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Nick 26th June 2013

Hi All,

You'll be glad to hear that, as I promised in my last blog, I managed to become an Uncle!

The squirming, tiny-fingered, 7lb 11oz feeding machine that is Danny Ashby Kay arrived 25 mins before the end of my Grandma's birthday (who was of course, thrilled to bits).

It really was incredible going to visit my sister the day after he was born. Seeing him get to grips with his new strange environment, and weird family that he'll have to put up with for quite some time...

It's a cliche I know, but they do grow so fast. I went away for a week shortly after his arrival, and when I saw him next he seemed to be a totally new baby. my sister reassured me there'd been no mix up when leaving the hospital.

Anyway, cooing over miniature clothes aside, the musical highlight of the last few days was getting to revisit Bach's incredible motet "Singet dem Herrn". What a stunning piece. I was lucky enough to be working with the excellent amateur ensemble Skolia Voices ( who put so much energy and fizz into this vibrant, antiphonal work. It's such a shame it's in 8 parts and therefore un-songmenable...

In Songmenland there's piles of new music to learn, including a little Britten tribute of my own, in honour of his centenary year. Come and hear the world premiere in Worcester on the 24th July! Details, of course, on our concerts page...

Til next time,
Nick x


Ben 19th June 2013

What a week it's been! On Monday, my Dad moved from Kingston-upon-Thames to Tewkesbury, just down the road from Catherine and I. He had lived in the same place for over 40 years, so this is an exciting but odd time for me having to say a final farewell to my childhood home. Dad's fallen on his feet though having found a nice place with a lovely long garden which, as a keen allotmenteer, he will convert into what will become a thriving source of delicious food.

We have been working hard learning French most recently, for Poulenc's 'Chansons Francaises'. I say 'working hard' - personally I have been let off lightly on that assignment as most of my words are 'La' or 'Mm' or parts merely restricted to choruses! You can hear the fruits of our labours in the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester on Monday 29th July.

Aside from Songmen work, I am currently working with the Cheltenham Festival on their upcoming performances of Benjamin Britten's community opera, 'Noye's Fludde' at Tewkesbury Abbey in early July. This is the fourth time I will have been involved in performances of this wonderful work. The first time saw me resurrecting my primary school recorder playing - not too much of a challenge, considering I'm an oboist - for Tiffin School's production way back in 1995. Next I was a handbell player for Richmond Music Service's performance in 1997. This was more of a challenge, but one I thoroughly enjoyed! Next I organised and directed the whole thing. Big challenge. This was for Hagley Catholic High School's performance in 2006. This time I have the pleasant task of teaching children from three primary schools the parts for the Animals.

The thing that I have enjoyed the most is that the children involved are very excited about taking part. They love singing 'Kyrie, Kyrie, Kyrie eleison' as they march around; they love singing the hymns along to the CD of the excellent recording featuring Owen Brennigan as Mr Noye (you still pronounce it Noah); and they love singing 'Alleluia' as they 'leave' the Ark. I really cannot wait to hear what it will sound like with an Abbey full of audience (or congregation, as Britten refers to them), the full cast and the weird and wonderful orchestra, a mixture of professionals and children players, all working together in this unique piece of musical drama.

I sincerely hope that you get a chance to see or be a part of 'Noye's Fludde', be it the performances on 3rd and 4th July in Tewkesbury, or at another point in the future. It is one of the finest examples of why Benjamin Britten was, in my opinion, a true genius.

I'll let you know how it all went next time!!

Ben x


Jon 12 June 2012

It's hard to believe that we are already in June, merely days away from the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Soon the days will be getting shorter as we run towards the end of the year and Christmas…

However, I don't wish to depress you too much and remember that, although it is dull and damp outside at the moment, we have had some really beautiful weather in the past few weeks, and even more amazing is that the best arrived on the weekends!

