News & musings

News & musings

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Dinas Powys Music Festival, 8 May 2017

Posted on 16 May, 2017 at 9:00 Comments comments (490)

We were delighted to make our debut at the Gŵyl Gerdd Dinas Powys Music Festival this year. We would like to say a big thank you to the festival organisers for staging Spectrum Singers' a cappella concert and to our lovely audience for giving us such a warm reception in a packed out Parish Hall.

Our summer programme 'Air' offered a contemporary twist on the pastoral tradition, bringing an ideal vision of country life to our urban audience in the shape of songs about the natural world and its seasons, including a number of works by living composers, including Eric Whitacre, John Rutter, and Morten Lauridsen.

This year we’ve been collaborating with emerging talent Rosie Clements on a new piece composed especially for Spectrum Singers as part of Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme in partnership with Sound and Music and BBC Radio 3, funded by PRS for Music Foundation. We’ll be performing the piece for the first time at Dyffryn Gardens in July and it will be recorded by Radio 3 for broadcast later in the year. 

As part of the process of getting to know our adopted composer, we decided to tackle her only choral work to date: ‘I should probably mention that I hate sheep’, which she wrote as an undergraduate at Birmingham Conservatoire. Its Welsh premiere was the talking point of the night and earned flocks of new fans!

We're not at all sheepish in revealing that our concert alone raised around £200 in support of the festival's chosen charities: Dinas Powys Scouts, who need to raise money for a new roof on their hall, and the Teenage Cancer Trust, who provide care and support for young people fighting cancer across the UK. So in terms of fundraising, we even managed to outperform Only Men Aloud! Sorry, guys...


Adopt a Composer: The seed of an idea

Posted on 15 January, 2017 at 10:30 Comments comments (4)

Our adopted composer Rosie Clements describes her second visit to Penarth ... the 'Garden by the Sea'.

My search for inspiration started at Dyffryn House and Gardens which is where the piece will be performed. I had “whizzed” around Dyffryn once before when I first met the choir but time was limited. On this visit I was accompanied to other areas of the historic house that I hadn’t seen on my last visit; I was particularly interested by a hole in the roof that showed the current progress of the restoration. Dyffryn House didn’t used to be open to the public but they have started restoring it room by room, this means that every visit is different and the ever changing nature of both the house and gardens gives the place an energy which excites me. Before the house started to be restored, the gardens were the main attraction.


One aspect I like about Dyffryn is the ability to touch things. The house was passed on to various owners (it was at one point a conference centre) and a lot of the original furnishings were lost. Although this could be seen as a downside it means that a lot of the furniture is not original so there are no ropes and posts in the house and you can touch everything. It also adds to the magic of how they recreate the spaces, repurposing some and restoring others.


The house was once home to Reginald Corey, a plant hunter who travelled the world collecting seeds and plants. This is why the gardens are so vibrant and beautiful. The method of gardening at Dyffryn intrigues me. There are no lists of the plants which were historically planted at Dyffryn but there are various paintings which they use for reference. Each year the gardeners take it in turn to guess which flower or plant they think is in the picture, getting closer every year. I think this is fascinating and my piece will certainly be inspired by this concept.


The weather wasn’t great as it was persistently raining but we still explored the gardens, just a bit faster than normal. The gardens are split up into different sections with something different around each corner. I was there with Emily from the choir, a volunteer at the house and we found a section that even she hadn’t visited before or even knew existed!


After this we explored Penarth which enabled me to get my bearings and had some absolutely delicious pancakes! Each visit I spend some time with a different member of the choir as this allows me to get to know each member.


Later, in the rehearsal, I tried out several of my ideas based on my inspiration from Dyffryn. I explored using plant names as text, in English, Latin and Welsh. I had selected names which I thought sounded interesting as well as selecting plants that related to the area. Whilst researching I had discovered that each county in Wales had its own flower and the choir’s home county of Glamorgan had Yellow Whitlow Grass (Draba auzoides in Latin and Llysiau`r-bystwn melyn in Welsh).


The next idea I tried was slightly different. When I first visited the choir they informed me that very few of them were actually Welsh! This along with learning that Penarth is the best place to live in Wales had me intrigued. I just had to know what had brought everyone to Penarth, so I asked everyone to think of three reasons either why they liked Penarth or why they moved here or a mixture of both. In groups they then had some time to come up with an inventive way of sharing their thoughts. Each group came up with something different and I was very impressed by them all!


Then at the pub we discussed what text could be used, perhaps a poem about flowers. This is something I am looking into. This session was great and has given me a lot of ideas, I’m looking forward to my next meeting with them.


