Category Archives: Be My Guest

Guest posts and contributions.

A letter from Vienna: Ben Weiland

Currently studying abroad for a year as part of his European Legal Studies with Kent Law School, and a member of the University Chorus and Cecilian Choir, singer Ben Weiland writes from Vienna…

Ben (centre, back) with the Cecilian Choir singing at Heart Kent Radio in 2016

Hello from Vienna! I just wanted to share what I’ve been up to and ask how everything is going with Kent music – I’m missing the Cecilian Choir! I saw that you did the Fauré Requiem recently – very jealous. What an absolutely marvellous work! I remember seeing the programme for the Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral as well which also looked marvellous – Tchaikovsky Symphony 6! I very much look forward to returning to it all in September!

Spending this year in Vienna has been (and will continue to be) an utter delight. It is a thriving city, full of life and excitement. The greatest beauty Vienna has to offer for me is its musical culture, which is unique and unparalleled. I didn’t fully comprehend until I arrived just how central Vienna has been to the history of music. It’s obviously famous for Mozart and Schubert, but Beethoven, Brahms and many other towering figures had lived and composed here. As a result, the current musical tradition is still very strong; you can’t walk around a corner without seeing the famous golden Musikverein poster advertising a concert, or a similar advertisement for an opera at the Staatsoper. Concert-going, I realised early on, is very much both a cultural and societal affair. It’s almost a customary tradition for the Viennese aristocracy to suit up and attend operas and concerts, as if it’s simply a matter of course. This isn’t to say it’s taken for granted, but this is just how life is – the people are surrounded by this supreme musical wealth. However, for someone outside of this aristocracy, the concerts are still very accessible. Ticket prices can be very reasonable depending on certain factors – very often I have decided to go to a concert on the day, which is made possible due to standing tickets (3-4 Euros for the opera; 5-6 Euros for the Musikverein). It cannot be stressed enough, the joy of knowing that every day there is a world-class concert that I could go to if I felt like it.

From a personal standpoint, I was very keen to go to the Musikverein, as this was the home of my father when he studied and played the violin here (before becoming a composer) in his early 20s. He had a month playing in the Vienna Philharmonic, so it was a must for me to attend a concert as soon as possible. I also had to refresh my memory of the great building, as I came here when I was little to attend the concert of my father’s piano trio, performed by the Altenberg Trio. I am reminded of a photo of me standing on the Brahmsaal stage, with the performers at the end of the concert, and naturally it was a very surreal experience for me to be there once again, around 14-15 years later. I have managed to go and hear the superb Altenberg Trio perform twice since being here and it is quite something, hearing wonderful pieces being performed with such a pure beauty. I still get a fuzzy feeling whenever I walk into the Grossersaal (or ‘Golden Hall’), even though by now I must have gone in over twenty times! Its nickname of the ‘Golden Hall’ is very apt, the clue is in the name – there is gold everywhere.

Alongside concert life, I have also been taking part in a lot of singing. Initially, it was just with the University Choir. We had a wonderful first semester, singing Frank Martin’s Mass with the Symphony Choir, and a range of baroque pieces (Palestrina, Byrd) with the Chamber Choir. The highlight, however, has to be the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that we performed with the University Orchestra at the Musikverein in September. This was an extraordinary experience! As if I hadn’t been reminded enough, standing on the stage of the Golden Hall it hit me that this is the home of the ground-breaking, incredible piece of music. It was first performed in 1824 here in Vienna, along with so many of Beethoven’s other works. Like with any really great music, regardless of other factors such as the history, it’s very hard to put into words the feelings, emotions and significance of experiencing it – all I can say is that it was a very special evening for everyone involved, something I will remember forever.

