Passing through the University campus on a Monday night, you might just hear the voices of around a hundred and twenty people in full throttle in Italian, or French, or Latin; occasionally Finnish, Czech or German. Draw closer to the open doors of Colyer-Fergusson Hall, and you will spy the combined might of the University Chorus in its regular weekly rehearsal.
Drawn from students, staff, alumni and members of the local community, the University Chorus comes together each Monday night to prepare repertoire for its termly performances, two of which take place in the concert-hall, and the third in the sonorous surroundings of Canterbury Cathedral each spring, to which alumni regularly return to take part. Accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra, the Chorus regularly grapples with popular titans from the choral canon – the Mozart or Verdi Requiem, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis – as well as more unusual works, which have recently included Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater and Rutter’s When Icicles Hang.
Each June, the Chorus strikes a more informal note with choral medleys and stirring opera-pops for the annual Gala concert during Summer Music Week which closes the academic year, and can be found adroitly becoming a battalion of chimney-sweeps in Mary Poppins, or (in the nicest possible way, of course) dishevelled London urchins in My Fair Lady. Dinner jackets are swapped for bold striped blazers and straw boaters; in a recent American-themed spring concert, the Chorus adorned themselves with stars-and-stripes to imitate farm-yard livestock in Copland’s Old American Songs. It’s not all meditations on Death and mass settings, you know…
As many find, making music – and singing in particular – is a wonderful antidote to the stresses and strains of working life, and Chorus provides a welcome respite from the pressures of dissertation-thrashing in the Templeman Library or grappling with your inbox as a senior member of staff. Staff from both academic and support services can be found alongside postgraduates and undergraduates, senior administrators alongside alumni, members of Registry reaching for those top notes along with local residents. When you’re singing in Polish, or Finnish, all social distinctions are cast aside as you grapple with linguistic challenges and try to keep one eye on the vocal score and one on the Director of Music. But with a strong international flavour to the University community, there’s usually a native-speaker sitting in the choral risers who can advise on tricky pronunciation!
The University Chorus started life as a fifty-strong group which rehearsed in the Senate Building, before taking up residence in the cavernous confines of Eliot College Hall, with its Monday nights in the nowhere-to-hide lack of acoustics in Grimond LT-1; nowadays, it sits in Colyer-Fergusson Hall and watches as the acoustic curtain shifts and flows according to need. Later in the year, it sits on the vertiginously-steep choral risers in the nave of the Cathedral and wonders how it can make its way safely down to the flagstone floor again… The life of a University Chorus member is never dull.
The Chorus is in action this Saturday in the annual Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert, singing Puccini’s youthfully vigorous Messa di Gloria; details and tickets here.