Category Archives: Notes on Music

The philosophy of music: or the music of philosophy ?

A milestone for the University Cecilian Choir

Congratulations to all the students, staff and alumni who were a part of the University Cecilian Choir‘s service of Choral Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday.

It was the first time the Cecilian Choir has sung at Canterbury Cathedral, and as seasoned choral evensong singers will know, it’s quite a discpline to learn; the pointing and flexibility of psalm-singing, the need for security in delivering the unaccompanied Responses, and the constant having-to-be-on-your-toes throughout the service so you are ready for what comes next, with the right music in the right order, able to pluck the note of your chord from the intoned sentence from the Precentor. Not withstanding the additional challenge of singing in split formation across an extremely wide aisle in the Cathedral Quire, in mixed-voice arrangement without the security of singing amongst others of your voice-part. And all in front of an expectant congregation, fitting your contribution flawlessly into the well-oiled machinery of the Liturgy…

In rehearsal: Cantoris…
…and in rehearsal: Decani

The Choir rose the occasion marvellously, particularly in Stanford’s Canticles in C and Elgar’s Ave Verum Corpus, a heady blend of lyricism and stirring ensemble singing.

It was lovely to welcome back some former members of the Choir and University alumni to take part; thanks too to organist Charles Francis, Organ Scholar and sixth-form pupil at St Edmund’s School, for playing for the service.

We are back at the Cathedral this Friday night, as the University Chamber Choir performs in the sonorous acoustics of the Cathedral Crypt to launch this year’s Summer Music Week...find out all that’s coming up 31 May – 8 June here.

The view of the Cathedral from the University campus

Between Worlds: in rehearsal

With the new term beginning earlier this week, rehearsals for Summer Music Week have begun in earnest, and the String Sinfonia and Chamber Choir have been once again getting to grips with Between Worlds, an exciting multi-media odyssey which comes to Colyer-Fergusson as the penultimate event in our week-long music festival.

Both choir and strings have been busy rehearsing Anna Phoebe’s new piece; earlier this week, Anna came in especially to work with the String Sinfonia,

The exciting aspect of new music is watching it slowly evolve, and there was time on Wednesday for Anna and percussionist Leon to develop ideas for the timpani part, which plays a crucial textural role at key moments in the piece.

The full performance beams in to Colyer-Fergusson on Friday 7 June at 7.30pm; find out more here…

Summer Music Week details now online

We’re very pleased to reveal the full line-up of events for this year’s Summer Music Week live online this morning!

Launching on Friday 31 May with a sonorous concert by the Chamber Choir and Consort in Canterbury Cathedral Crypt, our musical farewell to the academic year unfolds over the next eight days to include a trip to the seaside with the University Big Band at Deal Bandstand, a recital by University Music Scholars, a Gala concert with the Concert and Big Bands, the String Sinfonia and Chamber Choir in the premiere of Between Worlds exploring music and science by Anna Phoebe, all culminating in the annual Music for a Summer’s Day with the Chorus and Orchestra bidding a tearful farewell to this year’s music-making.

See all that’s to come, grab your tickets and help us celebrate another musical year in the life of the University as it draws to a festive close. The brochure will be available shortly…

String Scholars have an eggcellent time at the Easter Orchestra week

Not content with busily rehearsing and performing during term-time, final-year Music Performance Scholars and string-players Žaneta Balsevic and Molly Richetta headed off to Shropshire last week to participate in an Easter Orchestra Week run by the Easter Orchestral Society at Ellesmere College. Here, Molly reports on a week of orchestral and chamber music rehearsals, concerts and chains…


During the Easter break, Žaneta and I attended an orchestral course in Shropshire called Easter Orchestra Week. It was a week of intense and challenging music making with a huge orchestra of like-minded music lovers.

The list of music for the week was extensive; there were four main works that were rehearsed each morning, and in each afternoon and evening rehearsal we would sight-read through one or two works. The four main works were performed in an informal concert on the last afternoon. These included From the House of the Dead suite from a ballet by Janáček, which uses chains in the percussion section to represent the chains of the prisoners where the work is set. The second was Symphony No. 3 by Arvo Pärt; between the second and third movements was a thunderous cadenza for the timpani (obviously milked to its fullest extent) which took the rest of the orchestra completely by surprise on the first play through. The third work was Concerto Festivo by Andrej Panufnik. This was challenging as the meter changed every couple of bars. I was talking to the musical director at breakfast one morning and he said that the composer was fascinated by trains, and while traveling would have ideas and write them down- but had forgotten exactly the time signature of the part he had written before, hence the constant changes from ¾ to 3/8!

The final work was the famous tone poem by Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, the story of a practical joker and possibly the most technically difficult but rewarding of the four works. All four of these I grew to love as the week went on.

