LIVE concerts in Gloucestershire and Norfolk churches are likely to be among the first to be held anywhere in the UK after lockdown restrictions are further eased on 17 May.
The early-evening, hour-long concerts — two performances of the same programme each day, to allow for the physical distancing of both musicians and audience members — are being mounted by the charity Music in Country Churches, which raises funds for their upkeep.
The charity was formed in 1989, with the active participation of the Prince of Wales, and has attracted some of the country’s top musicians.
The first of the concerts will be held on 21 May, in St Mary’s, Bibury, a Cotswold village so classically English that a row of its houses was chosen to feature on the inside cover of the (red) British passport. The programme will be given by Richard Watkins and Friends in celebration of the French horn, with works by Britten, Vivaldi, Kvandal, Mozart, Maxwell-Davies, and Beethoven.
The English Chamber Orchestra String Ensemble, conducted by Stephanie Gonley, will play there the next day, with works to celebrate three composers with strong links to England: Grainger, Coleridge-Taylor, and Mendelssohn. St Nicholas’s, Dersingham, is then the venue for two longer concerts, on 27 and 28 July, featuring Apollo5 and the English Chamber Orchestra String Ensemble, with the clarinettist Laura Deignan.
Excitement was mounting, the director of Music in Country Churches, Philip Burnett, said on Tuesday. “It’s great for the charity to be helping not only musicians to get going again, but also churches — it has been such a fallow 18 months, with so few opportunities for live music.
“Churches have been very badly hit by the pandemic: it will be so good to get people back into them and to raise awareness of them again. There’s something very special and magical about music in a country church on a summer’s evening, and we have chosen something particularly uplifting for the first concert people are going to hear. It will be especially lovely to hear singers live again, and singing Byrd and Tallis, among others, at Dersingham.”
St Nicholas’s was built of classic Norfolk calf-stone, “which gives it a wonderful incandescence and character when the summer sun is on it”, he said.
The chairman of Music in Country Churches is Matthew Rice, an artist, illustrator, and architectural historian, who designs the Bridgwater mugs. His poster for the Bibury concert is a work of art in itself, picking up on architectural features from the church. He will be talking between concerts about the features of the architecture.
“There is a wonderful interplay between music and architecture,” Mr Burnett said. “Goethe said, ‘Music is liquid architecture, and architecture is frozen music.’ People can appreciate this wonderful building while listening to this wonderful music.”
Tickets are available from TicketSource on 0333 666 3366, or visit musicincountrychurches.org.uk.
Virtual choir continues. The Self-Isolation Choir, founded in March last year, plans to record thousands of voices from the Commonwealth and beyond as they sing the hymn “Eternal Father, strong to save”, which the Duke of Edinburgh chose for his funeral. The final recording, together with a montage of the choir, will be presented to the Queen on 10 June, when Prince Philip would have celebrated his 100th birthday.
Singers will be taught and conducted in two online sessions, on 10 and 13 May, by the choral director Ralph Allwood. They will then record their own version, to be combined in the studio to create one sound.
The choir was founded to bring together people who felt disconnected from family, friends, and society, and longed to sing. It has since attracted more than 10,000 international singers, and received special commendation in the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Inspirational Award 2020.
The choir will also join the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) to perform the world première of “God Of All Creation”, a new anthem by Christopher Totney, for the annual RSCM Music Sunday on 6 June, which celebrates the part played by music and musicians in church life.
The anthem was the winner of the RSCM’s Music Sunday competition, intended to give musicians a purpose during lockdown. It attracted 200 entries. Composers were invited to compose a setting of the words of a prayer by Canon Gordon Giles, of Rochester Cathedral. All were submitted under a pseudonym, and Mr Totney’s anthem had been the “very clear winner”, the director of the RCSM, Hugh Morris, said on Tuesday.
The anthem will be live-streamed as part of the Big Music Sunday Service from Lichfield Cathedral. Teaching sessions by Mr Morris begin online on 10 May — “There’s a large box of technology arriving tomorrow” — and the course costs £15, including the score and the backing tracks, provided by the St Martin’s Voices from St Martin-in-the-Fields.
Church choirs are invited to learn the anthem and perform it alongside the Self-Isolation Choir, or to sing it at their own Music Sunday services; but any individual can sign up for the project. Mr Morris said on Tuesday: “We want to encourage a whole variety of people to come and join us.”
A webinar organised by the Church Times and the RSCM, “Lift Up Your Voices, Lift Up Your Hearts”, will take place on 18 May, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information here.
Listen to an interview with Christopher Totney, and a recording of the anthem, on the Church Times Podcast.