A number of Reading Phoenix Choir's singers spent the weekend of 16/17 September 2023 in the Hexagon as part of the Hexagon's 45th anniversary exhibition, providing a live exhibit for the end of the 'Backstage' tours. The choir was one of the earliest performers at the Hexagon, after it opened, with it's concert in December 1977.
Twenty members of the choir took part over the weekend in different combinations of around twelve singers and sang a mix of a cappella music to entertain the visitors.
This included well-loved choral pieces by music by Victoria and Bruckner to arrangements of favourites such as Bare Necessities ....... and Carol of the Bells, as we realised it was only 100 days until Christmas!
We were pleased that there was interest in the choir from the visitors and welcomed the enthusiastic support and hospitality the singers received from the Hexagon staff. We hope to see a few more people at our next concerts as a result of our efforts.
|Concert News - A New Heaven|
The final concert of the Reading Phoenix Choir’s 54th season was a joyous collaboration with another long-established choir based in Hertfordshire, the Harpenden Music Makers.
On Saturday 8 July, the two choirs joined forces to perform a concert featuring some of our well-known repertoire alongside more traditional choral ‘bangers’.
The concert was made even more special as our current Music Director, Christopher Hann, was until recently also the Music Director of the Harpenden Music Makers.
Christopher said “Harpenden Music Makers will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent ten years with this wonderful, friendly and supportive choir and so was thrilled to be able to bring Reading Phoenix Choir to Harpenden and get an opportunity to conduct both choirs.”
Both choirs sang solo sections, with the two choirs combined for rousing renditions of several pieces, including Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens (notably sung in 2011 at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), Edgar Bainton’s And I Saw a New Heaven, Phoenix Choir favourites Hymn to the Creator of Light (John Rutter) and Life on Mars (David Bowie), and Charles Stanford’s Magnificat in A.
Thanks to the Harpenden Music Makers for their superb hospitality and their Music Director Olivia Tait for her work conducting both choirs.
|Karl Jenkins often seems to elicit mixed opinions as to whether or not he is a serious composer - but there is no doubting the lasting popularity of his style of music, which many people find accessible and enjoyable to sing or listen to.|
On a cold Saturday afternoon in Wokingham, a sizeable but expectant group of around seventy 'Come and Singers' assembled at St. Pauls Church for the start of the Armed Man workshop. The church heating system was definitely struggling to make a difference to the ambient temperature, so coats remained on throughout.
The workshop was split into two main sessions during the afternoon - note bashing first, followed by run throughs of each section. The Tenors were heaviliy outnumbered by the other sections - but managed to hold their own. The 1st Sopranos achieved impressive sustains of top A's. The choir soloists were all excellent. Breaks in between the sessions allowed for the consumption of delicious cakes, provided by choir members, and time for people to chat or warm up with some thermos coffee.
With the accompanying organ and solo spots, plus deft vocal and score direction from Chris, The Armed Man was ready for a public perforrmance. A pleasing number of people began arriving at the church meaning we had a good size audience. This always helps give the choir a lift and the outcome was a very satisfactory performance.
|On Monday 7th November, the choir recorded the music for the Reading Rep Theatre's production of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol. It was quite a novelty for the choir to use headphones for singing against the backing track - but the results sounded really professional|
|It's rather unusual for choir to perform a concert at the beginning of the Season - even more so at the Town Hall in Reading with a star artist and combined with another choir.|
The concert date also coincided with one of the biggest global news event - the sudden death of Queen Elizabeth II. Initial reactions were that the concert should be cancelled out of respect, but as the protocols for the period of mourning and plan for the state funeral became announced, the decision was taken to continue with the concert.
It felt good to be back at the Town Hall after such a long interval. The last time the choir had performed there was the Town Hall concert in March 2020, just before the lockdowns started. The combined concert with the Berkshire Youth Choir and Brindley Sherratt meant for some extra stage planning, but with patience and Jason's clear directions, both choirs were able to get on and off the stage in a reasonably dignified manner.
Back in the early summer, both choirs had rehearsed and recorded the three pieces for Brindley Sherratts new album, and after a couple of run throughs with Brindley, it all sounded fantastic.
