I wrote a blog post shortly after the schools closed on Friday 20th March and now seems as good a moment as any for an update. Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed and sometimes it feels like everything has changed.
In the midst of all of the anxiety in the air, it has been inspiring to watch how various musicians and musical groups have focused their full creative attention online. There have been so many terrific virtual performances and I know these have meant a great deal to people seeking beauty in the darkness.
Three performances among the many that have bowled me over have been Stile Antico’s virtual performance of Tallis’s 40-part motet ‘Spem in alium’, the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Ravel’s Boléro, and ‘Cornwall my home’ sung by The County Choirs of the Cornwall Music Education Hub.
While enjoying and admiring performances like these, I have not taken the cathedral choir down this road and I thought I might explain a little about the thinking behind that. All of the cathedral’s music staff are furloughed (all of the cathedral choir singers, my assistant, organ scholar and choir assistants) except me. I therefore had to think carefully about what essential things needed to be done with my limited time and, with any remaining time, what should be the highest priorities. In that context, my biggest concern was the decay of the high-level skills in the boy and girl choristers. We take for granted the elite level they operate at on a daily basis but you can imagine how quickly the boys and girls will lose their effortless top register, their listening skills and their ability to read and learn music quickly. These things take years to develop and hone, quite apart from the need for the choristers to remain engaged with seeing each other and seeing me. So it is working with the choristers via Zoom that I’ve been focusing on recently and I will write more about that work in another blog.
There is one rather special exception to what I have said above about focusing on chorister Zoom lessons rather than spending time creating virtual performances: our Sixth Form girl choristers have been working on a project with The Gesualdo Six to record virtual performances of two pieces of music: John Tavener’s ‘Hymn to the Mother of God’ and Orlando Gibbons’s ‘Hosanna to the son of David’. These will be released in the coming weeks and I warmly encourage you to seek them out on our social media channels.
In addition, I hope you will enjoy listening to some of the recordings on our Listen to the Choir page.