Magical Reading – Living Advent Calendar

Reading Phoenix Choir are delighted to be taking part in Magical Reading’s Living Advent Calendar as part of our 50th Anniversary Season. Magical Reading is funded by the Reading BID, Reading UK and Reading Borough Council. We’ll be singing in John Lewis on Sunday 2nd December from 1-1.30pm. Why not come and listen to some beautiful Christmas carols while you do your Christmas shopping? There’s no need to book, just show up!

We’re behind the second door of the advent calendar – we’ve never been behind a door before – and there’s so much going on across the festive period. Find out who else is hiding behind doors at www.magicalreading.co.uk, and join with us in celebrating music-making, comedy and art across Reading.

You will also have the opportunity to buy tickets for the Living Advent raffle. All money raised will be split between three local charities:

Home-Start Reading

Home-Start Reading has been running since 1984. They support local families by providing them with a well-matched and trained volunteer, who offers up to 3 hours per week of non-judgemental support in the comfort of the families’ own homes.  These volunteers help families get out and about, register them or take them to the health services or appointments. They also gently role-model positive parenting, attachment and adult-child interactions. Homestart’s aim is to help these parents reach independence and good levels of coping for the benefit and life chances of their children. They are the only service of this kind left in Reading.

ReadiFood

ReadiFood is an independent Food Bank providing food parcels to those in severe need in the greater Reading area. They operate as part of and on behalf of the Churches of Reading to provide services which individual churches alone would not be able to provide.

Reading Samaritans

Every six seconds, somebody contacts the Samaritans. A free, confidential service, available 24/7 – no waiting lists, and no assessments. Reading has an active branch, made up of 150 dedicated volunteers who all play a vital part in supporting their callers – whether by phone, text, email, in person at our branch or at community events across Berkshire.

Walter Hussey Choral Competition – Winner Decided

Thank you to our fantastic judges headed by Kerry Andrew, and the octet of singers from Reading Phoenix Choir who sang the pieces through. Thank you too to all the composers who entered pieces.

The winner will be announced, and the piece premiered, at the Reading Phoenix Choir’s annual concert on 9 March 2019 and we hope performed well into the future!

Celebrating 50 Golden Years

On 17th September 2018 Reading Phoenix Choir launch their 50th season and embark on a year full of musical events and activities.

To kick start celebrations for their 50th year and release the first track of the new CD Golden Phoenix, the choir invites past members to join them at this rehearsal on 17th September. This rehearsal will be a preview of the 50th season finale, the Gala concert in July 2019, when members and ex-members from the choir’s 50 year history will join together again. This Gala concert at the Great Hall, University of Reading, will include performances by present Phoenicians, former members and guest conductors to perform the top rated songs from the repertoire of the last 50 years.

Chris Hann, Musical Director says:

‘I am hugely excited about our 50th season. Not only does it give us the opportunity to reflect upon the many wonderful achievements of the choir over the past 50 years and re-connect with ex members, but also to look forward to what promises to be a very bright and exciting future.’

Over the course of the year the choir will also be celebrating its history of charitable giving, community involvement and first class music making by partnering with a number of different charities, creating a collaborative artwork with audience members, hosting a Come and Sing of Handel’s Messiah, and performing the winning piece from the inaugural Walter Hussey Composition Competition. This will take place at the Annual Concert in March 2019, at which Head Judge Kerry Andrew and her alt-folk group You Are Wolf will perform. Additionally further CD tracks will be released throughout the year.

The choir invites the people of Reading to join in our celebrations and help us gather as much Reading Phoenix Choir memorabilia, photographs, news stories and personal memories as possible to celebrate this milestone. This will be collated on our 50th anniversary website www.rpc50.com, live from 17th September.

For more information on the programme of events and activities for the 50th season join our mailing list at www.rpc50.com/email or for concert details visit www.readingphoenixchoir.com/concerts.

For interviews and more information contact Alice Watson on publicity@readingphoenixchoir.com.

Time for a ‘Right Royal’ Come and Sing!

Join Reading Phoenix Choir at our 6th annual Come and Sing to perform a selection of music that draws upon 230 years of choral music devoted to the Royal Family.

On Saturday 14th July 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir will take over Reading Minster to host a workshop and concert to celebrate the addition of two new members of the Royal Family. Participants will learn a range of pieces composed for royal occasions, from the well-known Zadok the Priest, commissioned to mark the coronation of George II in 1727, to the more recent Behold O God Our Defender, written to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Reading Phoenix Choir Musical Director Chris Hann says

‘Our Come and Sing is one of the highlights of our singing season and this year’s Royal theme will make it extra special following the recent birth of Prince Louis and the Royal Wedding in May. We invite all singers to join us and take the opportunity to sing some of the most iconic choral pieces in the history of the English monarchy.’

