Category Archives: Music and Wellbeing

Lunchtime Concert explores South Indian music on 30 May

We’re delighted to have been able to reschedule our postponed Lunchtime Concert from February, to bring music from South India on Wednesday 30 May 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, taking place in Colyer-Fergusson Hall, 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.

Furley Page logo
Sponsors of the Lunchtime Concert series

Into the woods…

Had you ventured into the woods around Parkwood on Friday, you might have stumbled across a string quartet; not something you might expect, but this year’s student string quartet was involved in a photo-shoot ahead of an unusual performance next month.

The Billhook Nook outdoor theatre space, part of the Creative Campus initiative, will play host to a performance of Dvořák’s American quartet, as the ensemble heads out into the summer sunshine (or so we hope, anyway…) Comprising third-year Law student and Music Scholar, Lydia Cheng, second-year Asian Studies & Classical and Archaeological Studies student, Alice Nixon, second-year Music Scholar reading Mathematics, Molly Richetta on viola, and final-year Law student, cellist Alex Deacon-Viney, the ensemble plans to take Dvořák’s popular work out of the concert-hall and into somewhere you wouldn’t expect to hear it.

Assuming the weather is as good (or even better) than it is at the moment, people are encouraged to bring a picnic and enjoy some fine weather and even finer music on Thursday 31 May at 1.10pm. During what is always a busy term, with students (and staff) working under the pressure of examinations, the chance to hear music in an informal and relaxed environment will hopefully offer a welcome respite from the term’s busy commitments.

Admission is free, event details here.

Back through time: the Lost Consort

One of the smallest ensembles this year, the eight-voice Lost Consort has been quietly working away on ancient repertoire over the past couple of terms in preparation for two unique performances.

The group has been focusing on plainsong, including the luminous Kyrie by Hildegard von Bingen, in a sequence of music combined with Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, exploring the remarkable contrast that occurs when a piece of plainchant suddenly blossoms into a four-part motet.

Yesterday, the group (or most of them, anyway…) met to rehearse in the sonorous acoustics of Studio 3 Gallery, the University’s art gallery in the Jarman Building, where unfurling Ave maris stella and Victimae paschali laudes into the richly resonant space was a breathtaking experience; the pacing of these whorling lines needs different considerations when compared to the way we’ve been pacing them in rehearsals in the concert-hall. And Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus bloomed into a hugely expressive, lachrymaic ode in Studio 3, taking on both an emotional grandeur and contrastingly a greater sense of intimacy (six voices raised in such an echoing space) at the same time.

We’re preparing the sequence to perform amidst a sonic backdrop of a forest soundscape – and no, not just to play on Byrd/bird song… – which we were experimenting with yesterday, which created a wonderful sense of space, and which we are performing on Tuesday 3 April at 1.10pm; the change from musical colours to the natural sounds of birdsong leads the listener to a completely different place. And later, in June, the group will present the programme in the historic Undercroft of the 12-century Eastbridge Pilgrim’s Hospital in the heart of Canterbury as part of Summer Music Week.

If yesterday’s rehearsal was anything to go by, the two events promise to be revelatory; come and experience time-out-of-time for yourself on Tuesday 3 April…

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…

 

 

Chorus of approval

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.

Image: Molly Hollmann

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.

Image: Robert Berry

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.

Band substance: the Concert and Big Bands

Depending upon what time you pass by Colyer-Fergusson on a Wednesday night, you’ll either hear stirring film scores such as Gladiator, swing classics by Count Basie or versions of Stevie Wonder tunes ringing out. It can only mean one thing: rehearsal night for the University Concert Band and Big Band (though thankfully not at the same time…)

On the conductor’s podium is the sprightly figure of Ian Swatman – Bob Marley devotee and possibly the most dedicated fan Hull City will ever have – vigorously taking charge of Wednesday rehearsals and leading the assembled forces through repertoire in preparation for their various termly concerts. In December, the Big Band can be found in Santa hats and jazz-infused versions of seasonal repertoire for the popular Christmas Swing-along, whilst both forces combine each March for their roof-raising Spring concert, and for a farewell concert each June.

Both national and international students, staff and members of the local community find themselves grappling with the complexity of the repertoire Ian hurls at them each year, as they sweat blood to get the music under the fingers. Each year, too, auditions are held for solo singers, for the opportunity to sing with the Big Band.