One particularly nice weekend was the late May bank holiday which was an absolute scorcher (at least by English standards). In Gloucester Docks, where I live, the bank holiday weekend was the Tall Ships festival which, as the name describes, is a festival involving a number of Tall Ships. Now, while this may sound a little niche, for me it was less about the ships (although they are quite cool) and more about the food stalls, the live music and the great atmosphere.

Actually, my personal highlight was the man selling fresh coconuts and at request he would deftly slice the top off with his machete, add a splash of rum and a straw - if only all drinks were that theatrical!

It really was an excellent festival and was apparently visited by about 100,000 people over the long weekend. However, if you thought that this was the most exciting festival this year you would be wrong. My mind is now turning towards another festival, namely the Three Choirs Festival, one of the World's oldest classical choral music festivals and this year it is in my home town of Gloucester!

Even more exciting is the fact that we are performing a concert as part of the festival at a venue which is about 50ft away from my apartment and if you would like to come to our concert details can be found here.

Take care

Jon x


Rob 5th June 2013

After all the fervour that surrounded last year's Jubilee celebrations, the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation this weekend passed with comparatively little pomp and circumstance.

Back in 1953, of course, the coronation was a huge event in many ways. It lifted the spirits of the nation at a time when food rationing was still in force, many of our cities were still scarred by WWII bombings, and British troops continued to fight abroad as the Korean War entered its fourth year. The decision to televise the service (a divisive one at the time) became a milestone in the history of television, as over half the population tuned in to watch the coronation, many buying TV sets especially for the occasion.

On Sunday, the exact anniversary of the coronation, the BBC ran a repeat of that day's TV coverage. What struck me, watching the coronation service and enjoying the fittingly grandiose music list, was the enduring nature of much of the music. Pieces from the last Elizabethan age, by Byrd and Gibbons, sat alongside more recent works like Parry's I was Glad (written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902), and of course several items composed especially for the occasion. Whilst some of those new pieces have receded into relative obscurity, others like Vaughan Williams' O Taste and See have become part of the core repertoire of cathedrals up and down the country — and for those of my generation who have grown up in that seemingly timeless tradition, it's hard to imagine a time when much of that music didn't exist, just as it's hard to imagine a time when our current monarch wasn't on the throne.

I wonder which of today's composers will be remembered in 60 or even 600 years' time, their works regarded as timeless classics, and which will have faded into obscurity. I'll leave you to muse on that...

Rob x


Chris 29th May 2013

Its been an odd week. We had the long Bank Holiday weekend and, thank goodness, someone upstairs decided to let us have some decent weather, if only for three days. Being married to a teacher means we get limited options for when we can take holidays, so the combination of Bank Holiday and half-term from school has meant the last few days becoming a sort of mini-break, albeit with some of that time at home; a couple of nights away in Devon which included seeing the coast on a sunny day!, a day-trip to Cardiff to visit to the totes quaint Millennium Centre, or as I know it better, the secret entrance to Torchwood and a little time in our sunny back-yard. Today is the last day of our micro-hols and tomorrow it's back to learning music, catching up on emails and the almost never-ending challenge of booking flights for all our sojourns abroad this summer.

Before the weekend, I attended the funeral of Miles Amherst, founder of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury. Back in 1973, Miles visited Tewkesbury and decided the awesome Abbey church there (one of the largest and beautiful churches in Britain) should really have a quality choir school to provide boys for a cathedral-style professional choir and so, bought a large period house nearby and founded a school. I spent many years as a layclerk there and the back-rows of the choir have been graced by several current and former Songmen too at various times.

Unfortunately, the Abbey school folded in 2006 - I was still a layclerk then - and it was a sad time. For a while, it looked like Miles' dream was over. But instead, Dean Close School, an independent school in Cheltenham (just 8 miles down the road), took on most of the boys and the choir, renamed it Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum of Dean Close Preparatory School, Cheltenham (pithy, eh?) and now the choir has gone from strength to strength.

