As part of the anniversary celebrations to mark the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Colyer-Fergusson Building on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus, we’re delighted to have commissioned a new piece by the composer Russell Hepplewhite.
The piece, written for mixed-voice choir and string orchestra, is a setting of the Magnificat interspersed with four new poems written by Nancy Gaffield in the School of Creative Writing. Each poem, inspired by an historic painting, responds to the canticle, the ‘Song of Mary,’ in which Mary rejoices that she will give birth to the Christ-child and the positive changes which will be wrought in the world.
Recently named one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential People in London, Russell Hepplewhite has won critical acclaim for his ground-breaking operas for children including Shackleton’s Cat, Silver Electra and Laika the Spacedog, written for English Touring Opera. His music appears on CD releases for labels including Regent Records and has been featured on BBC Television and Radio, as well as being performed at venues including the Royal Albert Hall, the Wigmore Hall, the Library Theatre Luton, the Purcell Room and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Most recently, his collaboration with the poet Michael Rosen, a set of children’s songs entitled Everything, is included in the Friday Afternoons song bank project, inspired by Britten’s song-cycle of the same name.
Nancy Gaffield is Reader Emeritus in Creative Writing at the University of Kent and an award-winning poet with six poetry publications. Her first collection of poetry, Tokaido Road (CB editions 2011) was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize and was awarded the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize that year. Other poetry publications include Continental Drift (Shearsman 2014), Meridian (Longbarrow 2019) and Wealden (Longbarrow 2021), which is a collaboration with the musical group The Drift. She was commissioned to write a libretto for the opera, Tokaido Road: A Journey after Hiroshige, composed by Nicola LeFanu. It premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2014 and subsequently toured nationally. She regularly gives workshops, lectures and readings, including festival appearances such as the Aldeburgh and Ledbury Poetry Festivals, the Canterbury Festival, and the Words and Music Festival, Rolvenden, Kent.
Russell’s music is richly colourful, highly expressive and also immediately accessible, and it’s very exciting to have commissioned a brand new work to mark the opening of Colyer-Fergusson, the building which forms the centrepiece for extra-curricular music at Kent. By bringing Russell’s translucent musical language together with Nancy’s brilliantly evocative poetry, it will be a fantastic opportunity for students and staff at the University to give the premiere as part of the year-long anniversary celebrations, and a unique take on a traditional moment in the liturgy.
The new setting will be premiered in Colyer-Fergusson Hall by the University of Kent Cecilian Choir and String Sinfonia on Friday 31 March 2023, with a further performance later in June as part of the department’s summer music festival.
Students, staff and alumni of the University sang at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday, taking part in the centuries-old tradition of Choral Evensong in the heart of the city as the University Cecilian Choir; as well as welcoming an in-person congregation, the event was also livestreamed.
Congratulations to everyone who took part, including visiting organist, John Wyatt, who played for the service, and to the Cathedral for welcoming the Choir. It’s a wonderful opportunity to sing in that richly-resonant acoustic as part of a lineage of worship across the centuries, and the performers enjoyed the service immensely.
The service remains online to watch on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel below.
The University Cecilian Choir is preparing to take part in the centuries-old tradition of Choral Evensong next month, when it will sing the service at Canterbury Cathedral on Tuesday 15 February at 5.30pm.
Comprising students, staff and alumni, the choir will also be welcoming back a handful of former students from near and far to sing; as well as an in-person congregation, the service will also be livestreamed on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel for those who would like to watch online.
Amongst the repertoire will be the lovely anthem, Peace I Leave With You, by the American composer, Amy Beach. Join the Choir live or online in a few weeks’ time, as they sing evensong at the heart of the cathedral city in what promises to be a lovely occasion with singers past and present.
After so long without them, it’s genuinely exciting to be back with musical events as the Christmas season starts to unfold.
