Bringing Bliss back to Coventry Cathedral

Archive: Article for Making Music, live on the site during September 2012. 

Fifty years ago, the English composer and then Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Arthur Bliss, was commissioned to provide a choral work for the consecration ceremony of the new Cathedral Church of St. Michael in Coventry, famously built alongside the ruins of the old 14th century cathedral which had been bombed during the Second World War.

Sadly for the composer, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem took precedence on the day, with the Beatitudes, Bliss’s cantata written with the librettist Christopher Hassall, being relegated to a subsidiary concert at Coventry Theatre. With a much reduced space for the orchestra and chorus, and no cathedral organ, the work could not shine to its full effect and has rarely been performed since.

For the 2012 Golden Jubilee at Coventry Cathedral, Yorkshire Making Music members the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, alongside the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, will be setting things to rights by performing the Beatitudes in the setting for which it was originally composed, for the first time.

For the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, this concert represents an exciting opportunity. Chorus Chairman Julie Smethurst said: “We are absolutely delighted and honoured to have the privilege of participating in this fantastic project. It will be a very moving experience for us to perform it as he intended. It has been quite a challenge to get to grips with some complex music and musical effects but, along with our colleagues the BBC Philharmonic and under the most inspiring direction of Paul Daniel, hopefully we can deliver a performance that would have pleased Sir Arthur.”

Paul Daniel is conductor and former chorister in Coventry. “I knew a bit about The Beatitudes from my years at Coventry Cathedral but it was always spoken about in ‘hushed tones’. Now I know why and I’m delighted to be a part of paying homage to Sir Arthur Bliss in this wonderful event. Putting things right after all these years is long overdue and I’m really looking forward to conducting the real ‘premiere’ of this magnificent work.”

The Director of the Golden Jubilee Concerts in Coventry, Michael Foster, added:

“This is the culmination of a 21 year dream to right the incredible wrong done to an extraordinary musician, an impressive ‘gentle’ man and a remarkable piece of music.”

The performance takes place on the 22nd September 2012. For more information, you can follow the official blog of the concert at

Archive: abcd convention comes to Leeds

Archived: appeared on the Making Music website in August 2012.

If you are involved in leading a choir, one of the most significant events of the year has to be the annual convention of the Association of British Choral Directors (abcd). abcd is already known and well respected for the workshop opportunities they provide, such as the Sing Jubilee event held in Durham this year.

This year’s convention runs from 24-26 August at Leeds Metropolitan University. The abcd’s General Secretary Rachel Greaves is enthusiastic about the programme. ‘Our Annual Convention is our biggest event of the year and we’re delighted to be holding it in Leeds for the first time. We have put together the best of Yorkshire as well as presenters from around the UK and as far away as the USA and Sweden, so there is something for leaders of all types of choirs, and plenty of opportunities for singing too.’

The conference itself starts on the Friday with workshops by Paul Mealor and Richard Frostick. A highlight of the opening day will certainly be the ‘Sheffield pub carols’ with real Yorkshire ale as the natural accompaniment.

Topics covered on Saturday include children’s singing, vocal health, community choirs, managing the young treble voice, a presentation by Rock Up & Sing’s Rhiannon Gayle, and a chance to discover new editions from the major music publishers.

The White Rosettes, currently UK and European ladies’ barbershop champions and a member of Making Music, will be performing over lunchtime. This is a great opportunity to discover what barbershop techniques can bring to your choir.

The Gala Concert on Saturday evening is open to the general public and includes a performance by Making Music members the Chapter House Choir, a 34-voice chamber choir from York. There is also a performance from the community choir formed at the morning workshop in the Town Hall. The workshop, led by gospel conductor Ken Burton starts at 10am and anyone enthusiastic about singing is welcome to participate.

The programme for the closing day is just as intense and includes a workshop on inner-city school choirs, dealing with choirs close to failure, and the story and principles behind Cambiata, the regional ‘changing voice choir’ for boys.

An extensive music trade exhibition runs throughout the weekend and includes a stall from Making Music.

For more information on this fascinating event, visit the ABCD website.

A few new pieces of writing

I’m now guest blogging for, a website and jobs listing for graduates, about the student and graduate experience. My first post, “Because it’s there…” has just been published. Although I’m only 32 and am determined to consider this young, I’ve come to terms with the fact that most of my posts are likely to be hashtagged ‘mature’.

Also, a second news article for Making Music has gone live, about the abcd Annual Convention for choral leaders. Even though I’m very much only a choir member, the whole weekend sounds fascinating, with lectures on voice techniques and choir management as well as fun musical interludes including barbershop and pub carols.

Archive: Singing for 800 years of freedom

Archived piece: Appeared on the Making Music website in July 2012.

A performance by the massed choirs called Ebor Vox, or the Voice of York, formed the climax of the celebrations of Charter Weekend exactly 800 years since King John signed the Charter of the city on the 9 July, 1212.

Just after six o’clock, the carillon of York Minster struck the first notes of the specially composed piece by Benjamin Till, This York, and the atmosphere was set as haunting voices began to join in from the square below with a driving beat from local drummers.

Nine choirs paraded through the city before massing together beside Clifford’s Tower for the final performance. Each choir had learnt a section of the piece, and as they joined the parade at points throughout the route, the music and harmonies could be heard to gradually build as the flow of people moved through the city.

Making Music members the Chanticleer Singers were positioned at St. Helen’s Square to join the parade. Sid Taylor, the choir’s Chairman, felt that the effect was impressive. ’Before the day, we weren’t sure how it would work. But as singers, I think you’re often just a cog in a machine; it’s the composer who has the overall vision; and that’s just what happened – on the day it sounded great, and it all came together.’

This York was set to words written by local residents, including children. The musical celebration continued throughout the evening with other local choirs, including the York Male Philharmonic Choir and Soon Amore, providing a selection of music from the last 800 years. Watch the YouTube video from the York Press capturing the festival’s atmosphere.

’It’s a unique event,’ said Sid Taylor of the Chanticleer Singers. ’It was great fun, and really enjoyable, and even though just a small group of us went along, we were very glad we did. As a small chamber group, it’s not often that we get the chance to sing with such a large number of people. We’re lucky that in 2012, we are also participating in the Verdi’s Requiem – it’s one of those years when things come together!’

Celebrations in York continue throughout the year as part of the York 800 festival.