Ben (right) with the Cecilian Choir in 2016

Singing in the Symphony choir continues this semester, but the most exciting development since being in Vienna was being invited to sing in a professional choir – the Philharmonia Chor Wien – in productions of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto in an Austrian festival in the summer. Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled by the opportunity, and after already having a week’s rehearsals I am in awe of what the summer promises. The Philharmonia Chor Wien perform regularly at the Salzburg festival and the Baden-Baden festival, and receive engagements from major institutions and orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. I was aware of this before attending my first rehearsal, and indeed I was expecting a high standard, but was still nonetheless taken-aback by the quality of the choir’s sound. As the choir specialises more in operatic music, the sound is different to what I’m used to with more traditional, church choral music. It is different but in a very positive sense; in many ways richer and grander. The eminent chorus master and founder of the choir has very kindly been giving me some lessons, teaching me a real grounding in what is required of an operatic voice. Certainly, my voice has come on a lot in such a short space of time.

This exploration into operatic music has opened my eyes to an area I never had much experience with previously. My musical upbringing has always been with choral, chamber and orchestral music – a wide spectrum but one that can only offer insight to a certain extent into opera. My initial impressions are there is definitely a specific charm to opera that isn’t found in, for example, orchestral music. I am still trying to decide whether I am left overall satisfied to the same degree as with orchestral and choral music, but certainly in the Rigoletto there is a type of excitement and drama to the music that I haven’t come across before. This is ignoring the fact that acting is required in opera as well (something I’m looking forward to engaging in, albeit slightly nervously). Definitely this is one of the many aspects of life here that I wish to try and understand far more by time I leave in the summer, and what better place to learn than to be able to go to one of (if not the) greatest opera institutions in the world – the Wiener Staatsoper – every day if I wanted to!

I could write a small book on the musical life of Vienna, and undoubtedly there is much that I have left out of this short piece. There is so much more to be learnt and experienced throughout this semester, and to enjoy in the summer the numerous Musical festivals Austria puts on show. After my stay here I will have to sit down and try to write out everything that I have seen and experienced – a difficult task! The irony is that I’m actually here to be studying Law, which has been also very stimulating and of course I have been immersing myself in my studies, but music is my love and passion. When an opportunity to be in a place like this comes around, it has to be grabbed with both hands!

I just really wanted to share the experiences I have been having, say hello, and express my looking forward to returning to the University next year. I trust everyone is well at Kent and wish everyone the best for the rest of the year!

Be My Guest: recent graduate and singer Dan Pargeter on choral life after Kent

Recent Classics graduate, Dan Pargeter, on musical life at Kent, and continuing choral life afterwards in a new barbershop group named after a former well-known rehearsal venue on the campus…


I have often wondered, just when exactly would it be my time to contribute to this space? And what would it be that I contribute? I have read the pieces that precede this one, many written by talented musicians who I am fortunate enough to call friends. Friends with whom I have spent countless happy hours, over the course of my university career, making music. One more time then still, allow me to join you. Fitting is it that the occasion I write about now began at the University of Kent.

First Music Social – I arrive a little late, who would’ve thought, me!? Better late than never. For me before, not ever has the phrase rung so true. Told to join something, anything, at university; a music society was better than I had hoped. Monday night Chorus rehearsals? Yeah, why not, a great way to start the week. Hmmm Tuesday evening Chamber Choir practice, sign up for auditions here. A little soon after Monday, but well, nothing to lose right! Apart from my voice almost, before my audition, but that’s the state it’s in at the end of Freshers’ week and immediately after football trials. Just give it your all. 110% even! Evidently I was still in football trial mode.

What a wonderful four years it was. University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir, even a spot of barbershopping. Rehearsals, concerts, soirees, champagne receptions. Of course I’d do it all again, exactly like that, in a heartbeat. But unfortunately it cannot be.

So what now?

Keep singing. And so I did.

I received an email about a choir that was based not too far away from me, which rehearsed on a Monday night 7.15-9.30pm. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought, ‘I’ve done that before.’ A little earlier a start than I am used to perhaps, but I’ll most likely be late every week of course so actually it is quite perfect.

