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Lockdown Blog 45: Chris’s Choral Favourites

Last Friday Pat asked me to create a Spotify playlist and so I spent many many hours enjoying listening to some of my favourite choral pieces of all time. I must admit, cutting down my long list to make it under two hours in length was challenging. I eventually decided on what I felt would be an interesting mix of songs that chart my own musical journey from chorister to King’s Singer. So, in the words of Julie Andrews, let’s start at the very beginning…

Aled Jones was my idol. Mum and Dad played his ‘Best of Aled Jones’ cassette tape on repeat and I just loved his voice and wanted to sing like that. When I was fortunate enough to record my own CDs as a boy soprano, much of the inspiration for the tracklist came from songs he’d sung.

Life as a cathedral chorister opened my ears and eyes to the joys of Tye, Tallis, Sheppard, Mundy, Parsons, White, Byrd, Morley, Philips, Tomkins, Gibbons, Blow, Purcell, Handel, Bach, Arne, Arnold, Boyce, Smith, Attwood, Crotch (yes, we found that funny too! He was known to his mates as Willy…we also found that amusing…and if he were a rapper he’d have been known as Will.I.Am Crotch. I’ll stop now.), Pearsall, Mendelssohn, Wesley, Brahms, Stainer, Fauré,  Parry, Stanford, Elgar, Harwood, Davies, Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Ireland, Bainton, Dyson, Harris, Howells, Warlock, Poulenc, Sumsion, Finzi, Rubbra, Walton, Berkeley, Tippett, Britten, Joubert, Leighton, Lauridsen, Tavener, Rutter, Dove…the list goes on. Conveniently, St John’s College Choir, Cambridge, recorded ten of these composers on the Naxos label, across a decade or so, and I devoured them all! If you look carefully on the liner notes you’ll even see Jules’ name on about eight of them!

Then during high school I joined the New Zealand Secondary Students Choir under the direction of Elise Bradley. All of a sudden the world of folksongs, spirituals, contemporary and world music, and, crucially, Maori Waiata and Kapa Haka, expanded my music horizons and, subsequently, tastes. I absorbed as many different styles of music as I could and, what started as a ten year old as a diet of English choral music, soon expanded to Europe and beyond. My love of travel, fostered by Mum and Dad, has only added to this eclectic degustation of music styles and I’m always fascinated by music that is an essential part of cultures around the world.

After the NZSSC, it was the turn of the National Youth Choir and Dr Karen Grylls. All of a sudden the incredible soundscapes of Scandinavia, the Nordic Territories and 20th/21st Century composition descended upon my ossicles and the vibrations stirred up all sorts of new feelings, feelings that have never dampened to this day. As we speak, I’ve been working on a new programme idea that draws together many of these influences.

I’m now at University and singing in the back row of the Cathedral Choir and in a chamber choir called Cantores, directed by another mentor of mine, Brian Law. This opened my ears to Pärt, Ligeti, Monteverdi, Willan, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, more Bach and even a bit of Barber thrown in for good measure. From time to time a few of us were asked to bump the Christchurch City Choir and now I’m singing a vast amount of repertoire with orchestra so let’s put Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Berlioz, Walton, Britten and co in a lovely pot and stir that around for a few more years.

At the same time, I’m conducting various choirs at my alma mater, Burnside High School, where the head of music is Hugh Stevenson (once upon a time my teacher, then colleague and now dear friend and mentor), and all the good things about music written for high school choirs and what not are adding to this already brimming concoction and cacophony of musical flavours. I find that choosing repertoire is basically half the job of a conductor because when you select the right piece, the students are engaged, the audience enjoys listening, and in a competition environment the judges usually approve of that mix, too! More important than the result of a competition is opening the eyes and ears of students to a world of possibilities. Fostering a lifelong love of and discovery of music in all its forms is the key takeaway for me from my years as a teacher. First, second, third or whatever place is merely a subjective thing. You win some, you lose some. But knowing that some of my students got a real kick out singing Bach, Brahms, Poulenc, Rutter, Moses Hogan, Manhattan Transfer and whatever else I threw at them is enough for me.

And so now I’m here in the present day and I have not only listened to the likes of the Real Group but proudly shared the stage with them, and I am immensely grateful to having expanded my musical horizons even further over the past eight and half years. So many groups that I have cherished albums of are now colleagues and personal friends of mine and that’s a pretty humbling experience. I can only hope that somewhere out there, a little kid is listening to one of our albums and might just be inspired to give singing a go. And who knows where it will take them.

Hope you’re well, wherever you are. I can’t wait to be back on stage but until then, enjoy this playlist, create one of your own even, and share it with whomever you’d like.

Bye for now!

 

 
 
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