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Choirs return (a bit)

Novel though it is to see our wonderful choral tradition being mentioned on national news and in government briefings, it’s still fairly difficult to work out who may sing, and where. Our local Abbey has re-started choral services which are open to the (non-singing) public, and if you’re a professional vocal consort, you’re also ok to sing. Meanwhile, during a few TV minutes of Spurs v Arsenal yesterday, I heard lusty live renderings of ‘He’s One of Our Own’ and other cultural treasures, with fans back in limited numbers .

A couple of messages about music of my own appearing on BBCr3’s Choral Evensong reminded me that college choirs are also back, though without congregations so far. First up, Clare College Choir included my setting of the Canticles, seemingly quite widely spaced around the venue, which gave a lucid aural perspective, rather like (I imagine) what a singer hears in the middle of one of these choirs. A few days later, St John’s College in their famous Advent Service sang Drop down ye Heavens from Above. Theirs was a super-luxurious recording sound, the Rolls Royce of men-and-boys choirs.

Listening in on the radio I was surprised to find that what I enjoyed above all was the hymns – really beautifully sung by both choirs. Although I tend to think congregations sing hymns pretty well, perhaps their sheer enthusiasm can cloud the loveliness of these strongly sculpted tunes. Clare’s service actually commemorated the great hymnodist Isaac Watts, and they sang the verses of ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ in a fascinating set of textural variations. St Johns included several powerful hymns within the Advent narrative, all with fine descants by Christopher Robinson. This is an aspect of church music which I realise I haven’t given enough conscious attention to up to now, and will do in the future. Thank you again, pandemic (and choral singers everywhere.)





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