Rehearsing for my first concert with the choir. Early days but how it felt good to be singing again. Life after Kent.

An opportunity arises. There’s a vacant spot in the concert. They are interested in the barbershop group I’d briefly mentioned at some point. ‘Wow, yes, that would be great.’ So I ask the boys, send over a recording, and we are in the programme as guest performers. Our first gig on pastures new.

Interested in the barbershop. Naturally. Look at us. Interesting bunch to say the least…
Interested in the barbershop. Naturally. Look at us. Interesting bunch to say the least…

A wonderful reason to get together with the old gang. With a month to prepare, we will give it our all and hope for the best.

June 29th, 2013 – Royal Opera House Fused Festival

The beginning of a long day. The boys stayed at mine the night before. A quick sing-through our programme but little more than that. We arrive at the venue, the London Cruise Terminal, shortly before midday. Not quite sure what to expect, we receive a warm welcome from the events team. We are swiftly guided through to the performance space, where we await our scheduled sound check.

First glimpse of the venue
First glimpse of the venue

Ah, an encouraging sign. I notice a smile on the face of a member of the sound team when we finish our first line. Hopefully not the last smile of the day! We sing through our set, careful not to do too much, and once everyone is satisfied we thank the crew and depart the performance area. However this doesn’t mean that today’s preparations stop here. I still have a rehearsal with the Chorus. And then there are the two workshops that the barbershop has signed up to. An action-packed day ahead!

At 2pm, finished with Chorus rehearsal, I head over with the other chaps to take part in the Male Voices workshop. Involving professional musicians, this one is led by a particularly charismatic chap whose energetic style is evident from the beginning. This is just what we need to motivate ourselves for tonight. We explore the male voice through a series of sing-backs and rounds, taking us from the bottom of our “chest voice” through to the top of the falsetto. Something for everyone!

3pm sees us begin the Vocal Warm-ups class. Having done 3 hours of singing today, voices feel warmed-up already. In fact, rather tired is more accurate! Regardless we power through.

The basics reiterated, current knowledge refined, and new techniques to further explore, the workshop leaves us all feeling thoroughly warmed-up and singing in best voices. I personally feel somewhat rejuvenated and fresher than before I went in. The barbershop vow to perform a thorough warm-up before every rehearsal in the future! Good intentions.

And now a couple of hours rest before the evening concert. Or so we thought… We ask one of the event organisers if they could perhaps take a photo of the four of us together. ‘We have a professional photographer for this sort of thing,’ cometh the reply. Well, how lovely!

An hour later, and a hundred or so shots, we have just completed the group’s first photo shoot! Did not see that one coming. Feeling like stars (see below), we sit down, relax, and wait.

“Gentlemen. Introducing… Gentlemen!”  L-R: Charles Green, Dan Pargeter, Steve Graney, Adam Abo Henriksen
“Gentlemen. Introducing… Gentlemen!”
l-r: Kent graduates Charles Green, Dan Pargeter, Steve Graney, Adam Abo Henriksen

Buttons buttoned, laces laced, cuffs linked. We’ve even found time to sit and enjoy the first half of the concert! But now we are backstage waiting to hear our name.

‘Old. Telephone. Exchange!’

‘Old Telephone Exchange,’ I repeat to myself. I smile. We exchange nods. That’s us. We are ready. I walk out to take the stage, stop and turn. We face an audience of four hundred, our biggest yet, and bow in response to a very warm welcome. Experiencing a cocktail of emotion, I compose myself and give an Ab. Immediately the note blossoms in my head into the first chord. Excited, I take a deep breath…

At the end of our performance. We felt it went okay...
At the end of our performance. We felt it went okay…

And yes, even though this music-making wasn’t on familiar ground, as our voices began to fill and resonate in a new space, I think I can safely say that our feet were still very much firmly planted on the floor of the room that we knew as The OTE.

