Tag Archives: Chamber Choir

Scholar’s Spotlight: Sophia Lyons

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.

The soprano section of the Chamber Choir at the Carol Service in Canterbury Cathedral

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.

Third-year Sophia Lyons in the title role

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”.

Music on the marshes and a Russian fairy-tale in a busy weekend of music

Congratulations to all the performers involved in two concerts over the weekend, a busy time for the Music department which saw two contrasting events taking place both on and off-campus.

The University Chamber Choir and Consort travelled to the twelfth-century church of All Saints, Graveney, on Friday afternoon, heading out across the marshes near Faversham to rehearse and perform a vibrant programme, including the European premiere of Vow by American composer, Jocelyn Hagen; the choir and strings came together in several works, including the fiercely dramatic setting of the Stabat Mater by Rheinberger. The concert raised over £600 towards the church’s much-needed campaign to continue as a part of the Graveney community; our thanks to all the team at the church for making us so welcome.

Second-year assistant conductor, David Curtiss, led the Choir in part of the programme including a moving setting of The Road Home by Stephen Paulus.

And on Sunday, members of the University Camerata teamed up with Senior Lecturer in Drama, Will Wollen, to perform Prokofiev’s popular Peter and the Wolf once more, in what looks set to become an annual tradition. We welcomed back some familiar faces as alumni musicians joined the ensemble of students and staff for a rousing family concert.

And it doesn’t stop there: in two weeks’ time, we have two events again – Music Performance Scholars in a Lunchtime Concert on Weds 18 March, and the hugely-popular roof-raising gig from the University Concert and Big Bands on Friday 20 March. Make sure you’re keeping up…!

Scholars’ Spotlight: Ellie Gould

Continuing the series profiling this year’s new University Music Performanc Scholars and Award Holders. This week, first-year Biomedical student and soprano, Ellie Gould.


I began taking piano lessons when I was five years old and soon after, my teacher noticed I had good pitch, so offered to give me a few singing lessons to see if I enjoyed them (which I did!) 13 years later, I am still thoroughly enjoying both piano and singing, having reached up to Grade 8 standard on piano and achieving Distinction in both my Grade 8 exam and diploma in singing.

During primary school, my love for all things music grew even more, as my biggest excitement was the weekly music lessons, both in and out of school. I soon discovered my love of performing through taking part in the yearly Rotary Young Musician of the Year Competition and being involved in Stagecoach for eight years, which enabled me to take part in many productions; to name a few: Aida, Macbeth, Bugsy Malone and a Michael Jackson inspired ‘Thriller’ flash mob!

I would say that my musical journey really started to take off once high school began. It was towards the end of the summer holidays before the beginning of Year 7 that my Dad fortunately saw an advertisement in the newspaper regarding music scholarships at Harrogate Ladies’ College.  As soon as I joined  I fully immersed myself in all the musical opportunities that was on offer. I immediately joined Gallery Choir, which consisted of students from Year 6 to Year 9 and involved regularly performing at school events and singing works such as The Peacemakers by Jenkins in the Royal Hall, Harrogate. In order to improve my solo singing, I entered myself in both singing and piano at the annual Harrogate Music Festival.

At the start of Year 9, I was accepted into my school’s prestigious Chapel Choir. The highlight of Chapel Choir for me were the biennial choir trips, including Barcelona where we sang in La Sagrada Familia and Venice where we sang Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in St. Mark’s Basilica. Other moments I will never forget were singing live on TV in the semi-finals of BBC Songs of Praise Competition (mainly because we were all dressed in bright fuchsia pink shirts!), singing in the Royal Festival Hall in London for the Barnardo’s Choir of the Year Competition, Choral Evensongs in York Minster and Durham Cathedral, performing Britten’s challenging War Requiem in Ripon Cathedral and participating in the production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

In rehearsals and certain performances, we sat in choir stalls in our school Chapel and after each year when students left, you would slowly make your way up the row to the front. It was so lovely because as I progressed further up the row, I was given more opportunities to develop my solo singing within the choir and undertake more responsibilities. This culminated in eventually me becoming Row Leader and during Year 13, I was chosen to be Head of Chapel Choir, which was and still is a position which meant so much to me. Having been a part of the choir going on five years at that point, it was such a lovely role to have to bring my time at Harrogate Ladies’ College to an end. Within this role my confidence in my own music ability grew massively. I was tasked with leading the choir during services, performances, keeping the beat during the unaccompanied morning Amen’s in Chapel (a much harder task than it originally seemed!) and regularly singing solos.