In the afternoons and evenings, we sight-read through many of the most famously difficult pieces in the orchestral repertoire, including the ballet Daphnis and Chloé by Ravel and Shostakovich’s Symphony 12. Most of these sessions I spent clinging on for dear life in the viola section and praying that I didn’t make my debut as a soloist in one of the rests. One of my favourite pieces of the week was Rodion Shchedrin’s Naughty Limericks; a piece full of humour. One moment of the piece required the player at the very back of the viola section to play the first violin tune in the wrong key as loudly as possible at one of the few quiet moments. The final evening before the performance brought some light relief with film music including ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. In these sessions we also had the opportunity to sit in different seats and sections, so I was able to play violin as well as viola through the week, and people had the chance to play concertos or sing as soloists.

The conductors and the leader of the orchestra were incredible from start to finish in the week- being able to tackle such repertoire was an experience I will not forget, and they made even the most difficult pieces enjoyable and (almost) playable!

After lunch we had free time which some people used to play through chamber music. I had the chance to tick many pieces off my bucket list; I was able to play Mendelssohn octet, a Dvorak string quintet and the Smetana quartet (which may have the best opening tune for viola of any quartet I have heard) among others! It was wonderful to be around so many like-minded people who were capable of and exited to sit down and read through pieces. The location of the course was perfect- in a school in the middle of the beautiful Shropshire countryside, which others used the free time to explore.

Even though the music from the week was great, it was the people on the course which made it so much better. There was a wide range of ages and professions of people and getting a chance to speak with more experienced members of the orchestra was a real privilege. The atmosphere was so friendly; Žaneta and I went down to breakfast on the first morning and sat on a table of strangers-who all spoke to us as peers and friends. Every evening exhausted from the day of rehearsing we would head to the bar and get to know the other members over a few too many glasses of wine. I was lucky enough, as well as 5 others, to be given a scholarship. The others quickly became our close friends, and as always in the music world, we found out we had mutual friends.

It was a brilliant opportunity to experience music that as an amateur musician you would not get the chance to play anywhere else. I remember sitting in the first rehearsal and feeling amazed that so many people who do not work in music were meeting together to spend a week of their life playing music purely for the enjoyment, inspiration and challenge that comes from it. I feel that my sight-reading has definitely improved as a result of playing so many challenging works, as well as the ability to convincingly pretend that I know where I am. Many of the members had been going back every year for many years, and I hope to be able to go back again next year too!

Out of this world: playing The Planets with the Virtual Orchestra

The Virtual Orchestra is currently ensconced in Canterbury, an immersive digital experience evoking the feeling of being a part of the Philharmonia as it performs Holst’s epic The Planets suite. The installation breaks the orchestra up into its various sections, and visitors can tour round a filmed performance to see and hear the physicality of performing.

Several of us took the opportunity yesterday afternoon to escape from the pressure of looming academic deadlines and visit the exhibition, housed in the back of the Sidney Cooper Gallery on the high street, with the student players taking their instruments with them – the installation has mock orchestral desks set up around the various sections, with sheet music, allowing you to play alongside the performance.

David, Fleur, Your Loyal Correspondent, Fleur, Rory, Sophie and Jeni: ready to take on Holst

Moving from bright afternoon sunlight into the sepulchral darkness of the exhibition, we walked around the different ‘rooms’ before each player set up in his or own own station; the Event Manager very kindly agreed to start the filmed performance from the beginning, and we were off…

Second-year Economics student and viola player, Jeni Martin, at the start of ‘Mars’

Third-year Psychology student, Peter Coleman, plays as part of the digital first violins

Each ‘room’ in the installation focuses both visually and aurally on the various orchestral sections – strings, woodwind, brass, percussion – with the orchestral sound weighted in order to favour the respective instruments.

The view from behind the clarinet section
First-year Physics student, David Curtiss and second-year Drama student, Maddie Rigby, getting to grips with the clarinet section

Lit by the solitary LED stand-light and the glow from adjacent screens featuring the various orchestral musicians in action, it really is an immersive experience.

Top brass: Masters in History student, Rory Butcher, playing along with the performance
Third-year soprano and Art History student, Fleur Sumption, and mathematics PhD student, Floris Claassens, following the score ahead of singing along in ‘Neptune’

Members of the public visiting the installation also stopped to listen to the students playing; there was a lovely moment where a girl of about three or four was dancing along with the string-playing students, being filmed by her delighted parents!

“I really had an absolute blast,” said third-year Psychology student and violinist, Peter Coleman, “I can’t speak for anyone else but I myself was stuck in a deep, bottomless rut of essay-writing and referencing. Playing my way through Holst reminded me what it was like to truly enjoy something again (we don’t need to go into note-accuracy do we?). It also reminded me what an enormous amount of respect I have for that suite. I played ‘Mars,’ ‘Venus’ and ‘Jupiter’ in my community orchestra, and though it paled in comparison to the scale, colour and grandiosity of the Philharmonia, it taught me so much about how expressive and visual a piece of music can be. Though my playing was patchy at best, I do recall a buzz coming from onlookers who drifted in and out of our section, and there were a couple of people who liked us so much they didn’t leave.”