The Cecilian Choir, comprising students, staff and alumni launched the Advent season with a sequence of plainsong and carols at St Michael’s Church, Hernhill, a meditative candlelit event interspersed with periods of silent reflection; there was a wonderfully atmospheric moment during one such moment, when the church clock struck on the hour at eight o’clock.
This year’s Chamber Choir, Minerva Voices, returned to the Cathedral on Monday 6 December, for the first time since December 2019, to sing for the University Carol Service; always a special event in the university calendar, drawing its community together in a modified, COVID-safe manner that was nonetheless a very welcome opportunity to come together at this time of the year. Congratulations to final-year Psychology student and Music Award Holder, Felicity Bourdillon (above, fifth from the right), whose solo verse to open ‘Once in royal David’s city’ lifted clear into the Cathedral Nave at the start of the service.
And last night, members of the String Sinfonia were in action in a fearless concert showcasing the versatility of music for string orchestra, including Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro and some light-footed folksong arrangements by John Rutter.
We’ve still a week of events to go before the term ends; but it’s great to be back.
Erasmus-student, cellist and singer, Laura Osswald, looks back on her time as part of extra-curricular music-making, and how she continues to be involved all the way from her home Germany during lockdown.
More than two months have passed since I have left the University of Kent. But the connection with the Music Department is still strong and will continue to be.
Looking back on my Erasmus semester in Canterbury, music and the amazing people I got to know through it were a huge part of what turned this time into a great, enriching experience. Music allowed me to develop friendships not just based on the common fate of going to the same lecture or living in the same flat, but based on the shared passion of making music, especially making music together with others.
Within the music department, I never felt like a stranger – instead, going into the Colyer-Fergusson building more and more felt like coming home.
Being part of the Symphony Orchestra, the Cecilian Choir and the String Sinfonia and several small groups, I was very involved in the Music Department from the start. In my blogpost from November, I could only look back on the first concerts, but many more have followed. Christmas time had started wonderfully with the Advent Breathing Space with the Cecilian Choir in the medieval St Michael’s Church in Hernhill. My first term then ended with the fantastic concert with the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. 2020 continued to be full of various musical activities. For Alice in Wonderland, I got the chance of not only singing in a choir, but also dancing as a playing-card which I enjoyed very much!
With the amazing University Camerata, we had a nice family concert of Peter and the Wolf where I was leading the cello section – so exciting and a great experience! I also continued to make chamber music: I joined a string quartet that performed at the Law Ball and a piano trio. With the Symphony Orchestra and String Sinfonia, we worked hard on our repertoire for the concerts in the end of March and I loved our rehearsals – but unfortunately, Covid-19 came in the way. Particularly the cancellation of the Cathedral Concert was very sad for me as it would have offered the unique opportunity to play in the impressive Canterbury Cathedral – I even would have had a small solo in Duruflé’s Requiem. It would have been a great finale for my musical time in Kent.
But then, we found an alternative ending: a Facebook livestream concert with a piano quintet playing the beautiful music of Ólafur Arnalds. This was actually a dream of mine coming true, since I have loved his music for years and always wanted to play it myself – and now I could, together with four amazing musicians. I am very thankful that this happened, giving me a perfect ending to my Erasmus semester and bringing a bit of calm and peace into a troubled world.
When I think of all the music-making and concerts I have been part of, I am incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity and I am so happy I could experience all of this before the coronavirus started to change our lives so much. However, a positive side-effect is the emergence of the virtual music projects! Thanks to the great commitment of Dan Harding and the wonders of technology, I can continue playing with the people I love and miss. Of course, this is very different from making music together face-to-face and it can’t quite replace it, but nevertheless it is a beautiful opportunity to maintain my connection to Canterbury, the Music Department and joint music-making in general.
The music, the memories and the people will stay in my heart. Thank you for welcoming me in Canterbury with open arms, I hope I can come back one day.