Phil Veacock (centre) and the Deptford Rivieras in the concert-hall

A particularly exciting aspect to the working life of the Big Band is the opportunity to work with guest musicians; in the past, this has included trombonist Mark Bassey, trumpeter Mike Lovatt from the John Wilson Orchestra, and saxophonist Phil Veacock from the Jools Holland Orchestra. It’s a great opportunity for the young stars of tomorrow to work with, and learn from, accomplished professional performers.

Mike Lovatt with members of the Big Band

The Concert Band has worked with composer James Rae too, when James was commissioned by the Music department to write a piece for the gala concert to open the Colyer-Fergusson Building in December 2012. As part of an action-packed weekend, the Concert Band gave the world premiere of James’ Platform One.

Composer James Rae (right) with Ian Swatman and the Concert Band

The groups don’t just perform in the adaptable acoustics of Colyer-Fergusson Hall. The Big Band also launches the annual Summer Music Week, a musical farewell to the University’s academic year, with a trip to the seaside to perform on the Memorial Bandstand at Deal, which involves combining rehearsals and coach-trips with a visit to the promenade chip shop and the roving ice-cream stand. (It’s a hard life…). The band has also headed down the road to perform alongside pupils at St Edmund’s School, and also in Whitefriars in the heart of the city.

Whether it’s epic film soundtracks, 70s funk, classic big band standards or soul ballads: Wednesday evenings certainly sound unlike any other on campus…

Orchestrated harmony: the University Symphony Orchestra

If someone asked you where on campus a member of staff from the History department; a dentist; the Head of the Unit for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning; a primary school teacher; a peripatetic string teacher; a Senior Lecturer in Biosciences; a member of the Registry team; and a cross-section of undergraduate and postgraduate students, all led by a second-year reading Law, come together to tackle ambitious projects, you might scratch your head.

And yet, each week, this is exactly what happens when the University Symphony Orchestra comes together in Colyer-Fergusson Hall to rehearse for its termly concert, often meeting head-on the challenge of twentieth-century repertoire or titans of the late Romantic Period. The orchestra comprises students, staff and members of the local community who, each week, sit down and get to grips with works such as Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique or, in the case of the current term, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.6, the Pathetique. And that doesn’t include the works that the orchestra learns to accompany the University Chorus, either…

Such communal music-making offers the opportunity for students (and, it must be said, quite a few staff as well…) to escape the stress of their course commitments, and embark on a shared creative endeavour as they work towards a termly public performance. Each spring term, that performance is unveiled in the sonorous surroundings of the Nave of Canterbury Cathedral, always a highlight of the University’s performing calendar, and which regularly sees alumni making their own musical pilgrimage to the Cathedral to participate, and to relive the heady excitement of standing at the very top of the choral risers to sing, or of navigating the steps to the Crypt in the gloom clutching highly fragile musical instruments at various levels of expense.

The wonder of it all is that everyone gives up their free time to attend weekly evening rehearsals, and, as concerts loom, additional rehearsals and workshops at weekends. No-one is obliged to take part – excepting the Director of Music, who arrives in the concert-hall each Thursday clutching oversize scores, a selection of conductor’s batons and the fierce determination to master that term’s repertoire – and when concerts are in the offing and more rehearsals are taking place, time-management (or, in the case of some of the players, parental child-management) skills are called in to play, as everyone makes time for them on top of their coursework or vocational commitments.

The orchestral repertoire which they have embraced over the years has ranged from epic monsters of the Romantic Period – the Berlioz in 2016 being a memorable example – to energetic orchestral showpieces including the Symphonic Suite from Bernstein’s West Side Story, or Verdi’s Requiem. It’s hard work, particularly at the end of a long working day, especially for those students who have the additional task of commuting from Medway on a Thursday evening as well, where they have been studying Fine Art or Business and Management; and yet the enthusiasm with which the players embrace the works which the Director of Music hurls at them is wondrous to behold.

This year, the Symphony Orchestra will be led – for the first time for the entirety of the Cathedral concert – by Lydia Cheng (picture right), a second-year Music Scholarship student from Canada, who came to Kent for the strength of its Law degree as well as for the extra-curricular music-making opportunities that it offers. Elsewhere in the orchestra, a former member of the National Youth Orchestra sits amongst the woodwind, and a current member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra lurks in the brass section. There’s an international flavour to the orchestral members, too, including players from Malaysia, America and South Africa.

International in its make-up, ambitious in scope, hard-working in ethos and bringing students, staff and local community together from all walks of life – the University Symphony Orchestra really does epitomise all that the University is about.

Images: Molly Hollman © University of Kent