Clearly with feet not firmly planted, and not on the floor of The OTE, this one is undeniably for you, Mr Dan Harding...
Clearly with feet not firmly planted, and not on the floor of The OTE,
this one is undeniably for you, Mr Dan Harding…

Dan Pargeter

To keep up-to-date with the Old Telephone Exchange, follow them on Twitter. For further details on the group, visit the group’s website Hopefully, we’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future…


You can’t take it with you. Wait, yes you can!

Over on the University’s Employability blog, the first of three articles I’ve guest-written about musicians, transferable skills, and employability.

This first feature looks at the array of skills with which musicians are often equipped – sometimes without even realising….

Mightier than the sword…

(There’s even a reference to Hugh de Bonneville too…)

Read the article here.

Making waves at Medway: meet the new Music Society Committee

This year’s new trio at the helm of the Medway Music Society are feeling very pleased with themselves already; meeting them in the third week of the new academic year, membership is already up on last year’s total.

The man in charge this year is Jack McDonnell, who assumes the Presidency after being Vice-President last year. Vice-President for 2012-13 is Garrick Wareham, and Treasurer is Joe Tinker.

(l-r): Garrick Wareham, Jack McDonnell, Joe Tinker

The trio have once again set the musical life of the Medway campus rolling in continuing their highly successful Tuesday night Band Night and Rockaoke sessions, both of which were instigated last year and continue to attract crowds to Coopers on Tuesday nights. They’ve also set up special deals for Medway’s burgeoning Music Society members with music stores in town, and are hinting at some exciting new projects in collaboration with other societies at the campus that could lead to some large-scale projects in the year ahead.

“We were all over Freshers’ Week,” declares Jack decisively over lunch at the No.1 Cafe, “but there’s still more we can do. With the new BMus course that’s started here at Medway, there’s a bunch of new students we can get involved in the Society. We’ve already got more paid-up members than we had last year; and we want to get them all into Coopers!”

Garrick, meanwhile, is busy co-ordinating the return of the Medway Big Band which, he says enthusiastically, “we’re re-christening the Medway Jazz-Funk Band, which is the new direction we want to go.”

This year, Rockaoke starts next Tuesday from 8pm in Coopers; there’s also the launch of the Universities at Medway String Group, Big Band and Chamber Choir this term. The Society is now taking signups for Battle of the Bands which starts next month, and there’s even a Pub Golf social coming up! Get in touch with them via e-mail.

The Society has an active Facebook page and lively presence on Twitter, and looks set to continue developing the musical life at Medway. Keep an eye out; there’s plenty of exciting times ahead…

On Course: Emma Murton on the ABCD convention

Each August, the budding student conductor of the Chamber Choir in the following academic year goes on the Young Conductor’s Course with the Association of British Choral Directors summer school. This year, it was the turn of second-year Scholar, harpist and singer Emma Murton; here’s her story…


The ABCD choral conducting convention was a fantastic experience for me as a budding conductor. There were several highlights for me, including a session and performance by ”The White Rosette” and learning new tricks to the trade from Amy Bebbington – the leader of the young conductor’s course.

After settling in on the Friday into the amazing Leeds Metropolitan campus I met the other young conductors, all fantastic people I am keeping in contact with. With our free ABCD bags we pillaged all the stalls of their free samples of music and CD’s till they were bulging with new pieces and exciting new composers to explore for this year (and probably many years to come!). We then enjoyed a traditional and truly scrumptious Yorkshire meal with a round of the famous “Sheffield carols”, leaving our bellies full and voices cracked. It was then that I realised my voice was going to be running marathons this weekend!

The next morning we all arose bright and early to enjoy the warm-up session with Rhiannon Gayle, the founder of “Rock up and Sing” – a group which encourages people who have had bad experience with singing in the past to change their negative views on singing and enjoy it again. Her energetic and original warm-up’s will definitely feature in this year’s Chamber Choir warm ups, I can’t wait to use them! In the evening we all travelled to the Gala performance in Leeds town hall. It was an amazing building, full of impressive Victorian architecture and some unique musical history – from its commission and première performance of Belshazzar’s Feast to performances from Elgar and Rachmaninoff. The performance included the fantastic Swedish acapella group “Vocado” who were dressed in bright yellow trousers and bow-ties, a look I am trying to convince Dan to try for concerts this term! [Could be interesting:f or the group, or just me ? Dan.]