An earlybird price of £20 is available for the Come and Sing workshop (including scores) until 31st May, after which they revert to full price at £25. Concert tickets are £5 on the door, unless purchased alongside a Come and Sing workshop ticket where a £2 discount will be applied when using the discount code ROYALC&S at checkout. The workshop runs from 1pm with the performance starting at 6.30pm.

All singers are welcome.

More details can be found here and tickets can be purchased here.

The full programme includes:

  • Zadok the Priest | Handel
  • I Was Glad | Parry
  • Blest Pair of Sirens | Parry
  • Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace | Wesley
  • Behold O God Our Defender | Scott

 

Reading Phoenix Choir and the Tour of Spain

There are many reasons why choir tours are so enjoyable. Musically they are an opportunity to master a set of pieces, to really gel as a choir and to perform at our best in impressive venues to responsive and large audiences. Socially, it gives us time together. Old friendships can be nurtured and watered with alcohol. New bonds form and more recent members are integrated into the group.

All of these qualities were present on our recent tour to Spain. But also a tour is like watching, or even being in, a film that carries you away psychologically. Normal responsibilities and concerns fall away to be replaced by a focus on the choir, on singing and on playing our part in the wider, bigger story.

All of which waffle is an explanation for the section headings below, which are taken from an analysis of classic Hollywood films. So sit back and enjoy ‘Reading Phoenix Choir and the Tour of Spain’ as told by Simon Wellings, Tenor 1.

The Setup

We start with a montage introducing you to the characters. Some sit bleary-eyed in a car on the still-dark M25 quietly listening to the cricket. Others are sipping Buck’s Fizz and learning rude Spanish on the 06:34 from Reading to Gatwick.

Our flight to Madrid was uneventful, save for some noisy babies, a smelly cat and Rebecca being told to keep her clothes on for safety reasons. At Madrid airport we were met by Pilar, our tour rep whose friendly efficiency was unfailing throughout the tour. Next we boarded a nice modern coach that didn’t smell at all of alcohol for a trip across the cold and gloomy Spanish countryside. Late afternoon we arrived at Burgos, our base for the next 3 nights.

Burgos is a lovely town, but that evening we mostly saw its bars and restaurants, notably Bar Victoria which kept an electronic running total of how many glasses of Vermouth it had served. The choir tour WhatsApp group was lively, and for a while resembled foodie Instagram as choir members shared pictures of their dinner. Meat and chips featured heavily – vegetables less so.

The New Situation

Like most days, we had the morning to ourselves, starting with a group breakfast. The spirit of the film ‘Carry on Abroad’ hung in the air most mornings as we poor Brits in Spain sought and failed to find a decent cup of tea. Jason had planned ahead and brought his own tea bags and Marmite, but properly hot water or nice milk were not to be found, let alone a pre-warmed tea-pot with a knitted cosy. I sought to project a sophisticated Spanish air by eating bread with olive oil, stewed tomatoes and ham, but let myself down eating it by pouring oil down my sleeve. We took solace in attempting to tell the difference between machine Cappuccino (weak coffee plus frothy milk) and Cafe con Leche (frothy milk plus weak coffee). Gill needed six to get the day fully started.

Burgos was lovely, if cold. Its highlights include beautifully intertwined pollarded plane trees, a castle on a hill, a museum and the cathedral. This last was large but somewhat cluttered with side chapels. An extremely comprehensive audio guide pointed out the many features but was most proud of the coffin of El Cid, a local hero / brutal mercenary / sophisticated man of many cultures. The coffin is rather short and has locks on the side, implying some concern he might burst out again. In my patchy hand-written notes from tour I have written ‘attacked by an eagle’ next to El Cid’s coffin. I now have no idea why.

The baritones were particularly drawn to the Museum of Human Evolution and its displays of primitive men. It contains impressive specimens of early humans, including the ‘Elvis Pelvis’ which was part of a skeleton found – all shook up – in a nearby cave. Suspicious minds might think they were buried by a hound dog, but apparently not.

Progress

Burgos cathedral contains an undisclosed piece of Thomas Becket, a holy relic of the meddlesome priest murdered in Canterbury cathedral. This link to medieval Christendom is a reminder of the time when believers from Britain would go on pilgrimages across Europe. Both Burgos and our first two concert venues sit on the road to Santiago de Compostela, a route still in use today.

Our first concert was on Wednesday in the Iglesia de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora, Melgar de Fernamental. The church itself is large with a good acoustic, but sits in a small village that seemed deserted when we arrived. The rehearsal blew away some cobwebs and reminded many of us of the tricky corners we’d not yet learnt properly; there had been a lot of copies of the Lauridsen Soneto and Morales being studied on the coach and plane.