For the actual concert, the full audience in the lower auditorium provided a frisson of excitement and nerves. The two minute silence for the Queen followed by Rebecca starting the plainsong chant for 'Frondens' was beautiful and poignant. The concert programme then alternated effectively between the two choirs and solo performances by Brindley. There was even some audience participation with some classic Gilbert and Sullivan.
The second half came to a climactic finale with the performance of Total Praise, sung by both choirs and Brindley. The earth shattering performance brought the audience to their feet with appreciative yells and whistles. Of course we sang it again as an encore. A brilliant evening.
|The choir joined forces with the Aldbourne Band for a joint concert at Christ Church, Swindon on Saturday 9th July.|
We have sung as guests with the Aldbourne Band in previous years, so it was great to have the opportunity to meld our musical genres once again.
The programme comprised a mixture of Band and Choir only performances, plus several combined pieces- including Parry's Jerusalem, Lauriden's O Magnum Mysterium and Handel's Zadok the Priest. It was a great pleasure to sit back and enjoy the wonderful sound of Brass on that warm summer's evening.
|On Saturday 14th May, Reading Phoenix Choir performed a concert at St Paul's Church, Wokingham to help raise funds for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine fund.|
Despite competition from the Eurovision Song Contest and the Football Cup Final, the concert attracted an audience of nearly two hundred people, of which seven were free tickets for Ukrainian refugees and five children.
It was also the first time that choir were able to enjoy the new risers, following the demise of the old risers in a storm back in 2o21, when a tree crashed onto the trailer!. The new risers are free of creaks and quite comfy to stand on - which is a mercy when wearing patent shoes. It was also good to have a clear view of Chris again when singing on the risers.
The choir introduced a new 'in the round' plain song for the start of the concert 'O Frondens Virga'. A stirring rendition of 'Prayer for Ukraine' by the choir followed by 'Even When He is Silent' provided a powerful moment of poignancy. Following the lively second half, the concert finished off in the round of 'When I need a friend' a choral arrangement of a piece by Chris Martin of ColdPlay.
|Reading Phoenix Choir and the Berkshire Maestros were invited this month to support the production of a new recording by one of the most respected opera soloists in the UK - Brindley Sherratt.|
On a warm Saturday afternoon at a venue near Reading University, the two choirs came together to provide the choral backing tracks for three amazing pieces. Our previous rehearsal preparations meant that the production team were able to record and lay down the tracks quckly and accurately much to the satisfaction of our MD Chris Hann and production manager, Chris Mitchell. Brindley was not able to join us in person, for the session, but he joined the recording session virtually online to give us his encouragement and support.
The album will be launched in September.
|It’s been three years since the Choir last embarked on a tour, the last time being a weekend tour based in Hereford. Back in 2019 we were under the temporary musical directorship of Tori Longdon, as Chris was otherwise engaged in becoming a father (he’s not missed many engagements but we figured that was a valid excuse!). Back then there was no Covid, no mask-wearing and no thought that there may be a long delay before the next one.|
So in many senses this tour of Bath was long overdue. Much was at stake – would audiences come? Would the many new choir members who had joined us since September 2021 be able to learn the augmented repertoire that was needed? Would we all remain Covid-free? What would happen to the sound if only sopranos turned up?
Thanks to the diligence of our wonderful committee, the musical forward-planning of our reliably flexible conductor and the truly remarkable organisational gifts of our concert manager the Bath tour of 2022 became a thing. For a variety of reasons (not all Covid-related) there were musical challenges – we were down to one first tenor, around 47 sopranos and a number of new members who were having to produce their most confident singing with very minimal preparation. Some people could only sing in one concert. Gill Leishman, longest serving member, turned up for the Friday social, went back to Reading to sing in a concert on the Saturday and returned on the Sunday for our last concert. Reading Phoenix Choir is a unit of remarkable people.
Despite all this uncertainty, the choir pulled it off. The first two concerts of our four-concert tour were performed in the city centre church of St Michael’s Without. There is apparently also a St Michael’s Within – good to know. Both concerts were intended to showcase our varied repertoire in an informal atmosphere. We were stationed within the church but our audience was based in the café area. We appreciated the opportunity to warm up with limited pressure. The audience appreciated being serenaded while drinking their cappuccinos.
