Welcome to our first Virtual Concert

On Saturday 13 June, we were due to be performing a Joint concert in Twyford with Jewel Tones.

Instead, we invite you to join us for a programme of recordings (by a wide range of choirs) of the pieces that would have been performed by the two choirs at this concert.

You can view this below, or on YouTube.

The programme is as follows:

RPC

  • Libera Nos – Sheppard
  • Alleluia Ascendit Deus – Byrd
  • God be in My Head – Rutter
  • Coelos Ascendit Hodie – Stanford
  • Nunc Dimittis – Holst
  • O Oriens – McDowall
  • The Music of Stillness – Hagenberg
  • Wide Open Spaces – Quartel
  • The Bare Necessities – Gilkyson, arr Hare

Jewel Tones

  • Hallelujah, Get happy – arr Gilpin
  • Astonishing from Little Women – arr Brymer
  • The wayfaring stranger – arr Gilpin
  • Flying free – Don Besig

Joint Piece

  • Sing – Pentatonix, arr. Brymer

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up to date with all our virtual performances and recordings.

Not long to go now

If you are a young composer aged 16 to 24 then you have until Tuesday 30th June to send in your entry for this year’s Walter Hussey Composition Competition.

All you need to do is simply send an electronic score along with a digital music file (e.g. a pdf of the score and an mp3 of the music) to info@walterhussey.com.

Reading Phoenix Choir have been busy during lockdown trying to keep ourselves in the best shape for whenever we are able to perform together again.  It’s not the same but we have been having regular rehearsals via Zoom (as well as virtual pub quizzes!) and we have also recorded a backing track for the West Berkshire Virtual Community Choir so that they could perform I’d like to Teach the World to Sing.  To hear the results visit . . .

https://vimeo.com/410976196/b8bd58dde1

Reading Phoenix Choir have also been busy converting their fantastic display at the Reading Museum into a virtual display.  This can now be viewed online at . . .

https://www.readingphoenixchoir.com/virtual-museum-display/

If you go to the Museum Display section then you can read about the 2018 Walter Hussey Composition Competition, and if you go to the Audio Box section then you will be able to hear our recording of the winning entry Golden Day by Gerson Batista!

The West Meets the East Tour (1990) – memories of a choir member

Reading Phoenix Choir receives standing ovation at the Voronezh Opera House, Russia

 

Hi everyone

It was brought to my attention a few weeks ago that it has been 30 years since Phoenix went on their tour of Finland and Russia. Choir has been very fortunate in venturing on many tours of this country and abroad – Holland, Germany, Austria, France, Majorca, the Czech Republic, Ireland, California and – most recently – Spain; singing in wonderful cathedrals such as Palma (my debut as the pitch piper) and Salamanca, (who will forget the long queue of people waiting to come to our concert?), St Florians where Bruckner was organist and the Voronezh Opera House, have been my highlights.

Visiting Russia in 1990 will always be a special memory for me and very close to my heart. The previous year a mixed voice choir, the Voronezh Chamber Choir had been hosted by Phoenix.  Ron (my husband) and I had two sopranos staying with us. Tanya Sirotina was one of them and as a result a close friendship was born. She ended up moving to the UK and her eldest daughter Maria is my goddaughter. Choir was fortunate at the time as our chairman, Mike Ananin, had Russian parents and he was a fluent Russian speaker so when we were invited to visit Voronezh the following year, we jumped at the opportunity. Mike also had links with the Kilven Kuoro choir in Finland and so on the 12th April we flew to Helsinki before travelling by train to Moscow. On Good Friday (13th), I remember singing in a church which was part of the Kremlin; Ron nearly got arrested for taking photographs whilst we were singing. The following day we performed in the Glinka

Museum and that evening we returned to the Vauxhall station to catch the overnight train to Voronezh – a twelve-hour journey. This was a sleeper train with a samovar in which to boil water to make tea in each carriage. Woken in the middle of the night the train had stopped; it sounded like we had somehow been transported into China. However, by morning we were in Voronezh, placed in an interesting hotel – a health & safety nightmare – and being introduced to the musical talent of Voronezh. Who will forget the balalaika players and the eleven-year-old girl playing the red grand piano? We were then filmed singing Moon River for a local Russian television station before the highlight of the entire tour – singing in Voronezh Opera House. What a magnificent building and a memorable evening consisting of over a thousand people standing and cheering our singing and being presented with flowers (all of us!) and pictures. Everyone was so generous. Some members were given paintings, Ron and I, a samovar, teapot, and vodka glasses. The audience were so pleased to see us in their country as they had had very few visitors from the West and this was the year before Boris Yeltsin made his famous speech from the top of a tank outside the Russian Parliament building and the rapid decline of the Soviet Union. (As an aside, a few choir members returned to Russia the following year and were caught up in that event.) From there we went to St Petersburg and performed at the Capella Hall before being transported by bus back to Helsinki for two days of concerts, partying, saunas and, for the brave, swimming in the Baltic Sea.