We then moved into a nearby cinema where we changed and snacked, wondering if we’d get an audience. We’d been told that concerts in Spain don’t start on time. The published time is a guide, after which we wait for about 10-15 minutes until the organisers judge no-one else is going to turn up. Walking into this church was a pleasant surprise as it was pretty full. Somehow the empty streets had delivered an audience.

A really keen audience too. We got a standing ovation before we’d sung a note and a smiley man near the front gave us all a double thumbs up. Buoyed by their enthusiasm we sailed through some choppy waters to deliver a pretty good concert. We moved someone to tears in Ca’ the Yowes, and not in a Town Hall sort of way either. There was some intrigued nudging of neighbours in the Soneto, suggesting it was recognisable Spanish. We got a standing ovation at the end as well and happily filed back into the coach for a late return.

Thursday morning saw more time to get to know Burgos, or to track down the perfect churros and hot chocolate. On the coach again, we were travelling further on the pilgrimage route towards Sahagún.

Our venue was the Santuario de la Peregrina which has a gorgeous acoustic, the sort where when you stop singing you get to hear what the choir sounds like from a distance. We were sounding good.

Before the concert we had a group meal, in an otherwise deserted local restaurant. Rice with vegetables (controversially called paella) was followed by meat, except for vegetarians who were given a special card to guide the restaurant. There were two waiters, one big, one small, who gave out portions in proportion to their size. Wine was taken and there was a relaxed energy to the room. There’d been fewer copies on the coach – we were mastering the new pieces and we knew it.

Some walked back to the church and were awarded by an encounter with a large flock of sheep passing through the town. Once again there was a large friendly audience. The local informality went a little too far as some guys taking photos carried on talking during a quiet piece. Chris H had to deploy his sideways death stare while conducting; Paddington Bear would have approved. Another good concert, with fewer rough edges and some audience dancing during Chili. They saved their standing ovation for the end, but it was no less appreciated.

There is documentary evidence of these concerts, thanks to the tour HAGS (Husbands And Girlfriends) who skillfully wielded smart-phones and provided familiar faces in every audience.

By now we were mastering the pleasures of tour. First is poorly translated English menus such as: Cheese Goat; Roasted Bend; Thistles in Sauce; Smashing potatoes. Another favourite is drinking on the coach after a concert. When we first started doing this Pilar calmly pointed out that the driver didn’t want us to do this. But, having done her duty she left us to get on with it. At the front of the bus things were civilised: Howard used his cork-screw and provided plastic cups. Towards the rear things were more about plastic cartons of ‘Don Simon’ for €1.50 and gin in water bottles.

Complications and Higher Stakes

Within any good story, you know our heroes will triumph in the end but there has to be some trials and tribulations first. Think of 1940-41 in World War Two, or Luke Skywalker losing his wing-man attacking the Death Star. Was our day in Ávila like Pearl Harbour, our darkest-before-the-dawn moment?

Of course not. But we were a bit tired by then, so let’s just go with the analogy.

With no regard for dramatic structure, Friday was sunny and warmer. So far we’d been shivering until leaden skies, wondering where the Spanish sunshine had got to. But on our coffee stop from Burgos to Ávila we actually got to sit in the sun and turn a little pinker.

En route we assuaged a mother’s guilt and all sang Happy Birthday via a video link to Rebecca’s youngest. For added drama, Chris had to quickly sit down while conducting as we were about to pass some police cars who apparently don’t like that sort of thing (the standing, not the conducting).

We arrived in the walled medieval city of Ávila, left our belongings in the Auditorio de San Francisco, a deconsecrated church and went to find lunch. Some of us ended up in the house of Tomás Luis de Victoria, whose music we were singing on tour. He was out, but we still ate in his restaurant which had an enjoyably hard to translate menu.

Next sightseeing. Ávila has extensive walls and a cathedral famous for its use of blotchy red ‘bloody stone’ (deeply altered granite from a Mesozoic weathering front, I know you were wondering). We enjoyed wandering around, but the walls were long and decent food for a pre-concert meal hard to find.

The venue was a little bare and had an acceptable acoustic, but we’d been spoilt. We got a decent audience but they sat far away and seemed less engaged, a little slower to give a standing ovation at the end. As the final notes of our last piece fell silent an enthusiastic voice shouted ‘round of applause!’. Show, not tell, we thought to ourselves.

