September concert – ‘Faire is the Heaven’

Faire is the Heaven poster

We’ve a concert coming up in Lewes, at St Michael’s Church, on Saturday 26th September at 6pm.

We’re calling it ‘Faire is the Heaven’ after the anthem of that name by English composer William Harris. It’s one of two Harris anthems on the programme, which also includes two of J S Bach’s mighty motets, Komm, Jesu, Komm and Lobet den Herrn, motets by Charles Villiers Stanford and the Requiem by Herbert Howells.

We sang Faire is the Heaven at Westminster Abbey last month when we sang five services over three days. Tiring, but wonderful. They can seat up to a thousand people for services, and that’s just in the Quire and transept, not the main nave (which only gets used on special occasions). The atmosphere in the Quire is always magical, but there’s something a little disconcerting to know you’re being watched round the corner on screens by who knows how many hundreds of people.

The transept at Westminster Abbey before a service

Westminster Abbey is the final resting place of many fine musicians, writers & artists. Polly took a pic of Nick and I by the monument to Henry Purcell.

Nick & Robin Houghton at Purcell's grave, Westminster Abbey

Purcell was the organist at the Abbey from 1679 to 1695 and he’s buried a few feet away from where we’re standing. We always try to sing something by Purcell at Westminster Abbey and this time is was ‘O God, Thou art my God’ at Sunday Evensong.

The music for the September concert is on order and we’ll soon be sending it out to singers prior to our first rehearsal on September 12th. Incidentally, if you’re in Lewes do drop by St Michael’s during the day – not only will you hear us in rehearsal, but it’s Heritage Open Day at the church and it’s a good chance to have a nose around and hear more about this fascinating building. There are many other historic properties open in Lewes on that day – full details here.

Gearing up for Westminster Abbey

Lewes Singers at Westminster Abbey

It took a bit of negotiation with the Minor Canons (who decide on the music at the Abbey) but we are finally there. The music has been sent out to singers and we have a week and a half until our first rehearsal. Westminster Abbey ask visiting choirs to sing the same Introit for each service. That suits us fine, as by the time we’ve sung it for the fifth time on Sunday evening we’ve usually got it down mighty fine. Last time I remember we sang ‘Lord for thy tender mercies’ sake’ (Farrant) and it felt gorgeous. This time, however, our first and second choices were rejected as being either unseasonal or too sombre. So we agreed on Tallis ‘O Nata Lux’. A beautiful and clean opening for each service. Another piece which ended up being vetoed was the Andrew Carter ‘Wakefield Service’, a great shame as we loved singing it there last time… however, we’re looking forward to singing the glorious ‘Faire is the Heaven’ by Harris, at Saturday Evensong. This will probably be the title of our September concert in Lewes, as we’ll be singing it there too.

Two weeks till our first rehearsal

music allocated

Putting on a concert requires a bit of planning and with ours just a month away this is the point when I try not to start worrying! My only worry is always the same one – that we won’t get a decent-sized audience! But by the time it gets to the day there’s nothing more you can do. Here’s where we are at the moment:

Posters and flyers were done weeks ago, but most shops and other outlets are reluctant to put posters up until a couple of weeks before the concert. I’ve been watching other choirs get their posters up all over the place and this is guaranteed to wind me up as I always have the knee-jerk reaction ‘we need to be more visible’. Two choirs who have their concerts this weekend and next have taken over the Tourist Information Centre windows. I asked in there about us doing something similar the week before our concert, and was told ‘it’s all booked out the to District Council for their (as yet unspecified) events’ – gah!  I’m still hopeful they’ll put up an A3 poster at least, as they are selling tickets for us. We’ll see. It’s just not on to be pushy with the nice TIC people, however desperate you’re feeling!

And then there’s the posters-on-lamp-posts dilemma – personally I don’t like it because I think makes the town look scruffy, especially if they’re not taken down after the event but left to rot slowly. But they are in-your-face. So maybe they sell tickets. Or not. We have a good number of leaflets so I’ll be doing door-drops, but these are more effective in the two weeks prior to the date. So I have to sit on them for the moment, although of course we’re giving them out to people as and when. Plus we have a number of local choir members who’ve pledged to get posters up and give out leaflets, and they’re always great at bringing their friends and family to the concert. I’m trying to place an ad in the concert programme of another choir, but haven’t yet had an answer from them. I could save our money (we don’t have any sponsors) and just loiter outside after other choirs’ concerts, thrusting leaflets into people’s hands but I know I won’t – it’s something else I don’t like being on the receiving end of – I’m just too squeamish for this job!

Other tasks are less stressful – we hired the Vivaldi scores ages ago from the local library – they run an excellent service. We’ve decided the rest of the programme and the music is coming (mostly) from the ‘Houghton Loft Library’ as it’s loftily known at ours. In other words the lovingly catalogued dozen or so boxes of sheet music in the loft cupboards. I’ve calculated where we’re short, numbered and allocated it all. I’ve asked Nick to assign voice parts (where the voices split) and he has yet to write string parts for several of the carols (we’re being accompanied by a lovely string quartet led by Red Priest’s Julia Bishop, with Nick on chamber organ).