That is a very brief reminisce of a wonderful 10 days of the ‘West meets the East’ and I’m sure those of us that went have many anecdotes about our trip. A few more of mine are meeting Father Vasily and his enormous capacity to drink copious amounts of vodka; consuming large quantities of cucumber, borscht (soup) and dumplings, old women sweeping the streets, empty shops and visually striking statues commemorating World War II.

Recently, Phoenix has had an exhibition in Reading Museum celebrating 50 years of the choir and some of my Russian memorabilia is in that, including the samovar. We had a brief encounter with Voronezh again in 2016 when the Voronezh Male Voice Choir joined us for a few days. They presented us with a beautiful plate which is also in the display. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 the museum had to close and therefore the exhibition has been locked away to the world. However, we have put the display online and you can view it here. Didier Garçon has also made all his archive material available on Reading Phoenix Memorabilia website and in the section Tour Videos there is a 3 hour account of that trip. His advice, however, is to watch it in its original YouTube location where it will be easier to watch tiny snippets.

In this strange time of lockdown and isolation perhaps it would be an ideal opportunity to look out old photos, memorabilia etc. We would love to hear from you about your memories of tours, not just Russia, concerts and competitions. Please get in touch with your memories via the contact us page of our website, or by emailing chair@readingphoenixchoir.com.

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of performances posted on FaceBook reminding me of the joy of singing with Phoenix. Firstly, Eric Whitacre’s Lux Arumque, sung whilst on our tour of Spain in 2018, then David Crown posted our rendition of Elgar’s Shower at Reading Town Hall in 2012 and Rosalie Gjerde, our wonderful and supportive friend from California, searched out our performance of the Rhythm of Life at the Cork International Festival in 1995 when we won first prize. The trophy is in our exhibition.

I am sure that many of you will remember Mac Akers who was a founder member of the choir and its first chairman. I was so sad to hear that he passed away on Saturday 9th May, having been unwell for some time. He was in the choir until 1985 and re-joined in 1993 to lead the choir’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. He was a big part of the choir during his times as a member and it was at Reading Phoenix Choir that he met his wife, Sally-Ann. There will be a further tribute to Mac at a later date that I will share with you. If you would like to make a charitable donation in memory of Mac, donations to the Alzheimer’s Society can be made here.

My lovely friend, Sophie, asked me the other night what I was missing about the lockdown. There are many things that I am enjoying although I do appear to be as busy as ever. Virtual teaching via Zoom has made sure of that. However more than anything I’m missing meeting my friends on a Monday evening, singing together and performing. We should have been in Bath for the first weekend in May. We are rehearsing once a week in sections using Zoom and participating in the ever increasingly popular quiz evenings. But it’s not the same. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can all sing together again and perhaps see you in either our audiences or at our annual Come and Sing.

Keep safe everyone. Love and best wishes,

Gill Leishman

 

Visit our virtual museum to find out more about the choir’s tours.

More than a Choir: Reading Phoenix and Friends

On 11th February 2020 Reading Phoenix Choir were proud to open a museum display at Reading Museum celebrating fifty years of friendship, partnership and community – as well as music making!

The display focuses on the choir’s activities over the last fifty years and was developed following the success of the anniversary celebrations and Gala concert in 2019.

The fiftieth year showed us that Reading Phoenix forms an important part of Reading’s contemporary social history. During that year choir members gathered together collections of objects, photos, audio, video and other memorabilia that demonstrate the choir’s rich history. These collections were made accessible for audience members and former members to view at the anniversary Gala concert in July 2019 and a selection of these items are now included in the display. The collections provided the inspiration for a team of choir members, together with staff and volunteers at Reading Museum, to develop the display’s content, to write captions and record oral history interviews.  We are excited about collaborating with Reading Museum for the first time and hope it is the beginning of a longer term relationship that will ensure the collections remain accessible for the future.

We hope that this display enables more people to learn about the choir’s charitable and community focused activities; and that more people will discover how to get involved musically.

To celebrate the opening of the display the choir will give a short performance at the museum on Saturday 15th February 2020.

Three Walter Hussey Composition Competition pieces being recorded

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend Reading Phoenix Choir will be recording three of the pieces from the inaugural 2018 Walter Hussey Composition Competition.  These recordings will be available later in the year on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and all your favourite channels, as are Reading Phoenix Choir’s previous recordings of works such as Fyer, Fyer! by Thomas Morley and Anders Edenroth’s Chili Con Carne.

The three pieces from the 2018 Walter Hussey Composition Competition being recorded are Golden Day by Gerson Batista, Gold Leaves by Ethan McGrath and Gold and Spices by Alison Willis.

Visit our Walter Hussey Composition Competition website to find out more.

Choral Composition Competition for Young Composers

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition is a choral music composition competition that was launched in January 2018.

The 2020 competition follows Reading Phoenix Choir’s aim of working with young people and is for composers aged between 16 and 24.

With a 1st prize of £500 and a 2nd prize of £200, and a line-up of top judges from the choral and composition world, the Walter Hussey Composition Competition continues to be one of the leading choral composition competitions of our time.

Find out more about the competiton here.

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.