We had a 90 minute trip to Salamanca after the concert where we drank and sang. Even the booze turned against us. A bottle of prosecco opened explosively, getting several damp. Some gin fell on Angela and Ávila’s carton of Don Simon was €1.70, a steep increase. Some enthusiastic singing of musicals (from A-Z) raised spirits and got us through to Salamanca, where we could see grand majestic buildings flood-lit before us. We were singing in the cathedral that sat imposingly in view out of the bus window. Were we up to it? Would we have the energy to win over a discerning university audience in a venue where choirs have sung for 900 years?

Such thoughts were running through our heads as we readied for sleep that night (for me alongside annoyance that the tune from Phantom of the bloody Opera was stuck in my head).

The Final Push

Salamanca is impressive. Site of the western world’s third oldest university (beats Cambridge) and a UNESCO world heritage site, it was well worth the walking tour on Saturday morning. We learnt that the cathedral is actually two, new and old nestled together. We were to sing in the old cathedral, in front of its gorgeously decorated Apse topped by a depiction of the end of the world. Local traditions around receiving a doctorate from the University include a final oral exam where if successful the candidate holds a bull-fight and writes their name in blood on the walls of buildings (I fell off a punt just before mine, not quite as stylish).

There was a festival in the town that day. In our hotel and around town we saw ladies in amazing wide and gorgeously patterned dresses. The men were also in bright traditional dress. I’m told the choir uniform sub-committee was taking notes. Raucous bands, with drums and brass filled the streets and led general dancing, everyone was having a great time.

By the time we were walking up from the hotel to the cathedral, we were feeling quite tired and a little nervous. Would we do ourselves justice? Would anyone really leave the vibrant bustle of the streets and squares to come and see us?

We got there to see a queue stretching halfway around the building, quietly waiting. Must be for evening Mass or something… As we assembled in our back-stage room (which was bigger than many of our normal venues) we got confirmation that they were actually coming to see us. All of them.

On time for once, we walked on for the concert (past Charlie Steer’s smiling Spanish twin) into an audience of around 450 filling the cathedral and sitting close around us. Any tiredness was swept away by a huge wave of adrenaline.

It was an amazing and emotional concert. The audience was warm and appreciative and we responded by really going for it – no need to save our voices any more. A loud man just behind Rebecca shouted Bravo after the Bog and Lotti and we knew they liked us throughout. The audience had started to prepare to leave after the final advertised piece, so by the time we spread out for the final Tebye the boundary between audience and choir was very blurred. We were just fellow members of a mass of humanity, all sharing the same intense musical experience.

I always think you could do an interesting video, comparing a choir before a concert, nervously pacing and grimacing at sheet music with the chattering, grinning loons afterwards, spinning around the room and excitedly sharing the joy of a great gig, riding the endorphin rush together.

Like this we spilled onto the streets of Salamanca back to the hotel, being spotted and congratulated by audience members on the way. A quick change and out into a bar. We wanted drink and we wanted to be together and so found a bar for some dancing. Slowly those with less energy, or with fewer moves like Jagger broke from the Status Quo and drifted back to bed.

What remains of a night like that are flashes of the choir’s memory, sudden vivid images. Running towards fireworks at 1am, of Chris Hann doing press-ups in a square, but facing down slope and nobody knowing why, not even him. Karaoke? Really? (checks photos, oh yes indeed there was). We have evidence from social media of a small band of revellers greeting the dawn, riding the performance rush all the way to the end.

The Aftermath

Travelling home is always bitter-sweet, but our journey back was pleasant enough. A scenic drive and calm efficiency saw us back to England. Howard left his trusty corkscrew in hand-luggage and so it was sacrificed to the gods of security. Choir were able to replace it at his birthday soon afterwards.

We were tired but happy. Angela looked liked she’d been attacked by gin again, this time from the inside, (she was not alone in this).

Structurally, these final moments of a film reflect on the emotional journey the characters have been on and maybe set the stage for a sequel. In real life we did this on WhatsApp, as on Monday at work we shared how unreal our real lives now seemed, how lacking in the intensity and sense of common enterprise a good choir tour gives us.

This trip was indeed a really great choir tour and there will surely be a sequel. This is a franchise that should run and run, a story that deserves to be retold over and over.

Annual Concert leads the way to a Golden year

On Saturday 3rd March 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir will host their 49th Annual Concert, the highlight of their concert season and a precursor to celebrations for their 50th year.

This year’s Annual Concert ‘Gloria!’ will take place in the heart of Reading at the Concert Hall and will contain a varied choral programme representative of the choir’s recognisable style. The choir will perform Rutter’s Gloria with the Phoenix Brass Ensemble as well as highlights from Rachmaninov’s Vespers and Howells’ Requiem. This will be followed by a selection of lighter pieces from their repertoire including Whitacre’s Lux Arumque, and arrangements of Freddie Mercury’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

Chris Hann, Musical Director of Reading Phoenix Choir, says:

‘The Annual Concert is a fantastic opportunity for supporters of the choir, both old and new, to experience the very best of Reading Phoenix Choir. It is the highlight of the season and offers a show reel of what we do best. If you go to any concert in Reading this year, this has to be it!’

