50th Anniversary Gala Concert

The day of the Gala concert started early for the organisers with setting up the Great Hall in readiness for the great day – including putting up the risers and screen, memorabilia from 50 years, assembling the Phoenix (carefully!) plus the arrivals table with gorgeously packaged cup cakes.

 

 

Choir gradually arrived during the morning in readiness for the first rehearsal with Chris. The weather was warm but the choir delivered some assured singing with the sense of occasion increasing as the first former members started to appear. David took the second rehearsal and gave the Agnus Dei a detailed work over.

Some deft stage directions from Jason made the assembly of current and former members onstage without too much fuss and then we were ready for the joint rehearsal. The impact of the combined choir for the Parry ‘I was glad’ was quite something.  Certainly loud! Chris steered the large group of singers into producing a more measured and nuanced sound. Similarly for the Os Justi, David gave his wonderfully clear direction on what was required.

Then it was time for folks to meet, chat and enjoy catching up with old acquaintances and swap stories from Phoenix past – it was a lovely atmosphere.

Following a short break for a rest, food and drink it was time to suit up for the 7pm performance. The auditorium began to fill and the expectations of the pending concert  soared.

Current choir started off the concert with a  sparkling rendition of Ben Parrys ‘Flame’  which included a challenging walk-on from the corners of the hall to the stage. The choir were certainly ‘on fire’ with the performance of the first half pieces – the ‘Golden Day’ by Batista given a particularly robust and viking flavour.

Towards the end of the first half, the former members came up on stage to jointly perform the ‘I was glad’. With Chris Enstone  playing ‘max organ’ the performance was truly majestic. In between each piece, choir members came over to the podium to share Phoenix stories, people and music with the audience. The tributes to Mike and Norman were moving and much appreciated by all

The second half commenced with the joint choir singing the Bruckner ‘Os Justi’ followed by current choir performing the Gjeilo ‘Agnus Dei’. David took the piece to a higher emotional plane to which choir responded wonderfully.

The programme progressed into Phoenix favourites, including Nunc Dimittis, Cloud Capp’d Towers and of course Ezekiel saw the Wheel which probably raised the biggest cheer of the evening. Finally, the former members were invited back on stage to sing ‘Let it Shine’ – one of Norman’s arrangements. The choir then peeled away to the sides of the auditorium leaving the former members on stage to jointly sing ‘Gold Leaves’. It was a poignant moment and served as a very apt end to the concert.

Gala concert over, it was time to celebrate and enjoy the togetherness of belonging to or having belonged to Reading Phoenix Choir.

Reading Phoenix Choir wins 2019 Cultural Award

Against strong competition from Progress Theatre and Reading Between the Lines, Reading Phoenix Choir were awarded Performance of the Year for our Town Hall performance of Golden Day. The reasons for our award included the competition itself which attracted 193 entries from all over the world.

Here’s our Howard, whose idea it was to hold the Walter Hussey Composition Competition, with the BBC’s Fiona Talkington. Our performance of Golden Day by Gerson Batista and conducted by guest conductor David Crown, was described as “a new piece written to celebrate a Reading institution, performed in Reading Concert Hall … with global reach. Sent shivers down my spine”.

Herefordshire Weekend – 50th Season Celebration

A rather grey and chilly Friday with snow showers preceded the journey to Hereford. Some people travelled by car, some by train but all converged to the Green Dragon Hotel in the city centre. The hotel – which dates back many centuries – was looking a little time worn, but had bags of character and the welcome was warm. The location was unbeatable for visiting Hereford with the Cathedral a two minute walk away, plus all the shops, pubs and attractions all close by.

The main thing on people’s minds in the evening was FOOD – so following a gathering in the hotel bar, many folk went next door to the rather excellent Thai Bar restaurant. Football diehards in the choir were craving a location to watch some god- knows-what footy match, so a reccy was made to find a pub with a sports bar telly. The ‘result’ was much of the choir going to the Spread Eagle pub and a games room that had all the ambiance of a lift shaft, but at least served ‘Old Rosie’ – a knee trembling 7.3% local cider. Our guest MD, Tori Langdon also materialised here, no doubt a big football fan as well. Energy levels were not up to further bar excursions, so folks wandered back to the Hotel and hit the hay – before Midnight!

The following morning, having been rudely awoken by the native shrieking sea-gulls, folks trooped down to the large oak panelled dining room for some brekky and caffeine. It was great to see the full gathering of choir, choir partners and families. This was always the inclusive objective of the celebration weekend – plus it made for a ready made audience for concerts.

First off – a rehearsal in the Lady Chapel at 10am – so a rapid change into choir attire and march across to the Cathedral. The vast space and stone architecture inside the Cathedral was truly magnificent to behold (Behold!) and made for a special sense of occasion.

The Lady Chapel is located at the North end of the cathedral, behind an ornate stone screen – but for the choir standing at the Altar – the full length of the Nave and roof could be seen, a genuinely awesome sight. The chapel and surrounding space also proved perfect for the plain song processional. Tori quickly got us into vocal warm-up and much needed run throughs of some less-than-secure pieces. Unlike some large spaces which seem to evaporate sound the acoustic was superb – no one had to push hard to hear themselves or be heard.