To keep you entertained during lockdown, why not join us for a screening on YouTube Live of a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale following the adventures of Alice and a cast of wonderful characters ?!
This live performance, recreating a musical adaptation first written for the Victorian stage in 1886, was filmed in Colyer-Fergusson Hall back in February, given by the University Cecilian Choir, soloists and instrumental ensemble; students and staff from across the University community bringing Carroll’s much-loved tale to life for the first time since 1927. Carroll himself was closely involved in the original adaptation, writing verses especially for the production. The film will be premiered on the University’s YouTube Live channel on Friday 22 May at 7pm, and also broadcast at the same time on KMTV.
The cast includes a larger-than-life performance from third-year Drama student and Music Award holder Sophia Lyons in the title role; fourth-year French and Business Studies student and Music Award holder Matt Cooke as a wonderfully eccentric Mad Hatter and a curmudgeonly Mock Turtle; and a White Rabbit brimming with eccentric energy from second-year Robbie Frederick.
To whet your appetites, here’s the Mock Turtle’s aria, Beautiful Soup, in rehearsal, sung by Matt Cooke accompanied by a quartet of instruments arranged especially for the performance by Dan Harding.
Including an imperious Queen of Hearts, a dancing deck of cards and a mischievous Cheshire Cat, in a musical world filled with Victorian charm, step into the forest with us as we present the film of the performance on the University of Kent’s YouTube channel Live at 7pm on Friday 22 May.
Gather your family, friends, housemates, and take a trip into Alice’s world in an adventure for all ages.
Continuing the series profiling this year’s new Music Performance and Award Holder students at the University. This week, final-year soprano reading Drama and Theatre Studies, Sophia Lyons.
My role as a University of Kent Music Award Holder I owe to my parents, who tactfully introduced me to my first singing teacher aged 9. I had been adamant that I would ‘never sing in front of a stranger’, but as soon as my first lesson was over, I knew I would have a lifelong dedication to my voice. Once I had shed initial tears in my Grade 1 Trinity singing exam and achieved a Merit, I made a commitment to get to Grade 8, continue training my voice, and maybe even perform. I very much ‘caught the bug’. Once I had one exam under my belt, 11 year-old me grew the confidence to audition for Annie with a local amateur dramatic society, and was offered the main role. To this day, my Grandmother still talks about how shocked she was when she first heard me sing in the curly wig; “I had no idea you could even sing!”
After Annie, I transitioned into secondary school, and began undertaking a variety of vocal exploits. I started singing Soprano, and then Alto with my local church choir, which encouraged me to join the school chamber choir. I discovered I had a natural ear for picking up harmonies, without having the experience of reading music, which meant I often enjoyed singing the Alto harmony lines. I performed in all the school concerts, often solo’s from musicals such as Les Misérables, The Wizard of Oz, and Oliver, as well as solos in the local church around Christmas times. I also played principle roles in extracurricular shows, such as High Society, Bugsy Malone, and Little Shop of Horrors.
Alongside, I continued my classical training with Trinity, but as I grew into my teens, my tastes in music and my voice primarily began to change. As a result, I began tutoring young students in Acoustic popular performance, and experimented with modern folk music. Throughout sixth form, I was a part of Gareth Malone’s ‘Sing While You Work’ P&O Choir, and for a short while, attached to an entertainments company ‘Blue Lemon’ where I duetted with a male pianist and singer, singing at gigs locally.
I then began working part time as a bespoke wedding singer, crafting setlists made from the Bride and Groom’s favourite songs, (having sung several brides down the aisle, I learnt the real pressure that comes with creating the perfect atmosphere with one’s voice!) When reaching my final year at school, I achieved Distinction at Grade 8, and my teacher noted my voice had range and potential to suit a variety of styles, but for me, classical music stood firmly in the forefront, as it was challenging and therefore most rewarding.