Not only will this concert be a jam packed evening of fantastic music making but it will also provide the perfect opportunity for any budding choral composers, interested in entering our recently launched choral composition competition, to experience the choir in its full glory. The concert will enable potential competition entrants to realise what the choir, recognised as one of the best amateur choirs in the country, is truly capable of.

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition, launched in January 2018 and boasting a £750 prize and a line-up of top judges, is proving to be an exciting subject of discussion among the composing world. The momentum is building for the new competition with over 100 up and coming composers having registered interest in submitting an entry.

The theme of the inaugural competition is ‘Gold’ to coincide with the choir’s upcoming 50th season. Reading Phoenix Choir will perform the world premiere of the winning entry at their 50th year Annual Concert on 9th March 2019 at Reading Concert Hall.

‘Gloria’ is at 7.30pm on Saturday 3rd March at the Concert Hall, Blagrave Street, Reading, RG1 1QH. Tickets (full price: £20, £17, under 16s: £7.50) are available from the Reading Arts Box Office website or on 0118 960 6060.

Reading Phoenix Choir Launches Choral Composition Competition

On Tuesday 9th January 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir launches an exciting new international choral composition competition.

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition, with a £750 prize and a line-up of top judges, promises to become one of the leading choral composition competitions of our time.

The adjudication panel for the inaugural year will comprise of four time winner of the British Composer Awards Kerry Andrew, internationally acclaimed film composer Andrew McKenna, and award winning conductor and vocal coach Anthony Jenner, alongside representatives from Reading Phoenix Choir.

Kerry Andrew says

I am really excited to be judging Reading Phoenix Choir’s first composition competition! I’m looking forward to seeing some new choral music that both works for voices and feels exciting and new.’ 

The competition is named in honour of Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral from 1955 to 1977, who commissioned many choral works throughout his lifetime. It was at Chichester that choir member Howard Jenner, and his brother and competition judge Anthony Jenner, were choristers under the guidance of Hussey. Inspired by the commitment of Walter Hussey to support the work of composers, musicians and artists, financially as well as intellectually, the idea for a composition competition evolved.

Howard Jenner says

‘Since the initial discussions about where the choir could get their next piece of new music, the team have put together and executed a launch plan about which I am very proud and excited. A potential commission turned into an idea for a competition and I cannot wait to hear the completely new sounds that the composers will be creating.’

The theme of the inaugural competition is ‘Gold’ to coincide with the choir’s upcoming 50th season. Reading Phoenix Choir will perform the world premiere of the winning entry at their 50th year Annual Concert on 9th March 2019 at Reading Concert Hall.

During its history Reading Phoenix Choir have given first performances of more than 25 pieces written and arranged by composers from all over the world, including well-known names such as Bob Chilcott, Andrew Carter and Donald Swann. Most recently, in 2016, the choir were involved in the premiere of ‘The Voyage’, a joint project between Bob Chilcott and Age UK Oxfordshire.

Chris Hann, Musical Director of Reading Phoenix Choir, says

Reading Phoenix Choir has a long standing tradition of commissioning new music. What better way to build on this and discover new music than by holding our own composition competition. New music is the life blood of the music business so I am hugely excited about this competition and the new works we will discover.

The closing date for competition entries is 1st July 2018. Entrants must be aged 16 or over. The winner of the competition will be announced in March 2019.

For more information about the competition visit www.walterhussey.com.

Reading Phoenix Choir offers sanctuary at Reading Minster this Christmas time

Come in out of the cold to experience and enjoy the sanctuary of Reading Minster at Reading Phoenix Choir’s annual Carol Concert this Saturday!

On 16th December 2017, Reading Phoenix Choir will host a magical evening filled with Christmas music in aid of local cause Reading Minster Sanctuary. Every Saturday night the Sanctuary provides a place of refuge, recovery and refreshment for those in need – which everyone hopes to have at this time of year. Money raised from ticket sales will help to keep this service running.

The concert programme will be full of Christmas favourites – some sung by the choir, others for the audience to join in with – as well as a selection of readings. There will certainly be something for everyone, including some seasonal foody treats.

Over its 49-year history, Reading Phoenix Choir, which is one of the UK’s finest amateur choirs, has raised over £300,000 for a range of local and national charities. This charitable activity is close to the hearts of its members and is a core function of the organisation.