During my time so far as a Biomedical Science student at the University of Kent, all of the extra-curricular music activities has been a lovely way for me to relax away from my studies. I have been extremely lucky and grateful to be a part of the University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and a recipient of the Music Performance Scholarship. The Chamber Choir sang at the Cathedral for the Carol Service in December, and I’m currently singing the role of the Queen of Hearts for a production of Alice in Wonderland, and looking forward to singing in Canterbury Cathedral with the Chorus, Chamber Choir and at Choral Evensong with the Cecilian Choir later in the year.

A night to remember: Nostalgia Night research showcase

Congratulations to all the performers involved in last Friday’s Nostalgia Night, a research showcase presented by Dr Chris Deacy in the School of European Culture and Languages as part of this year’s nationwide Being Human Festival.

Dr Chris Deacy

Reader in Theology and Religious Studies at the University, Chris’ event was also a part of the Open Thinking at Kent strand, which promotes ideas and public engagement with University research, led by Will Wollen from the School of Arts. Friday night saw Chris presenting his research into the idea of nostalgia – what it means and how it shapes us as human beings – in a session enhanced by live music provided by the University Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and General Harding’s Tomfoolery, the 1940s dance orchestra. Music included Moonlight Serenade, the theme to RainbowWhen I Fall In Love, the theme tune to the Pink Panther,  a Christmas carol, Lady Is A Tramp featuring second-year vocalist Robbie Frederick, and  it all came to a rousing conclusion with the audience joining in to sing Bring Me Sunshine.

The University Cecilian Choir
General Harding’s Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery also played the audience out with The Charleston and American Patrol, before performers and audience mingled in the foyer for a post-event glass of mulled wine.

Before the event, the student barbershop quartet, the Razor Sharps, took to the foyer-stage to entertain the arriving audience with a selection of popular favourites, setting a suitable scene for a trip down Memory Lane.

Singers from the Cecilian and Chamber Choirs: how many can you fit into a selfie…
Members of General Harding’s Tomfoolery backstage…
Some Cecilian Choir who didn’t make it into the previous choir selfie…

Thanks to all those who took part; we brought fun, we brought sunshine, we brought love!

Take a trip down Memory Lane in Nostalgia Night

Next week, the Music department teams up with Dr Chris Deacy, Reader in Theology and Religious Studies at the University, for a special event exploring nostalgia and how it shapes us as human beings, as Nostalgia Night unfolds on Friday 22 November.

Nostalgia Night: what do YOU remember ?!
Dr Chris Deacy

The event is part of the national Being Human Festival, the UK’s only nation-wide festival of the Humanities, and brings together live music, audio clips, interviews and an interactive quiz, as Chris investigates the idea of nostalgia through words and music. Chris’ series of podcasts explores the theme with interviews as part of his research, and the event next week will see contributions from some of those interviewed as well as performances from the University Chamber and Cecilian Choirs, the 1940’s dance orchestra General Harding’s Tomfoolery, and instrumentalists. Music includes Moonlight Serenade, When I Fall In Love, The Pink Panther and other corner-stones of memory throughout the generations.

Tickets are free (reserved in advance here),  bring your dancing-shoes and join us as we take a trip down memory lane for what promises to be a night to, er, remember!

Find out more: Weds 18 September

With Welcome Week about to burst into vibrant activity here at the University, make sure you come along to Colyer-Fergusson on Wednesday 18 September to find out about getting involved in extra-curricular music, whatever you are studying.