A few hours at leisure were followed by a jaunt by train to the Methodist Church in nearby Keynsham. As accompanist I was kept more busy than usual by a number of accompanied items. The piano was serviceable, the audience select but appreciative and ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’, our new showstopper, went down a storm.
After some leisure time on the Sunday morning we had another mass jaunt, this time by bus, to St. Luke’s church, up the hill from the city centre. Despite some misgivings about audience size, a good number of people puffed up the hill to hear us. We gave it our all, spurred on by the smiley souls in front of us, a very nice piano (always a bonus) and the realisation that by now we’d all pretty much learned to negotiate the trickier moments of the repertoire. Plus choir dinner at the White Hart was waiting.
As always, the tour brought the choir together, helped some new faces to feel settled in, sharpened us musically and – very importantly – gave us the opportunity to raise funds for the three charities we were supporting : Time is Precious, Children’s Hospice South West and the Brain Tumour Charity.
Here’s to next year’s tour!
PHOTO GALLERY LINK HERE
Bath Weekend Tour Photos
About the Walter Hussey 2020 Competition
The Walter Hussey Composition Competition, named after Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral and commissioner of significant amounts of choral music, was set up following a generous bequest to allow Reading Phoenix Choir to promote new compositions. While the inaugural event in 2018 was an open competition, the following contest aimed to support music making in young people, and so entries were solicited between January and June 2020 from young composers aged 16-24.
The theme of 'New Horizons' was widely interpreted. While some compositions focussed on geographical journeys, others were religious texts or considered life after death, and inevitably - having been written in the spring of 2020 - several of the pieces related to living with, or life after, COVID19. Composers wrote for forces from simple SATB up to triple choir with added solo lines. While you would expect the large number of submissions in English and Latin, we also received music written in Spanish, Tagalog, Latvian and Irish (the latter of which was one of our six finalists) and one piece without words, submitted as a beautiful graphical score containing no traditional music notation.
The initial pool was slimmed down to a longlist of twenty, and then our six finalists by a panel consisting of our director Christopher Hann; professional composers Anthony Jenner and Neil Cartwright; and - on behalf of the choir - Howard Jenner and Rebecca de Bruin. We considered not only musical merit, but also how well the piece suited the choir and how well it fit the submission brief. For the final decision, we were joined by Owain Park who, in addition to having recently composed works for the likes of the Tallis Scholars, Voces8 and Trinity College, Cambridge, also directs the Gesualdo 6, with whom we had hoped to share a concert in March 2021, when the winning piece was due to be premiered.
We are pleased to announce that the runner up, receiving an award for £200 is Bethlehem by Abby Chow, and the winner, receiving an award for £500 is Where sky meets see by Blake R Mitchell.
|YouTube Video URL:|
|For more information, see:||walterhussey.com|
New Music and a World Premiere
The choir’s first concert of 2022 will be our ‘New Horizons ’ concert in Reading University’s Great Hall on Saturday 5th March. This concert is going to be particularly special for the choir as it will be our first full- length concert in Reading since we sang at the Town Hall in March 2020!
New year, new music
We are fully settled back into rehearsing at South Lake Primary School and we are gradually introducing the music that we learnt during the lockdowns into our concert repertoire.
Another reason to come to the Great Hall concert is that it will include the world premiere of the winning piece of the second Walter Hussey Composition Competition. This time, the competition was for young composers, and the long-awaited announcement and performance of the winning piece were originally scheduled for last March. Without giving too much away, we think audiences worldwide will love it, and we can’t wait to share it with you, the first audience to hear it. The Choir has already made a recording of the piece, and the track will be released online on the same weekend as the concert. Look out for our virtual announcements of the winner on Facebook and Twitter too!