Reading Phoenix Choir Chair, Chris Riley, says:

‘We are delighted to return to Reading Minster for our annual Carol Concert. This concert is one of the highlights of our singing season and we are proud that every year we are able to use the proceeds to help fund services for the local community. This year we look forward to partnering with Reading Minster Sanctuary and to support their provision for vulnerable people in Reading.’

Reading Phoenix Choir’s Carol Concert is at Reading Minster, St Mary Butts, Reading RG1 2XH and starts at 5pm.

Tickets are available via www.readingphoenixchoir.org.uk/tickets, the Cards for Good Causes stand in Reading Minster, or on the door.

What’s it like to sing and listen at Douai Abbey?

Having had a week to recover from our recent concert at Douai Abbey, we thought we’d ask a couple of people what it was like, both singing and listening.

First up, Lorna on her First Night Nerves…

The concert at Douai Abbey was my first opportunity to perform with Reading Phoenix Choir. I had been to eight weeks of rehearsals and had (just about) learnt six pieces. Because the choir sings most pieces entirely from memory, new members are invited to sing in the parts of the concert where they know the pieces and to listen to the rest. So, this was my first time hearing the choir as well as being part of it.

I was nervous and glad to have the support of my very knowledgeable and experienced choir buddy, who knew the choir’s system and the venue very well.

After two hours rehearsing, we went for an early dinner at a nearby pub where I had the chance to meet and chat to other members of the choir. They are a friendly, welcoming crowd, all were very keen to encourage me before my first performance.

Having changed into my black ‘uniform’, wearing my new patent leather shoes (all part of the Phoenix Choir dress code), I anxiously read and reread the music that I had learnt, trying to convince myself that I knew exactly where all the alto entries were. Douai Abbey has wonderful acoustics, but that does mean that a lone voice in the wrong place would be heard throughout the building.

The time came, and we walked to our places while singing Jerusalem. I had learnt earlier in the day that the choir always starts a concert singing while walking into position. I ducked behind a pillar and listened to the choir singing the pieces I haven’t yet learnt, and they sounded wonderful – rich, full and resonant. No pressure! I stepped into position for the last three pieces of the first half and managed to sing most of the right notes in the right order. Phew!

After the interval, during which lots of people asked how I was faring (well) and offered advice and support (very much appreciated), we were back on for the second half. Once again, I was grateful to be guided by my buddy who made sure I was in the right place at the right time. After singing another six pieces, with more confidence than in the first half, I moved to sit in the audience to enjoy the rest of the concert.

So, I have reached and passed this big milestone – my first concert. It is a long time since I have been part of a choir so this feels like a rite of passage. There is, however, no time for complacency as there is much festive music to learn before the Carol Concert on 16th December!

And here’s what Phil had to say about coming to see his new choir in action…

Douai Abbey must be almost the perfect venue for choral singing. It has amazing acoustics but also its shape and size offer wonderful opportunities for dramatic impact. The start of Saturday’s concert at Douai was spine-tingling as we heard the melody of Parry’s Jerusalem hummed softly by the choir from behind us. Then as the choir processed up the side aisles, singing the familiar words, we became surrounded by gorgeous harmonies – a totally involving audience experience.

I really enjoyed the concert. I have seen Phoenix many times over the years but this felt different as I Iistened not just as a concert-goer but also as a choir member, mentally following the bass line in the pieces that I am familiar with. There was so much to enjoy at this concert but I particularly liked the two Stephen Paulus pieces, the Victoria and the atmospheric Tebye Poyem at the conclusion of the concert.

During the interval (as well as before and after) I was manning the RPC display table. I am pleased to report that I was kept busy with CD sales and that there was a lot of interest generally in the choir. One lady couldn’t make up her mind which CD to buy so purchased all three!

I do of course look forward to performing with the choir in due course and I am hopeful of singing at the Carol Concert in Reading Minster. I have to say that I am still a little disbelieving that I am rehearsing with the choir that I have admired so much in the past. Singing choral pieces (as opposed to merely listening to them) is relatively new to me but I am enjoying the experience and loving the music. Did I read somewhere that the choir is bringing back Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque? Wow! Can’t wait!!

Joining a new choir can be a daunting experience but I only have praise for the welcome I have received and for the impressive organisation to kit me out with song lists, music, members access and much else. Thank you.

Armistice Day concert to raise money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity

On Saturday 11th November, Reading Phoenix Choir will join together with ABF The Soldiers’ Charity to raise money for The National Charity of the British Army, who provide lifelong support to soldiers and veterans, as well as their immediate families, when they are in need.

Musical Director Christopher Hann says,

‘I am delighted that Reading Phoenix Choir is returning to Douai Abbey and we look forward to putting on a concert to commemorate Armistice Day. We are also immensely proud to be raising money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity to support the vital work that they undertake to provide assistance to soldiers and veterans.’