Throughout the weekend I experienced a huge variety of conducting and singing, with the highlight being the hugely talented group of young conductors and our workshops with Amy Bebbington. Each of us conducted completely different, enabling us to all gain new ways and techniques on choral leadership. Amy Bebbington lessons will stay with me this whole year as will the confidence the entire course gave me. It was a truly fantastic opportunity which I will treasure and use as the year progresses – watch out choir, we have some fun and hard work ahead!

Emma Murton

Be My Guest: Chris Gray reviews Benjamin Frith in concert

Be My Guest: an occasional series featuring guest posts and contributions. This week, Music Society President Chris Gray reviews yesterday’s lunchtime recital by Benjamin Frith.


Frothy Frith: Pictures a plenty!

Chris Gray
Top brass: Chris Gray.

During the ever popular Lunchtime Concert series, sponsored by Furley Page, I sat and listened to what was an absolutely outstanding performance by Benjamin Frith of Mussorgsky’s Original Pictures at an Exhibition. The concert not only forward looking to a performance of Ravel’s orchestrated version by the University Symphony Orchestra, but also provided a warming and gratifying experience on an otherwise cold and bleak day on the Canterbury campus.

This iconic piece opens with a simple Promenade played at a quicker tempo than the ear is used to, having been a veteran of many interpretations of the Ravel orchestration. Frith provided a very lyrical and sensitive performance of this renowned motif. The movement was in two sections; the chorale opening bars and the rich density of the harmony to follow, and this was apparent in Frith’s playing as he offered two beautiful passages of playing. Throughout the concert, the pianist had a way of creating different timbres of sounds from the piano, which provided even greater colour throughout the performance.

The next movement, Gnomus, shows off the grotesquery of the toy nutcracker present in this picture. The piano was alive with stunning misshapen motifs that installed terror into the listener. Frith had a brilliant tendency to unleash fury without losing control of his instrument which was apparent throughout the performance.

Following another Promenade between pictures the piece progresses to Il Vecchio Castello which depicts an old castle by night. The continuous pedal note in the left hand imitates the sombre and distant nature of this movement, whilst the reminiscent playing certainly transported the listener to another land.

Once again the listener is transported via an assertive Promenade towards the next painting Tuileries based on a picture of the park of the same name. The dexterity in articulation and delicate tempi changes conveyed the playful nature of the children depicted in the painting. This was in stark contrast to the following movement Bydlo, a huge cart drawn by oxen. The power of the piano itself was apparent throughout this movement and the dynamical contrast reflected the passing of the cart; heavy and unwieldy the playing was a relentless trudging through the thick mud lining the cart’s route, and the dense chords in the left hand mirrored this.

Via a yet another Promenade, Mussorgsky reflects on the previous picture with a reflective and sombre recapitulation of the main theme. Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells lifts the oppressive feeling of the previous movement. Ben showed great skill in not only the speed of his playing but also the accuracy at which he danced across the ivories. It was a great interpretation and the tempi at which Frith played seemed perfectly natural and transported the listener into the gallery. The next painting follows on immediately into an argument between two Jewish gentlemen: Samuel Goldberg and Schmulye. The two characters were exhibited during the movement, with great dynamical contrast between the sections and the different personalities within the music. The next painting Limoges depicts a busy market place and a discussion between a group of women. Again Frith interpreted this brilliantly with dynamic busy playing and reflected the lively nature of the market place. A dark and dank Roman Catacombe is represented by a sheer mass of noise from the piano, daylight could be seen between the piano stool and the pianist himself(!), as the solid columns of sound emitted from the instrument.

