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Steeplechase singing

26 September 2014

TWENTY-FIVE singers sang their way round 28 churches in Chelmsford diocese, all in one day, in a Choral Steeplechase, to raise funds for historic churches in north Essex. The Colchester Chamber Choir, under its musical director, Roderick Earle, sang an unaccompanied sacred song at churches of all denominations: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Greek Orthodox, and at a Quaker meeting house - sometimes with an appreciative audience, sometimes with almost none.

The Anglican and RC churches were all open, and they could sing inside, but many of the others were not. "If the church wasn't open, we sang outside," Mr Earle says.

Mr Earle founded the Colchester Chamber Choir in 2010, and it is now a leading a cappella choir in East Anglia. Although it owes no allegiance to any particular church, much of the choir's music is sacred, and its next concert will be in St Edmundsbury Cathedral on 22 November - St Cecilia's Day.

Mr Earle is an opera singer who sang for many years with the Royal Opera, and he still sings with the English National Opera. He started his singing career as a chorister in Winchester Cathedral, and became a choral scholar.

He has taken his choir on singing marathons before, but the steeplechase is their own version of Ride and Stride, raising funds for the Friends of Essex Churches Trust. Their target was £2000 and - at the time of writing - they had already received £1500, with many more pledges to come in.

What was very pleasing was that on their steeplechase journey more than £100 was donated by people who chanced to hear them, a number of whom asked where they were going next, and said that they would come along with them to hear them sing again. They started in the redundant Holy Trinity, Colchester, where John Wilbye, the great English madrigal composer and contemporary of Byrd, is buried.

They found one of the Anglican churches full of flower arrangers preparing for a flower festival. Another venue was the chapel in Colchester Castle, which has splendid acoustics; and also a small Greek Orthodox chapel, where they sang from the Russian liturgy.

The response from the people who chanced to hear them was so positive that he hopes other choirs might follow their example, bringing good singing unexpectedly to the public. In fact, Mr Earle would love to see the idea spread across the country, perhaps as part of Ride and Stride. (His choir walked as much as possible between churches before taking to cars.)

If anyone is interesting in pursuing the idea, he can be reached by email to infocolchesterchamberchoir.org.

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