The new members who joined in the Autumn term are settling in to the choir well, and four have already sung with us at our concert in November. They have helped give our sound a new strength particularly in the tenor and bass sections. We would still love to hear from singers (especially altos) who are interested in joining us, though, and there will be an open rehearsal towards the end of this term for anyone who wants to find out more about being a member. Further details of this rehearsal, including the date, will be published on this website soon.
|Our third concert of the 53rd Season at St Mary’s Church, Old Basing on Saturday 13th November 2021. We were invited to perform this concert by Robert Jackson, a long-serving member of Reading Phoenix Choir who was Chair of the choir about six years ago.|
The choir also made a recording during the afternoon rehearsal
|The first full concert of our 53rd Season at St John’s Church was on Saturday 23rd October 2021.|
We were delighted that ex-Phoenicians Paul and Nicy Roberts invited us to perform in their church once again and shared the concert with us by performing a few songs. The choir has sung at St John's on a couple of previous occassions - the last time in 2013.
Although we have recruited many new choir members in the last few weeks, it was a slimmed-down choir that rose to the challenge of performing a full, off-copy concert on Saturday. Andy Witting and Adam Barton, two new choir members joined us to help out with door and sales duties.
It was fantastic to be able to perform again at a concert level - and also very pleasant to have the opportunity of listening to Nicy sing a number of lovely solo pieces. The choir finished the concert with its trademark 'surround sound' rendition of Rutter's 'God be in my Head' piece to the audience
|It was a special day for the choir when for the first time since March 2019, we were able to perform a concert in public!|
The format of the concert was a bit different from normal in that it was held in the morning and we sang in our red choir polo shirts rather than formal dress.. It was a deliberately informal concert to get us back in to the swing of performing to an audience.
It was also the first time we sang together 'in close formation' instead of socially distanced and it was a fantastic feeling. As our audience comprised quite a few families and children, Chris told lively stories about the pieces to make them more engaging for young ears.
The powers that be at the Abbey Baptist Church in Reading provided us this message about the concert
"It was an enjoyable event and the conductor was so good with engaging with the children"
Season 53 is Go!Season 53 is beginning for Reading Phoenix Choir, and our excitement is building. We are delighted to be returning to full-length indoor rehearsals after such a long break. While we were happy in our outdoor rehearsal space during the summer term, the prospect of singing outside on dark and rainy Autumn evenings is not so inviting. We will start the season in the spacious hall at St Joseph’s College, where we will be comfortable singing whatever the weather, and we hope to get back ‘home’ to South Lake School later in the season.
Even more exciting than being able to rehearse indoors is the prospect of returning to performing live after an 18-month break. We have all missed singing to an audience and can’t wait to start again at our informal morning concert on Saturday 25 September at Reading’s Abbey Baptist Church. Our first live audience since our Town Hall concert in March 2020 can expect a short but varied programme followed by coffee and cake. Later in the term, we will be performing in Old Coulsdon and Old Basing in concerts organised by former members of the choir. In December, we will have our traditional Christmas Concert at Reading Minster.
As a choir that prides itself in performing almost entirely without music, we have some new repertoire to commit to memory. Online rehearsals have been fine to introduce the pieces, but to memorise music for our performances, we need to sing with the whole choir around us. We will be working hard this term, getting our new pieces performance-ready, as well as brushing up a few old favourites.
During our last season, the COVID restrictions did not allow us to invite prospective members to join us at rehearsals (even when we were meeting in person), so we are delighted to be opening our doors to potential newcomers once again this term. We hope to recruit some new singers, so we are holding an open rehearsal on 13 September at St Joseph’s College. Although we are particularly looking for new tenors and basses, we are very happy to meet singers of any voice part who are interested in singing with us. If you are unable to attend the open rehearsal, or are reading this after the event, and would be interested in joining the choir, please get in touch - we would still love to hear from you.
After a very long wait, we are thrilled to have held our first full-choir, in-person rehearsals this month! Rehearsing outdoors was not what we had planned, but we feel very fortunate to be able to use the space at Prospect School: we have shelter, lights, excellent ventilation and plenty of room for social distancing. It has been so exciting to sing together again after months of rehearsing online. We have all missed hearing each other’s voices, and now we can once more work on the finer details of the music. In our first few rehearsals we are returning to music most of us know well, but we are also very much looking forward to singing pieces that we started to learn during our online rehearsals and hearing how they sound with everyone together.|
Season 52 will go down in Reading Phoenix Choir’s history for being the only season (we hope!) in which we did not perform to an audience. However, restrictions permitting, we hope that next season will be a more normal one with a Come and Sing event, our ever popular Christmas Carol concert, the annual concert in at the Town Hall and many other performances, so there will be plenty of opportunities for you to hear us sing. Plans are also being made for the delayed announcement of the winner of last year’s Walter Hussey Composition Competition. We will be recording the winning piece next term and can’t wait to sing it to audiences in our concerts. Without giving too much away, its message of hope and optimism feels apt as we look forward to future music-making.