Following on from this picture, Mussorgsky reflected on the loss of his close friend with a chant-like, haunting Promenade which leads to an ephemeral ‘Amen’ reminiscent of his friend’s rise to heaven. The penultimate painting The Hut on Fowl’s Legs is of a clock in the shape of the hut of Baba Yaga. This painting provided two distinct sections ranging from evil, demonic and massive playing representing the drama that surrounds the witch Baba Yaga, and the mysterious and suggestive aura that represents the sorcery of the witch.

An eddying chromatic scale propels the user into the Great Gate of Kiev, which is the manifestation of the whole piece. Magnificent spread chords imitate the tolling bells of the Great Gate and the theme returns as a trident triumphant tune very fitting as a memorial to Mussorgsky’s great friend.

As an orchestral player, I felt the piece lacked body, which was probably due to the piano, and the fact that Ravel wrote such a wonderful orchestration of Mussorgsky’s original work. However this did not detract from the simple fact that this was an outstanding performance by a genuinely talented performer. Benjamin Frith transported us to Mussorgsky’s side as he walked around the gallery, and this concert will go down in history for me as an incredibly important one. Not only did it provide an insight into Mussorgsky’s original pursuance of timbre, dynamic and tempi and will prove invaluable to my experience as an orchestral tuba player playing this piece as part of the University Symphony Orchestra.

I hope the next concert is good, it has got a lot to live up to!

Furley Page logo
Sponsors of the Lunchtime Concert series

Don’t Blake my heart: Kent alumnus back at the Gulbenkian

Last week, the all-male vocal group ‘Blake’ gigged at the University’s Gulbenkian Theatre, and featured one of Kent’s musical alumni in the line-up. Director of Music Susan Wanless sneaked into the back row to see how he’s getting on…


One of the delights of being the Director of Music is to follow the subsequent careers of all our musical alumni when they leave Kent and go out into the big bad world. None has had a higher profile than tenor Humphrey Berney (E99). Having been a music scholar at Kent, conductor of the Chamber Choir and star of the summer operas, he went on the Royal Academy of Music and then worked with opera companies such as Glyndebourne and Garsington. In 2009 he joined the Classical BRIT awarding-winning group, Blake and now performs all over the world.

Last Wednesday, as part of the Canterbury Festival, Blake gave a concert here on campus. It was really great to see Humphrey again, and he was clearly delighted to back at his alma mater and the Gulbenkian Theatre, reminding the audience that the last time he appeared on its stage he had actually been hanged when he starred in The Beggar’s Opera! The concert was packed out and the group clearly appeals to all age groups … and particularly the ladies!

I confess that I thought that the programme would be too ‘cheesy’ for me, but I was swept away by the group’s consummate professionalism, musicianship and chemistry with the audience and loved every minute of it! They received a standing ovation at the end and were swamped by adoring fans in the foyer afterwards to sign programmes and CDs. As you can see, I did manage to catch up with him briefly, before he left Canterbury to head out to the Philippines tomorrow to continue his musical jet-setting career.

Theatre of Dreams: the new Marlowe

Tuesday evening’s gala opening concert at the new Marlowe Theatre celebrated the completion of a two-year refurbishment of the theatre, at the heart of Canterbury city. The star-studded evening saw the theatre’s official opening by the Duke of Wessex, and a performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra under David Parry, together with illustrious bass, Sir John Tomlinson. It also saw the University’s Director of Music, Susan Wanless, in the audience: here’s her reaction to the new building.


Image credit: BBC News

On Tuesday evening I went to the grand gala opening of the new Marlowe Theatre. I was bowled over by the building, both the foyer, bars and cafe, and the theatre itself, which is spectacular.

This is an amazingly exciting moment in the cultural life of Canterbury and The Philharmonia Orchestra has become the Marlowe’s Orchestra in Residence, with four concerts this coming season – so go and experience it for yourselves!

Read more about it on the theatre’s website.