Chairman of Berkshire ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Brigadier (Retired) Peter Walker says,

‘We are delighted that the Phoenix Choir is going to perform at the Abbey to support the Charity for what will be a superb evening of music. We also wish to thank the Abbey for allowing this concert to take place in such a wonderful setting.’

The concert will take place at 7.30pm at the beautiful Douai Abbey in Upper Woolhampton. Performing the best examples of the choir’s extensive repertoire, the varied programme will include the hauntingly beautiful Howells’ Requiem, alongside Lotti’s Crucifixus and works by Tallis, Victoria, Brahms and Rachmaninov.

If you’ve never heard the choir before, then be prepared to be blown away by their quality and love of music-making. The choir demonstrates its excellence by singing predominantly unaccompanied and performs everything entirely from memory, allowing a real connection with the audience.

Tickets are £12 (£10 for concessions, £5 for under 16s) and are available to purchase from Newbury Corn Exchange (https://cornexchangenew.com/event/an-armistice-day-concert-in-support-of-abf-the-soldiers-charity)

Reading Phoenix Choir sings for a ‘Brighter Berkshire’!

On Saturday 21st October, Reading Phoenix Choir will join together with local community initiative Brighter Berkshire to raise money to support mental health services in Reading and throughout the country.

Following on from World Mental Health Awareness Day on 10th October, this concert supports Brighter Berkshire’s aim to reduce stigma around mental health and is one of Brighter Berkshire’s ‘2017 year of mental health’ events.

Reading Phoenix Choir Secretary and concert organiser, Rebecca Ranson said:

‘We are proud to be hosting this concert in aid of Brighter Berkshire as we believe it is such a fantastic way to support local mental health services. Choral singing is a proven way to improve wellbeing so we feel there is a natural link between the charity and us. The benefits of this concert are two-fold – we will not only be raising funds but also actively improving people’s mental health!’

Alison Foster from Brighter Berkshire said:

‘It doesn’t matter where we are when we speak about mental health, we always get someone so relieved we have opened the conversation and helped normalise talking about mental health. This is what this year is all about, hopefully the start of developing a more open and compassionate community in Berkshire when it comes to mental health. There are so many things we can all use around us to help mental health such as friends, music, sport, art and more, and this event is a great example of how powerful coming together for music can be.’

Reading Phoenix Choir will be hosting this concert in the heart of Reading at St Laurence Church, a beautiful 12th-dentury church on Friar Street. The choir will perform a varied selection of pieces from its extensive repertoire, introducing audience members to its unique choral style. The choir demonstrates its excellence through the performance of songs from ‘madrigals to pop’ from memory and mostly a cappella. From Brahms to Bowie, there really will be something for everyone.

Full details can be found here.

Preparations get underway for Spain tour

In April 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir will travel to northern Spain for the first time in its 49-year history for a spectacular week of music making.

Flying into Madrid, and working our way north then west, we currently have plans to sing at the Iglesia de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora in Melgar de Fernamental, Santuario de la Peregrina in Sahagún and Catedral Vieja in Salamanca.

This week saw our first meeting with the tour company and we can’t wait to share choir’s extensive repertoire across this region.

Our Musical Director Chris Hann says,

‘I am excited to bring Reading Phoenix Choir to mainland Spain for the very first time and perform in some of the most spectacular churches in Europe. We look forward to meeting our Spanish audiences and wowing them with our unique sound, varied repertoire and interminable professionalism.’

Dates for your diary

We are half way through our summer term now and thought you might like to take note of a few dates for your diary, that will complete our wonderful 2016/17 season at Reading Phoenix.

Saturday 10th June – Concert at Wokingham Methodist Church

From 7.30pm

Tickets – £10 per person

Set In the heart of Wokingham, our concert at Wokingham Methodist Church is in aid of the MORS Charity Fund which supports local and national charities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 24th June – A Concert to celebrate Midsummer’s Evening, St. John’s Hartley Wintney

From 7.30pm

Tickets – £12.00 per person and £5.00 for under 16s

Located in the beautiful village of Hartley Wintney in Hampshire, our midsummer’s concert at St. John’s Church will be held in partnership with the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice, with whom all proceeds will be shared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At both our June concerts we will be performing a wide range of repertoire with our Musical Director Christopher Hann. Beautiful excerpts of works by Brahms, Rheinberger and Herbert Howells; a 6-part, and an 8-part, Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti; and some magnificent and powerful excerpts from Rachmaninov’s Vespers. On the lighter side, madrigals, the delightful ‘My Spirit Sang all Day’ (Finzi), works by the Kings Singers, ‘Queen’, and David Bowie; even one piece called Chili Con Carne!!