Over an hour later, we emerged back into the gallery having heroically sight-read our way through the entire suite, including Joby Talbot’s additional movement (there are, sadly, no photos of Your Loyal Correspondent, the Director of Music and the Music Administrator thoroughly enjoying themselves in the percussion room…). “It was really fun,” commented second-year violinist and viola-player, Jeni Martin, “and a great break from essay deadlines.”

We loved playing at the exhibition yesterday. And we giggled our way through a couple of the trickier passages..! Maddie Rigby, second-year Drama student and clarinettist

“As a trombonist,” reflected Rory Butcher, studying for a Masters in History,  “the first movement of Holst’s Planets Suite is one of those pieces that I’ve never been able to play in the right setting (i.e. as part of a full symphony orchestra). Well yesterday I got pretty close! It was amazing being able to play along with the “pros”, and to see the entire piece come together across the different sections. It was even more incredible being able to participate, even in a small way, so it was very gratifying to see some of the public enjoying our contributions!”

To have a chance to get the feeling that you were playing alongside musicians in such a fantastic orchestra is an opportunity that really shouldn’t be missed – David Curtiss, first-year Physics student and clarinettist

Our thanks to Event Manager, Carys, and assistant Tom for making us welcome, and well done to our own Guardians of the (musical) Galaxy for participating.

Guardians of the (musical) Galaxy…

Image round-up: Minerva Voices and the String Sinfonia

It’s been an action-packed musical week this week, with several events unfolding across three days.

Composer Russell Hepplewhite came to Colyer-Fergusson on Wednesday to hear Minerva Voices, the University’s upper-voice chamber choir, perform his recent work, Fly away over the sea, as part of the choir’s lunchtime concert. Members of the String Sinfonia joined the choir for a programme which includes music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Ola Gjeilo, alongside plainsong and an American spiritual

Russell Hepplewhite (centre) with Minerva Voices at the Lunchtime Concert

Minerva Voices, conducted by Dan Harding, in rehearsal that morning

Yesterday, the string were in action once again as the String Sinfonia performed a tea-time concert of serenades, including works by Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Britten’s Simple Symphony.

The action continues tonight, as the University Chamber Choir performs a meditative service by candlelight at St Michael’s Church, Hernhill, called Breathing Space, an hour-long event combining music and silence that creates a space for tranquility and reflection. The event starts at 7.30pm and is free, and draws the week to a close in an oasis of calm.

Which will last until next Friday’s annual roof-raising gala concert with the University Concert and Big Bands…

Worn and Weathered: new exhibition comes to Colyer-Fergusson Gallery in March

Music and art come together throughout the month of March, as the Kent-based collective of artists, Earthbound Women, presents a new exhibition in Colyer-Fergusson Gallery. Worn and Weathered will feature landscape in the extreme eroded by centuries of wind and relentless rain and the pounding of the sea.

Earthbound Women are united by a passion for clay, earth, form and landscape. Exhibiting together regularly, they record their dreams, annotations, observations, aspirations and their life in Kent. The exhibition features work by ceramicists Barbara Colla  and Clare Curtis, painter Julie Frampton, painter and printmaker Ruth McDonald, and printmaker Kristiina Sandoe.

Coastal Strata: Ruth McDonald
Russell Hepplewhite

The exhibition reflects the Lunchtime Concert which will be given by Minerva Voices, the University’s female-voice chamber choir, and ensemble on 13th March, and links particularly to the idea of exploring landscapes, in Tundra, an evocative piece by Ola Gjeilo reflecting part of his native Norway, and Fly away, fly away over the sea, a recent setting of a words by Christina Rossetti by the exciting British composer Russell Hepplewhite, who will be in attendance. The programme also includes music by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. Both the concert and the exhibition explore concepts of the natural landscape, and also celebrate women in the arts, as musicians, writers, composers and artists.

Painting by Julie Frampton

Earthbound Women’s Worn and Weathered will be on display in Colyer-Fergusson Gallery from  Saturday 2 to Saturday 30 March during normal working hours; admission is free, and there is disabled access. The Lunchtime Concert by Minerva Voices and Ensemble is on Wednesday 13 March at 1,10pm in Colyer-Fergusson Hall; admission free, suggested donation £3, more details online here.

Chamber Choir sings Choral Evensong

Many thanks and congratulations to the members of the University Chamber Choir on delivering a fine Choral Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday.

The University Chamber Choir preparing to process into Choral Evensong

The students travelled down the hill to participate in the centuries-old tradition of evensong, with a colourful set of Responses written by David Truslove, and the evocative anthem Blest are the Pure in Heart by composer James Webb, both of which rang beautifully in the lofty roof of the Quire.

Composer James Webb and daughter (centre) with the University Chamber Choir in the Quire of Canterbury Cathedral

And thank you to James, who had travelled down to Canterbury especially to hear the Choir perform his piece. It was a lovely opportunity for the students to participate in the daily life of the Cathedral and experience the nature of the service of Evensong.

We return to the Cathedral for the annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in the Nave on Saturday 30 March, and the University Cecilian Choir will be singing Choral Evensong on Tuesday 28 May.