Congratulations to all the members of the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra on Saturday’s electrifying return to Canterbury Cathedral. For the first time since 2019, the annual Colyer-Fergusson concert resounded in the Cathedral Nave, and we were delighted to welcome back several alumni to take part.
Thank you also to our fantastic soloists: soprano Rachel Nicholls, mezzo Emma Stannard, and two Kent alumni, tenor Andrew Macnair and bass-baritone Piran Legg.
The University of Kent Chorus comprises students, staff, alumni and members of the local community amongst its ranks, meeting every Monday night to rehearse towards its termly concerts. A great example of communal music-making, bringing people together in a shared creative endeavour, both from across the University community – librarians, staff in Registry, heads of department, lecturers, members of the University chaplaincy – as well as former members of staff, and people from across the region, working collectively towards a common outcome.
This term, that concert takes place in the Nave of Canterbury Cathedral – in fact, it’s happening in just five days’ time… – and here is the choir in action, rehearsing at the weekend in Haydn’s Nelson Mass with the Symphony Orchestra.
For the first time since 2019, the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra return to the magnificence of Canterbury Cathedral in March, for the annual Colyer-Fergusson Concert.
Named in honour of Sir James Colyer-Fergusson, the yearly event has been sorely missed; the Music department is very excited at the prospect of returning to the heart of the cathedral city once more this March, and to add to the occasion we’re looking forward to welcoming two alumni and former Music Scholars as soloists.
Haydn’s dramatic Nelson Mass, written in the shadow of Napoleon’s advancing army, will feature tenor Andrew Macnair and bass-baritone Piran Legg.
Andrew arrived at the University of Kent in 1987 to read Physics, and was a Music SCholars as well as President of Music Society and Chamber Music Society. Numerous concerts, several operas, eight years and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance later, he took up a career in singing after Kent, and has been singing with the Royal Opera Chorus, Covent Garden, since 2006.
Hailing from the seaside town of Whitstable, Piran studied History at Kent; he moved onto the Opera School at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has since performed extensively in opera
around the UK and abroad, working as a soloist with companies such as Wexford Festival Opera, Garsington Opera, Scottish Opera and the LSO.
Bringing together musicians amongst the University community of staff and students, as well as members of the local community and alumni, the concert in March will be something to remember, as we pass through the doors of the Cathedral for the first time in three years to fill the space with Haydn’s epic mass setting, coupled with the youthful vigour of Mendelssohn’s first symphony.
Congratulations to the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, together again for the first time in two years on Saturday for a sparklingly seasonal concert.
A sold-out house and an enthusiastic audience greeted the combined musical forces, embracing students, staff, alumni, and members of the local community in a programme including Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with baritone Simon Thorpe, and Tchaikovsky’s glittering Nutcracker Suite.
Thank you to everyone involved; a delight to be back making music together! We’re back next term with Haydn and Mendelssohn in Canterbury Cathedral…
We’ve reached the end of our first week of music-making – but a different way of making music in these different times. Since Monday, Chorus, Chamber Choir, Concert Band, Big Band and Orchestra have all be taking place online, and it’s been great to see people accessing the resources and taking part.
There’s a great sense that, wherever people are – in their rooms, in their homes around the local area – that we’re able to come together once more, in order to tackle repertoire, keep making music, and be working creatively.
Many thanks to the various tutors who have been leading these online rehearsals, filming their virtual rehearsals and still keeping everyone engaged, as we start to get the musical term underway.
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”.
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.
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!
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.