Money Can't Buy Me Love, 29 Oct 16

Posted on 30 October, 2016 at 6:35 Comments comments (5)


On a dark, dreary October day, it was a pleasure to enter The Gate Arts Centre, and step into the light and warmth of this beautiful Grade II listed building in Roath.

We love a space with a good acoustic (and a party) so we instantly felt at home. Some of the ladies even turned their hand to a spot of flower arranging to help the hostess put the finishing touches to dressing the tables.

With a grand piano in the room singing its siren song, our conductor couldn’t resist tinkering with its ivories, so insisted on accompanying us in ‘O Magnum Mysterium’. As an a cappella choir it is a luxury to have an instrument other than the voice to assist with pitch. Not one to let us rest on our laurels, however, the MD borrowed a score from the only chorister who was sight-singing his part. Well, we like a challenge…

Rehearsal over, we sat down to a delicious feast cooked up by The Ethical Chef, an award-winning pop-up restauranteur from Carmarthenshire.

With food in our bellies, the taste of wine on our lips, and a song in our hearts, we raised a hearty musical toast to the happy couple: Anna Daniel and Chrishan Kamalan. Thank you for your hospitality and for allowing us the stage at your wedding celebration party. Here's what it looked like from our perspective. Photos.



Adopt a Composer meet and greet

Posted on 12 October, 2016 at 2:25 Comments comments (3)

We were delighted that Rosie could join us so soon for an orientation visit at the end of September.

In a full programme we visited three possible premiere venues – from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama’s Dora Stouzker Hall, to a local National Trust property (Dyffryn House and gardens) and Penarth Pier Pavilion. We even started off with a concert, which included the premiere of Viral by Mark Boden, another of this year’s ‘adopted’ composers!

Rosie joined our Spectrum Singers rehearsal and helped us get into the spirit of experimenting with different effects of staggered singing and movement around the room.

Nearly everyone joined a meal beforehand when we could introduce ourselves and our musical ‘characters’ to each other and many continued the conversation on this and possible themes for the composition in the pub afterwards. To complete her introduction to Cardiff Rosie did a whistle-stop tour of Cardiff Bay and some of its key buildings the following morning.

It was a busy twenty four hours – but hopefully really helped kick start the project and gave Rosie food for thought as she considers composition ideas. Renewal was one idea floated for a piece – as our choir has been through a stage of renewal as have many of our performance venues and South Wales more widely in its post-coal transformation.

Next stop is a workshop on 9 November!


Spectrum Singers selected for 2016/17 Adopt a Composer scheme

Posted on 11 September, 2016 at 3:55 Comments comments (103)

Spectrum Singers is thrilled to have been chosen to take part in the prestigious 2016/17 Adopt a Composer scheme, which pairs amateur choirs, orchestras or ensembles with up-and-coming composers for 12 months. 

At a special launch event hosted by Making Music in London, the Penarth-based chamber choir was announced as one of just seven successful ensembles in the UK who will participate in this year’s exciting project, culminating in a premiere performance of a brand new piece composed especially for them.

Now in its 16th year, Adopt a Composer is run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music, in association with BBC Radio 3, and funded by PRS For Music Foundation and the Philip and Dorothy Green Music Trust. The scheme works exclusively with composers at the start of their careers, giving them crucial compositional experience. In return, the voluntary music group has a piece of music written around its own styles and ability. The project gives excellent exposure for both the composer and group, with recordings of many of the pieces broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Spectrum Singers has been paired with Rosie Clements, who holds a first-class BMus in composition from Birmingham Conservatoire. “I’m really excited to be working with Spectrum Singers and can’t wait to get started,” said Rosie, who works as a composer, events manager and educator, and has been Artistic Director of the Frontiers Festival, lead administrator for the Young Composers Project and Champion Coordinator for TEDxBrum 2016.

“I’m absolutely delighted Spectrum has been selected for Adopt a Composer as we’re passionate about new music. It gives us the chance to be ambassadors for something unique, created especially with our singers in mind,” said David Hutchings, musical director of Spectrum Singers. “We’ve known for a little while that we’d been chosen and keeping it secret has been so difficult. It wasn’t until the launch last weekend though that we found out who we’d been paired with. It’s so exciting to discover Rosie already has lots of good ideas that fit with our choir’s philosophy.”

The choir were encouraged to apply for the scheme by one of the young composers selected in 2012/13. Welsh composer Sarah Lianne Lewis lives in Penarth and is a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church where the choir rehearse on Wednesday evenings. Since participating in the scheme her career has taken off and she’s gone on to receive many awards and commendations. Her new work for symphony orchestra, premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 earlier this year.

“I’m so pleased Spectrum Singers will get to experience Adopt a Composer this year,” said Sarah. “It’s a wonderful thing as a composer to have the opportunity to collaborate and create something for the ensemble that is bespoke.”