Please visit our website regularly for news of concerts and events and sign up to our mailing list to stay informed. If you think you might like to try singing with Reading Phoenix Choir, we would love to hear from you. We have vacancies for tenors and basses at the moment.
Walter Hussey Composition Competition
We would now like to introduce you to the sixth finalist in the 2020 competition:
|No more Zoom rehearsals at last! Our first proper Reading Phoenix Choir rehearsal in 15 months was held at the Prospect School in Reading.|
Conforming to the latest Covid safe rules on on outdoor singing , although the acoustics and spacing are not ideal ,we can now enjoy singing as a complete choir.
Zooming RehearsalsWe began our 52nd season back in September feeling optimistic. Having rehearsed over Zoom for the previous six months, we were nearly ready to return to in-person rehearsals and indeed the majority of our members were able to meet at South Lake School four times during the early autumn. Our rehearsals felt very different - we met in small socially-distanced groups for only half an hour per group each week- but we were hopeful that we could build on this as the term went on. It was just wonderful to be singing together again. Of course, the disappointment of the November lockdown was huge, and the worsening situation in December meant that we weren’t able to go ahead with our planned Christmas recording.
Now we are in lockdown again. Returning to online rehearsals is not what we hoped we’d be doing this term, but we are determined to maintain the optimism and enthusiasm we had at the beginning of the season. Our first Zoom rehearsal this term will be a sing-through of all the pieces we had been performing in concerts before Covid-19 struck. This will be a chance for us to revise music we may have forgotten, but also to remind ourselves of why we love singing together. We will continue meeting online every Monday and intend to keep the sessions as varied as possible: some revision, some new pieces, some work on vocal technique and perhaps one or two surprise visitors later in the term. There are many limitations to singing on Zoom, but we will do our best within these limitations so that we can keep Monday night as Choir night.
When will we next be performing? We can’t answer that yet. There are concerts pencilled in our diary for the summer and autumn, but these will have to stay in pencil for the time being. One thing is certain though: we will have our cleaning spray, hand gel and singers’ masks ready so that we can meet to rehearse and perform as soon as it is safe to do so.
Walter Hussey Composition Competition
We would now like to introduce you to the fifth finalist in the 2020 competition.
Alex Wallace (b. 2000)
Entry title: Gnìomh Gràidh
Walter Hussey Composition Competition
We would now like to introduce you to the fourth finalist in the 2020 competition.
Blake R Mitchell (b.1998)
We were lucky just before Christmas to have a wonderful virtual chat with the very talented Alison Willis who was runner up in the Walter Hussey Composition Competition 2018.
Read the interview on our Walter Hussey Composition Competition webage.
Making Music Awards
We are delighted to announce that the inaugural Walter Hussey Composition Competition has been shortlisted for the new Making Music Awards, which will form part of an online celebratory evening of musical creativity on Tuesday 8 September.
The awards celebrate leisure-time music groups and their activity, and the often unrecognised talent which helps the sector to flourish across the UK.
All awards will be announced by Debbie Wiseman OBE, one of the UK’s top film and television composers, following the Making Music annual general meeting.
The Walter Hussey Composition Competition was shortlisted in the category for best project involving new music along with
The judging panel comprised Carl Stevens, Arts Council England Senior Manager, Audience Insight & Innovation / Music; Peter Lawson, promoter and former Making Music Chair; conductor and producer Clare Edwards; and Dorothy Wilson MBE FRSA, Making Music Chair.
“It was a pleasure and privilege to review so many innovative and interesting projects from all over the UK,” said Making Music Chair Dorothy Wilson, “In the end, alongside quality, we considered innovation, diversity and community involvement when reaching our difficult decision.”
The world premiere of Gerson Batista’s Golden Day, the winning entry in the first Walter Hussey Composition Competition has already won Reading Phoenix Choir the Performance of the Year Award at the Reading Cultural Awards.