afternoon, words and music came together in dialogue, with phrases from various poems answered by musical responses from the Choir creating moments of real tension. Underlining both words and music, the intoned notes of the tubular bells hung in the air (reminiscent on occasion of the opening of Britten’s War Requiem), evoking a sombre tone that enhances the commemorative atmosphere that Memorial Ground conjures forth so effectively. Even though we were rehearsing in the wood-panelled concert-hall rather than the intimate, resonant surroundings of Studio 3 Gallery (where the performance on Thurs 10 November will take place), there was still a theatricality to the session as we ran through the whole piece, complete with poetry readings. Particular phrases took on a highly charged dimension – the Choir’s truncated ‘Those who…’ creating an air of expectancy; the sudden tension as Sassoon’s line ‘Soldiers are sworn to action: they must win’ is answered by the Choir’s haunting ‘Those who have fallen…’


Rehearsing ‘Memorial Ground’

The event on Thursday 10 November will also include a series of image projections drawn from the University’s Special Collections archive, curated by Joanna Baines, relating to materials of the time. The combination of words, music, bells, images and silence promises to create a profound, moving and evocative moment of remembrance.

Admission to the performance on 10 November is free: more details here. The event will also be live-streamed: details to follow.

Planning for the autumn: Memorial Ground

With the University year now over, it’s back into the planning period, developing ideas for repertoire and programming for next year.

David_Lang_imageOne of the projects I’m currently devising for the University Cecilian Choir is a performance – well, perhaps ‘realisation’ is a more appropriate term – of David Lang’s Memorial Ground, co-commissioned by East Neuk Festival and the 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

What’s fascinating to me about the piece is the multitudinous ways in which it can be realised. The piece’s great strength is its adaptability, its flexibility which allows ensembles to craft it in a way which will make it unique to their performance. The possibilities of including poetry, spoken word, wordless solos, even instruments, offers plentiful creative opportunities to put together a performance that can reflect, resonate with, or speak to different spaces, different venues, different times. Usually, as a conductor, you’re endeavouring to be as fidelious to the score as possible, paying close attention to realise the piece in a way faithful to the composer’s intentions. With this piece, however, you are given freedom to realise the piece in any manner you wish, using content supplied by the composer but also with the ability to involve additional material beyond that supplied by Lang. Of course, there’s a responsibility to make sure that new material is appropriate to the nature of the piece’s artistic intent, that it fits thematically, emotionally, such that the piece can accommodate it, without the new ideas feeling deliberately grafted or imposed onto the pre-composed material.

Once the new academic year begins in September, the Cecilian Choir will form at the beginning of October, which will give us approximately four rehearsals to put the piece together, and I’m hoping to be able to perform the piece several times during November, the month of Remembrance, in contrasting venues – one of which might be the bomb-crater on the hillside north of the city, on the University campus. The crater dates from the Baedeker Raids between 31 May – 7 June during World War Two, rather than from the First World War, but it remains as tangible evidence of the countryside scarred by armed conflict. A performance of the piece, with the Choir at the bottom of the crater and audience arranged around the slopes, might be particularly effective, as the piece speaks across the years to a site directly connected with the country at war.

Bomb crater Canterbury - Copy

It’s particularly exciting to be preparing the piece to start rehearsals in October, searching for suitable materials to use as text, including poems, and songs from the period, to imagine different ways in which to bring the piece off the page, and to consider suitable venues in which to bring it to life. It would be a fitting way of commemorating the events of the Battle of the Somme, and all those who gave their lives – both then and ever since – in war.

We’ll keep you posted as to how the project unfolds.

Radio days: Cecilian Choir to feature on BBC Radio 3

Fresh from its appearance on Heart Kent Radio recently, the Cecilian Choir will once again take to the air-waves when it features on BBC Radio 3’s My Choir this Sunday.

radio 3 logoThe weekly programme celebrating choral singing will feature the Choir as part of its ‘Meet My Choir’ slot, in which it highlights choirs from around the country. Needless to say, the student and staff members of the Cecilian Choir are very excited at the prospect.


Image: Matt Wilson

You can listen to the programme this Sunday at 4pm here; thank you to English lecturer and member of the bass section, Dr Michael Hughes, for coming up with the idea! The audio extract will also feature the University String Sinfonia.

And if you want to hear the Choir and Sinfonia live in performance, they will be celebrating Easter with two of Vivaldi’s dramatic choral works, the Credo and Magnificat, alongside a trio sonata and Mozart’s Ave Verum at St Peter’s Methodist Church in Canterbury on Thursday 31 March at 1.10pm; details here.