We booked the glasses hire ages ago (something we’ve learnt from experience, especially during the Christmas party season). We’ve managed to book three extra sopranos to sing with us, as many of our regulars aren’t available. I still need to ‘brief’ two of them. We’ve hired the church hall for our two rehearsals,  our usual venue St Michael’s being unavailable.

Our first rehearsal is on December 7th, followed by one more a week later and then on the day of the concert. When we’re doing anything new and challenging we send the music out beforehand, but it’s expensive and risky as it can get lost in the post. This time it’s pretty much repertoire (or at least sight-readable) so we’ll hand out music at the first rehearsal. We have such a great group of singers it’s always exciting to start singing and realise yet again that it’s going to wonderful. Whether or not we fill the church!

Hear us in rehearsal next Saturday

… not that we’re not encouraging you to come to the actual concert of course! But next Saturday 13th September it’s Heritage Open Day in Lewes when several town centre buildings will open their doors for guided tours, talks and generally having a look around.

One of those buildings is St Michael’s Church on the High Street, where we just happen to be having our last rehearsal prior to the concert on the following Saturday (20th). So if you drop by between 10.30 and 12.30 or 2pm and 4pm, you may well hear us. There are going to be introductory talks through the day and refreshments in the church house next door. Come on in and see the secret churchyard with an excellent close up view of the castle.

St Michael's Church Lewes

Concert: Britten, Copland, Finzi, September 20th

Lewes Singers concert poster 20 Sept 2014

We’ve just had our third rehearsal for our autumn concert and it’s sounding fantastic, especially our super mezzo soloist Briony Lambert who is going to be sensational in the Copland piece.

There are ‘corners’ in the Copland that I’m having to listen to over and over to make sure I’m certain of landing on the right notes. It’s over 15 minutes unaccompanied, and we can’t afford to drop in pitch or not be 100% sure of our notes. We owe that much to Briony if nothing else!

The way we have of singing ‘mixed up’ (in other words, we don’t stand next to anyone singing the same voice part) is actually a great discipline. When you’ve no-one to ‘check’ yourself against on your own line, it makes you listen harder to other voice parts and where you fit in. It sounds daunting but it’s very confidence-building.

Tickets are on sale from choir members or you can call 01273 472489 to reserve. Otherwise just pay on the door. Tickets £9, under 19s free.

Singing for a Healing Service this weekend

The Lewes Singers’ first outing is this Sunday 11thMay when we’ll be the choir at St Michael’s in Lewes for a special afternoon Healing Service – it will be a combination of Evensong and Compline.

We’ll be singing the Wood in D Magnificat, Brahms’ Geistliches Lied, and Stanford Beati Quorum Via, all lovely. There will also be two psalms.

Actually it’s a small subset of the Lewes Singers – just 9 of us, with Nick on organ but joining us for the Stanford which is unaccompanied. Andrew Robinson will conduct when Nick’s off at the organ. Yay! Looking forward to it.

We’ve already got the hire music on order from the Library as we have our first (of three) rehearsals for the September concert in early June, so getting excited about that and I’m already thinking of an idea for the poster!

If you’re in Lewes, do come on Sunday – 3.30pm at S Michael’s.

Plans for 2014 and beyond

Nick Houghton Octet
Nick Houghton Octet
Photo of the Nick Houghton Octet by Rob Orchard

Happy New Year!

It’s been a lovely Christmas season from a concert point of view, and although we weren’t officially performing Nick did form up a vocal ‘octet’ to sing at the biennial Amnesty International Benefit Concert, ‘In the bleak Midwinter’, at St John’s Sub Castro in Lewes just before Christmas. The event was organised by Liz Taylor and Roger Fenn and was a terrific success, raising thousands for Amnesty and the Philippines appeal. We really enjoyed performing – above is a pic of us singing ‘The Three Kings’ (Cornelius) with Andrew Robinson doing a brilliant job on the solo, showing no nerves – even though there were several high profile professional basses in the audience including Sir John Tomlinson!

Also exciting on the run up to Christmas has been sales of our CD, which has been flying out of the Tourist Information Office apparently – thank you to everyone who’s buying it!

Planning for the Lewes Singers is tricky – all our members have ‘regular’ choirs they sing with, and not always just one. Plus full and busy lives! So it’s a fine balance of setting up dates far enough in advance and hoping that other local choirs and event planners are prepared to communicate and compromise from time to time.

We usually (just about) manage it. But asking people to commit to rehearsal dates a year in advance doesn’t mean that things won’t come up that take precedence – illness, a family event etc. So this year we’re aiming to increase our ‘pool’ of singers, in order to take the pressure off regular members and also allow us to plan events with confidence.

So far there are two 2014 dates to save: Saturday 20th September and Sunday 21st December. Both concerts will be in Lewes, and the September date will include the exciting In the beginning by Aaron Copland and Gerald Finzi’s marvellous Lo, the full, final sacrifice. The December date will be our first dedicated ‘Christmas’ concert. As well as some lovely carols & motets (well known and less well known), expect also Poulenc’s atmospheric Soir de Neige.

We seem to have set yet another trend in the last couple of years: namely the 6pm concert start time. The first time we did this it was considered a risk. And yet now it seems to be de rigueur for quite a few choirs.

As regards cathedral visits, we don’t have any dates this year (so many choirs competing for the pleasure!) but visits to Canterbury and Winchester are on the cards for 2015 and beyond. More updates to come.