Miles' funeral service was a simple dedicated evensong, the cornerstone service of the Anglican choral tradition, Stanford in G, O Nata Lux by Tallis, My Soul There Is A Country by Parry, and, of course, Rose Responses. It was a very beautiful service and seeing the choir that Miles' started, re-born as something new, but also something that could be directly related back to his hard work and vision 40 years earlier was moving.

I wonder what our little group will be like in 40 years time?


Guy 23rd May 2013

Hi everyone,

My younger brother Ben is player/manager of Tewkesbury Town Football team. He's a bit of an inspirational leader and uber fit for his age and after a couple of mid-table resulting seasons his team, this season, has won the league and three further cups. That's four this season and a feat that no Tewkesbury Town team has ever achieved in its 110 year history! Nice one bro! Nice one Town!

Fortunately the group has had a bit of time off over the last couple of weeks and I've got to go and stand on the touch line and destroy my voice by cheering them on. Seeing them win the last cup against another local team, in what was a feisty local derby that went to extra time, made me equally proud and equally envious. For those of you who don't know I used to be a bit of a footballer (I even used to play for my brother's team). I was nothing special but I could hold my own and even captained my Uni team a couple of times although those who have played with me over the years (including my brother) will probably say that I got included in some better teams than I should have because I'm left-footed. I played on the left of midfield in my glory years and as I got older and my pace diminished I was relegated - often to full back.

This seems to have been a bit of a 'thing' for me in my life - picking up the position that others couldn't do (or didn't want to do). What young teenager in their right mind really wants to stand with the girls at choir on a Friday night singing the alto line whilst all of his mates are rumbling away on the bass line?

After all of our concerts we always make a point of meeting the audience and chatting to them and thanking them for coming. It's a rare occurrence when I'm not asked about my 'unusual voice', "How do you do it?" "What made you want to sing like that?". I invariably give the same answer, "Because I can't sing any other part!" (I then might demonstrate my feeble 5 note ranged baritone and leave it at that - that really is proof enough!) But actually, on reflection, I think that is not the total truth. You see singing countertenor (as is playing on the left) is a huge passion of mine. I love the challenge of singing soprano parts that most blokes can't, I love challenging new audiences with the unusualness of the voice part and I love pushing myself to sing with a real blend that countertenors traditionally find difficult. And of course I love cutting it inside the slightly slower right footed right back whilst on route to goal.

In June the Tewkesbury Town lads will be showing off their four cups during an open top bus tour of Tewkesbury. A well deserved treat for them. I'm now racking my brains on how we, The Songmen, can do something similar. Thoughts please...



Nick 15th May 2013

Hi All,

Having just about recovered from our excellent trip to Ireland at the beginning of the month it falls to me to once more pick up the metaphysical blog-pen.

Personally speaking, our late-night concert in the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne in Cork was my favourite Songmen concert so far. Coincidentally, the Guinness' that followed were my favourite Guinness' far.

In other (non-music/beer related) news, I am a few days away from becoming an Uncle for the first time. It's terrifyingly exciting, and I've been frantically learning as many bad Uncle-style jokes as possible - though it turns out I knew most of them already.

While I sit knitting miniature clothes, the rest of the Songmen are all hard at work. Our Summer is going to be a bit of a globe-trotting one, and many new programmes are being formed, arranged and learned for use around the globe. Jon, of course, is knee-deep in the accounts.

I hope spring is still springing wherever you're reading this.



Ben 8th May 2013

Every now and then a day comes along which feels like a reward for previous hardships. Last Monday was one such day. The weather was stunning so I spent the afternoon with Chris and Mim and later with Catherine and the boys at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.  To be perfectly honest, we sat a fair distance from the live show going on so I do not know much about what they were doing, though I did hear a fab rendition of the Herbie Hancock classic, Cantaloupe Island from our grassy spot.  