Saturday 15th July – Come & Sing, Reading Minster

Rehearsal from 11.00am – 5.30pm, Concert at 7.00pm

25.00 per person (includes score) – EARLY BIRD TICKETS £20.00 (Available until 31st May)

At our 2017, annual Come & Sing we are looking forward to learning two settings of Gloria by Vivaldi & Rutter. We will be rehearsing throughout the day at Reading’s historic Reading Minster and invite your family and friends to join us for a performance of both in the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The choir are currently enjoying a short break over Half Term but are looking forward to all three of these dates and we do hope you will be able to join us.

Concert review: St Bartholomew’s, Lower Basildon

Over the last weekend of March, we enjoyed a concert at the beautiful St. Bartholomew’s church in Lower Basildon, West Berkshire.

The concert was a lovely way to welcome the start of spring and we enjoyed performing to a packed church, by candlelight.

The choir rehearsing at St. Bartholomew’s before the concert

 

We also received some lovely feedback that we just had to share with you:

“Magic from start to finish. The choir are in a class of their own. The evening was both enchanting and moving the singing reaching into every corner of our historic church.Your new Musical Director was obviously thrilled with the evening’s performance. The programme delighted the audience it was a memorable event for us all.The Friends of St Bartholomew’s also raised sustainable funds towards the restoration work at the church.We are looking forward to 2019 when we will welcome the choir to Lower Basildon once again.”

Lynn Thorn – Concert Organiser and Friend of St. Bartholomew’s

“Your concert last night was wonderful, I am so glad to have heard your choir sing at last and I love hearing concerts in Church too.  You are all amazing to learn all the music and songs by heart.”

Friend of Reading Phoenix 

If you didn’t manage to join us for this concert but would like to in the future, we have a packed diary for our summer term, with concerts in Worthing, Brighton, Wokingham, Hartley Wintney. Finally, we will be finishing on a high with our Come & Sing at Reading Minster in July. 

We hope to see you there!

Tour preview: Join us in Sussex, this May!

Last year we enjoyed a wonderful mini weekend tour to Kent, performing across The Garden of England.

In fact, we had such lovely weekend, singing and socialising with our fellow choir members, we knew it was something we had to do again this year! We are therefore delighted to announce that this May we are making a trip down to the south coast for a mini tour in Sussex.

With two concerts booked, preparations are well under way to organise another successful tour.

Our first concert on Saturday 6th May will take us to St. George’s Church, Worthing, where we will be singing a rich and varied concert programme in aid of Worthing Churches Homeless Project.

This fantastic charity has been working extremely hard over the past 16 years with a vision that “Worthing and surrounding area is a community where no local person needs to sleep out and everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential”.

“Started in 1991 by four local Christians who took soup, blankets and sleeping bags to the seafront to local homeless people. From this small beginning, Worthing Churches Homeless Projects was born. Today this West Sussex Christian charity has grown to 56 staff members and over 200 volunteers and provides a range of services, which offer opportunities to regain independence.
 
Worthing Churches Homeless Projects believe that everyone has the right to a home, regardless of the difficulties and issues they may face in their lives. We believe in showing those who need our help, that the wider community are there to support them and to offer hope for a better future.
 
The work undertaken by Worthing Churches Homeless Projects is crucial, people who live in our accommodation receive the specialist support they need to ensure their recovery. We empower homeless or insecurely housed individuals to achieve sustainable independent living.”
 
On Sunday 7th May, our second will be part of the fabulous Brighton Fringe, England’s largest arts festival.

“Brighton Fringe is England’s largest arts festival and one of the largest fringe festivals in the world. We set out to stimulate, educate and entertain a diverse range of people through a diverse range of art forms. And all this in an iconic city with unique cultural heritage.
 
Brighton Fringe takes place every May (5 May – 4 June 2017)  This vast celebration of all things creative has grown out of and is inspired by, home-grown talent. More than 50% of participants are based in Brighton & Hove. We are committed to helping the arts flourish and are completely open-access, which means anyone can put on a Brighton Fringe event. No selection criteria are imposed on participants. This enables both new and established performers to try out new work and take risks. We also help artists develop professionally through a range of workshops, mentoring and bursary programmes. A wide array of critically acclaimed shows and performers also appear at Brighton Fringe each year, drawn by the huge number of appreciative audience members who attend every year.”
 
If you are going to be in Sussex, the weekend of the 6th & 7th May we would love it if you would join us for one of our fantastic concerts. We are looking forward to announcing our full concert programme shortly but in the meantime, further information and how to purchase tickets can be found HERE.