Leaving school, I moved to the University of Warwick to study English and Theatre Studies, and decided to audition for their music bursary. Instead, I was offered the Alto Scholarship, and as a result joined the Warwick Chamber Choir, all-female choir Gaudeamus, and started training with a teacher who toured with the English National Opera. In my first year, I was working with extremely difficult classical music, such as Mozart, Bach, and Purcell, which, whilst initially intimidating, I began to conquer. Singing in three choirs meant my sight reading improved extremely quickly, and by the end of my first year, I found I could read at the same level as those who played instruments. I took part in pieces such as Mozart’s Requiem, Verdi’s Requiem, Belshazzar’s Feast, Durufle’s Requiem, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. I was often selected to sing solo, the most challenging being ‘Pie Jesu’ from Durufle’s Requiem in The Stratford Chapel. I was given the opportunity to travel to Nice with the chamber choir, and was lead Alto in a singing project to connect French and Chinese music together in a “Transcultural Cantata”. I worked steadily with my singing teacher to increase my vocal range to three octaves, and began to branch out into a more mezzo-soprano range. At the end of my first year, I entered the Leamington Festival, and placed 2nd in the under 25’s and 1st in the Novice category. I joined the Musical Theatre society, MTW and the Opera society. I played ensemble and solo roles in Die Fledermaus and student written opera, Jurassic Park, and then took on the principle role as Joanne in the musical Rent, performed at the Warwick Arts Centre in 2018.
I then took a gap year and transitioned into second year at the University of Kent. Whilst on my gap year, I found myself yearning to perform again, and by summer 2019, I revisited the amateur dramatics society whom I had performed with 10 years ago. I was in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, playing the top soprano part Johanna. Taking on this challenge meant my voice grew to a top Soprano range. Sondheim’s music I found bridged the gap between musical theatre and classical styles, reigniting my love for both.
Therefore, upon entering my third year studying Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent, I took the plunge and nervously auditioned for a Music Performance Award. I was desperate to get singing and performing again, and the music department at Kent has given me endless opportunities to do so, a highlight being singing the solo opening verse of Once in royal David’s city to begin the annual University Carol Service back in December in Canterbury Cathedral! I am currently singing with the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, and Cecilian Choir. I am working with an incredible singing teacher, and have plenty of concerts coming up this year, leading up to my graduation in July.
Music at Kent has also influenced my degree. As part of a module, I was involved in a project with children at St Nicholas School, Canterbury, facilitating music and drama workshops for children who were at risk of being excluded from the Arts due to having a range of complex needs. I used my knowledge of vocal exercises to create ambience and sensory environments with the children, leading up to an Applied Theatre performance on the main stage at the Gulbenkian.
This combination of Drama and Music has also transferred into my role as Alice in the production of the ‘Musical Dream Play’ Alice in Wonderland, by the Music Department. Drawing on both of these skills has meant my time at Kent has been thoroughly musically fulfilling, full of challenges, which has helped improve my vocal and musical knowledge in the most exciting way. I have a lot of people to thank for seeing potential in that shy 9 year-old, and will be eternally grateful for every opportunity I have been given, especially at the University of Kent.
You can listen to Sophia talking about her experience of being in Alice in Wonderland in a broadcast on BBC Radio Kent‘s The Dominic King Show online here, starting at 27′ 52”.
Congratulations to the University Cecilian Choir, soloists and instrumentalists on a marvellous performance of the Victorian stage adaptation of Carroll’s classic tale – Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Dream Play which came to life in Colyer-Fergusson Hall for the first time since 1927.
The adaptation, overseen by Carroll himself and first performed in 1886, was brought to vivid life by University musicians, including students and staff from across the university community, Music Performance Scholars and Award Holders, in a reconstruction by Deputy Director of Music, Dan Harding, who also played the piano as part of the onstage chamber ensemble which accompanied the production.
If you missed it, the production returns to Colyer-Fergusson for a second performance on Friday 29 May, to launch this year’s Summer Music Week. #AliceatUKC will return…