Between 11am and 3pm, members of the music staff and the various Music Societies will be on hand to enthuse about the many opportunities to get involved in music as part of student life at Kent. Visitors can look round the award-winning Colyer-Ferguson concert hall, practice rooms and band room, as well as learn about the differing ways in which to become a part of music: whether it’s singing with Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir or the upper-voice choir, Minerva Voices; instrumentalists can join the Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band or Big Band, and there are other music societies active during the year including the Musical Theatre Society.

Plans for the Wednesday event include live music on the foyer-stage throughout the day, and there’s the possibility of a Scratch Orchestra play-through of popular film scores, and even choruses from Messiah.

We look forward to welcoming you through the doors of Colyer-Fergusson during Welcome Week, and especially next Wednesday – come and find out how to make rehearsing and performing a part of your university experience, whatever course you may be studying!

Summer Music Week: Saturday Gala concert

Congratulations to everyone involved in Saturday’s annual Music for a Summer’s Day Gala concert, the crowning event as part of Summer Music Week.

The University Chorus, Orchestra and Chamber Choir each gave a final, valedictory appearance in seasonal, summery music, whilst the members of the Limoncellos filled the foyer before the concert with stirring film tunes and pop music arrangements.

Assistant conductor Hannah Ost rehearsing the Chamber Choir ahead of the concert
The Limoncellos performing in the foyer ahead of the Gala concert

Final-year sopranos Helen Sotillo and Fleur Sumption brought a packed hall to tears with a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on the final occasion of their singing with the Music department in what has proved to be a memorable year for both ladies.

The incoming President of the Music Society, second-year Owen Kerry, provided some scene-stealing moments as he deftly wielded name-cards (and at one point a mobile phone for a couple of selfies…) as part of An Illustrated Guide to the History of the Symphony.

And final-year flautist Robert Loveless was handed the baton to conduct the traditional encore which brought the concert to a rousing conclusion.

Following the concert, audience, performers and guests spilled out into the marquee for the annual cream tea, for which the sun shone and blue skies bloomed overhead.

What becomes apparent at the end of the Gala concert is what a wonderful sense of community has been built up during the academic year by everyone involved in extra-curricular music-making at the University. It’s a real tribute to how committed everyone is, and how involved they have become, to see so many of those graduating so moved by the occasion of their final appearance; parents, friends and family all coming along to support throughout the series of events often remark on how much being a part of music at Kent has meant to the students involved throughout their time. There’s a lovely feeling of camaraderie throughout the entire week, as the various ensembles gather for a final musical hurrah before the academic year ends.

Our thanks to everyone who has been a part of the Music department across the year; undergraduate and post-graduate students, staff, members of the community and all the alumni who have returned at various points either to participate or to be part of the audience. To all those who are leaving this year: thanks for all your contribution – hail and farewell!

Summer Music Week: Between Worlds premiere

Congratulations to all the performers involved in the mesmerising first performance of Between Worlds by composer / violinist Anna Phoebe, which took an entranced audience on a meditative odyssey on the penultimate day of Summer Music Week.

Drawing on research media from the School of Biosciences, Anna’s piece explores the intangible boundary between science and art in a collaborative piece for choir, strings, percussion, soloists and film-projections by artist Skyla Bridges. Conducted by Deputy Director of Music, Dan Harding, the University Chamber Choir and String Sinfonia, together with Anna herself on violin, pianist Jacob Downs, second-year postrgraduate Leon on percussion, and oboist Dan Lloyd (also Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences) unfurled Anna’s evocative piece against a tapestry of ambient electronic soundtracks and beneath Skyla Bridges’ wonderfully beautiful projections taken from research imagery by Dr Chris Toseland.

Between Worlds. Image: Dan Lloyd

The first half of the concert saw a conducter-less (for the most part) String Sinfonia in music by Britten, Reger, Purcell and Arvo Pärt’s lachrymaic Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, for which the strings were joined by conductor, Susan Wanless. Pärt’s haunting tribute to Britten closed the first half an set the atmosphere for the second.

Afterwards, performers, audience and guests mingled for a post-concert reception to celebrate the fruition of a project that has been in rehearsal since January. Read the programme from the event yourself here.

Main images: © Matt Wilson / University of Kent