The reason it was such a reward was that after the exceedingly long winter, we finally had a good reason to just sit outside and enjoy a lovely sunny day without having to travel all the way to Dallas for the pleasure.  It also felt like a reward after a fun but fairly strenuous weekend away in Cork, where we gave two concerts for the Cork International Choral Festival.  Both were extremely well attended and well received, though I was concerned at the comfort of the stalls in which the audience were sitting, as at the end of both concerts they all stood up to applaud!  We reacquainted ourselves with some familiar faces who we had previously met on other tours and even managed a radio interview.  All in all a very good weekend.

This evening I return to Cheltenham to see two groups from Balcarras School compete in the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts, an annual competitive festival which takes place in Cheltenham Town Hall.  I am delighted these two groups are competing as they did not exist this time last year.  Even better, they are both entirely made up of boys, and even better than that, one of the groups is a male voice a cappella group!  I’ll let you know how they get on.  Both groups ooze enthusiasm which does make my job a lot easier.

I was also pleased a couple of weeks ago to present a staff male voice a cappella group from another school I teach at, this time Dean Close.  They appeared in Dean Close School’s Jazz and Blues Festival, an absolute triumph of a day. As teachers, these guys put students through their paces every day but to step outside of their comfort zones and do something none of them had tried before was another highlight of the past few weeks.

Finally, for those of you wondering, married life is suiting me very well indeed!  It was more fun when it was all parties and holidays straight afterwards but now we’re back into ‘normal’ time, life is very good indeed!  

Till next time,
Ben x

PS The boys sang very well indeed - the Junior Boys group (ages 11-12) gave their first ever public performance and did excellently against a well-established girls' choir.  The Senior Boys a cappella group came a very strong second place in a field of five choirs.  I am immensely proud of both groups!



Jon 1 May 2013

The past week has been excellent as the rain has finally stopped and we've had tantalising glimpses of just how lovely the English sunshine can be.

For me though, not only is it the sunshine that has put me in a good mood, but also that we are off to Ireland this weekend to perform as part of the Cork International Choral Festival. We are giving two contrasting performances with the Friday night being a late-night atmospheric and reflective performance and the Saturday night being our ever-popular Sacred, Soul 'n' Swing programme. So if you are in Cork this weekend why not come along as it would be great to see you. Details of the concerts are available here (Friday) and here (Saturday).

It is over 10 years now since I first visited Ireland as part of a University Orchestra tour and while I was there two things really struck me. First, you'd be hard pushed to find a warmer, more welcoming people than the Irish, and second it takes absolutely ages to get a pint of Guinness.

You see, in Ireland they take their time with the pour, allowing it to settle properly before the final top up and apparently it takes 119.53 seconds to pour the perfect pint. Now in England we ignore this completely and if it takes 19.53 seconds you're probably doing well, but in Ireland they take this very seriously as can be seen by the rows of partially poured glasses that grace every bar.

Now, it would seem a reasonable question for you to ask whether it is really worth all of that time and effort just to pour the perfect Guinness?

My response to that would be that, much like the English sunshine, some things are worth waiting for...

Take care

Jon x


Rob 24th April 2013

Well, Spring has finally arrived here in England — I even saw a couple of people out sunbathing as temperatures soared to a scorching 17°C!

There's even a little downtime for us Songmen too, after the excitement of Ben's wedding. We've got a week to go before we head off to Ireland for the first time, for two concerts in County Cork — following which I'll get to spend some quality time with my family who are moving out to Ireland this year. It's a beautiful part of the world and I can't wait to see the new house for the first time!

Soon downtime will just be a fond memory. It's only three months until our demanding Summer season kicks off, with our concert at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester (for which general booking has just opened and tickets are selling fast, by the way…) Then we'll be jetting off to Germany and China before finishing off August with our International Choral Masterclass in Italy (I think the guys may have blogged a bit already about that one!)

In the meantime, I'll be trying as usual to push our repertoire in exciting new directions — I picked up a few Russian folk songs in Dallas that I'm keen to try out. So if you're out in the sun with a glass of wine: cheers, sláinte, Prost, salute, or maybe even za zdorovye

Rob x



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