Rehearsal over, choir headed over to the All Saints Church and Cafe at the other end of Broad Street for our first gig. This was a deliberately informal performance in the Chancel, singing a selection of our repertoire to unsuspecting but appreciative customers. Choir partners were able to enjoy a coffee and a tune, whilst the children played with the toys. The gig also made sure that we were fully voice ready and more piece-confident for the concert later on.

Feeling prepped and fed, choir headed back to the Cathedral and gathered for the 1pm concert and an audience started to arrive. Following a tannoy announcement of Reading Phoenix Choir which resonated round the building and a prayer on the Arts by the Cathedral Dean, the concert started. Tori’s conducting style and encouraging mannerisms were much appreciated by the choir and it was a memorable singing ocassion. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows onto the altar screen behind the choir, giving it a distinctive golden glow. Was this divine intervention??

Job done, it was now free time for folk to go and explore Hereford or just chill out for a bit. The Lego History exhibition was popular as was also the ‘Ferrous 2019’ event. This was a working showcase for wrought iron artistry and an opportunity for the public (and choir) to try their hand at bending and beating bits of red-hot metal. The smell of sulphur was quite something.

The evening party kicked off at the Cosy Club Bull Room Bar – which was reserved for the choirs sole use to relax and socialise. A happy coincidence of ‘International Gin and Tonic Day’ meant that doubles were freely served and consumed. Food was ordered and served next door in the lovely Star Room Restaurant – which again we had to ourselves to enjoy before staggering back to the Bull Room for more post-prandial refreshment. Night Clubs and Late Bars were not in demand, so folks wandered back to the Hotel and hit the hay – before Midnight again!

Sunday morning – not surprisingly and despite the noisy seagulls – everyone was up a bit later for breakfast. An impromptu circular walk was arranged for some fresh air, views of the River Wye and a wander around old Hereford. It was a nice relaxed morning. Following checkout from the hotel, it was time to make our way over to Ledbury via Much Marcle for an early lunch at the Royal Oak Pub. Fifty portions of delicious roast dinner were served amazingly quickly by the Pub staff.

Fed and watered, folk jumped back into their cars and high tailed it into Ledbury for a pre-concert rehearsal at St Michael’s Church. The attractive historic market town of Ledbury is richly endowed with black-painted gabled buildings and the walk up the medieval Church Lane towards St Michael’s was a scenic highlight.

St Michael’s Church is quite large but uniquely also has a separate bell tower and spire. Tori spent time with the choir to really focus on the words, dynamics and tuning – to up our game. Chili was given a spice-up. Teas and Cakes were prepared.


The concert started at 3pm with an agreeably sized audience. Despite about 1/3rd choir missing, the sound was balanced and the performance went well. Before we all knew it, the surround sound rendition of Golden Leaves was done and the concert over. Over£700 was raised for the St Michael’s Hospice. We had just started to get to know Tori – and now she was leaving us to go to China!

So that was the 50th Season Celebration Weekend – singing and socialising and having a great time.

Walter Hussey Composition Competition – Announcement of winner

On Saturday 9th March, after two years of excited anticipation, creativity and hard work, Reading Phoenix Choir gave the premiere performance of Golden Day, announcing it as the winner of the inaugural Walter Hussey Choral Composition Competition.

The Portuguese Composer of the piece, Gerson Batista, attended the choir’s Golden Phoenix concert at Reading Concert Hall to receive his £750 prize presented by competition judge, Anthony Jenner, and hear the choir perform his award winning piece.

Find out more about the winner of the Walter Hussey Choral Competition.

Walter Hussey Choral Competition – Meet the Finalists (5/5)

Last month we introduced the fourth of five finalists in the Walter Hussey Composition Competition, Gerson Batista. Our final competition finalist is Justin Walker.

Entry name: Eldorado
Text from Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe

Find out more about Justin here.

Justin is the last of our five finalists to be profiled. The winning piece for the inaugural Walter Hussey Composition Competition will be revealed and performed at Reading Phoenix Choir’s Golden Phoenix Concert at Reading Concert Hall, Saturday 9 March 2019. Tickets are available from Reading Arts. We hope to see you there!

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 – Meet the Finalists

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition attracted 193 entries from 28 countries, from which our judges selected the top five. It was a long but rewarding process. One Sunday in October, our judges discussed and debated through the day to choose a winning piece, with assistance from an octet of singers from Reading Phoenix Choir.

Now we’d like to introduce you to the five finalists and their piece one by one, (no clues to who won from their order of introduction!). The winner will be announced – and their piece given its world premiere – on Saturday 9 March 2019 at Reading Phoenix Choir’s concert, Golden Phoenix, at Reading Concert Hall. Tickets to this concert will be available nearer the time from Reading Arts.

 

This month we start with Alison Willis (b.1971).
Entry name: Gold and Spices
Text from All Saints by Christina Rossetti

Find out more about Alison here.

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.