Spectrum Singers will premiere the new composition at a local venue during the summer of 2017. You can follow the choir’s progress on our Facebook page ‘Spectrum Singers’.



Video killed the radio star, 28 November 2015

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 5:55 Comments comments (5)

Spectrum Singers made its screen debut this week filming a promotional trailer for the National Trust at Dyffryn Gardens.

The National Trust chose to film the Penarth-based chamber choir in the Great Hall to promote a series of carol concerts being hosted at Dyffryn Gardens on Friday evenings in the run up to Christmas. The campaign is based on the premise that ‘Christmas wouldn’t be the same without…’ traditional pursuits at a National Trust property in Wales, such as a country walk at Dinefwr, a craft workshop at Erddig or carolling at Dyffryn House.

Spectrum Singers feature in the video short performing an excerpt from Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Ceremony of Carols’. The choir will be singing Britten’s much-loved choral work in its entirety on Sunday 6 December at another of the nation’s treasured places, Penarth’s Pier Pavilion. This free event, featuring celebrated Welsh harpist Glenda Clwyd, launches a series of popular Sunday afternoon concerts at the pier in the lead up to Christmas.

‘One of the wonderful things about being in a choir is the doors that it opens,’ said soprano Suzanne Jones. ‘We’ve had the privilege of performing in some of Wales’s most iconic buildings from Llandaff Cathedral to Dyffryn Gardens and now the Pier Pavilion. These venues obviously have historical and architectural value, but we relish them because of their glorious acoustics, which makes them such special places to sing.’

Tickets for Spectrum Singers Carol Concert at Dyffryn Gardens on Friday 18 December cost £15 each including a glass of bubbly and are available on 02920 593328.

Radio Ga Ga, 6 July 2015

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 0:45 Comments comments (75)

It was thumbs up from the congregation and the sound engineer last night as Spectrum recorded two pieces for BBC Radio Wales's Sunday morning religous programme 'Celebration'.

Tabs' usual worship style uses microphones, guitars, keyboards and drums, so it was an interesting contrast to showcase the spiritual power of unplugged, a cappella human voices in harmony with beautiful music from Wales’s foremost living composer, Sir Karl Jenkins.You can hear us sing 'God shall wipe away all tears' from Sir Karl Jenkins' mass for peace 'The Armed Man' during the broadcast on 26 July.

Then tune into BBC Radio Wales on 13 September to hear Spectrum singing Brosig's 'Alleluia' on the Sunday programme 'Celebration'. Short and spectacular was our brief for this harvest service. Did we nail it?

The Organist Entertains, 20 May 2015

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 0:35 Comments comments (0)

Abbey Road, 28 March 2015

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 0:10 Comments comments (386)

Two breakdowns, one hired car and one close encounter with a brick wall in a Jag... the road to Bath Abbey did not run smoothly.

For many of Spectrum’s choristers Bath Abbey marks the highlight of our musical calendar. We were working towards leading choral evensong there in June 2013 when our founding musical director, Stuart, was taken fatally ill. Returning to complete the work that we began was something of a pilgrimage for the choir.

We'd chosen a suitably miserable repertoire befitting the occasion in Lent, climaxing in Rachmaninoff’s 'Concerto for Choir'. The Revd Evelyn Lee-Barber introduced the choir as heralding from the ‘wilds of Wales’. Considering the tempestuous journey we'd just made across the Severn Bridge, buffeted by gale force winds and beset by mechanical faults, her announcement was almost prophetic. Battling against the elements continued throughout the day...

We met in the upper room of an excellent local tavern for lunch, but food was served late to accommodate some of our party who were accidentally delayed (they had a bit of a scrape in the Jag taking evasive action into a wall to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car). Nerves were rattled and tummies unsettled. 

The discomfort continued inside the chilly choir room at the abbey where we embarked on an intense last-minute rehearsal. One section were even kept behind to sit on the proverbial naughty (cold stone) step while the rest of us took a welcome break in a Bath tearoom. We emerged full of cake and caffeine to find our tenors standing forlornly outside, like a jilted Jane Austen heroine with her skirts muddied in the drizzle.

Who knows? Maybe the mysterious donor of £1.5 million pounds pledged in an ordinary brown envelope saw us suffering from cold feet and was moved to do their bit for future generations of choristers. Perhaps the pilgrimage was worth it after all.


Thank you for the music, 3 March 2015

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 0:00 Comments comments (1)

Naunton Liles, Director of Music for Penarth Town Council, had this to say about our performance at the St David's Day concert at the Paget Rooms.

"Your choir made wonderful music on Saturday evening. The commitment and musicianship of your singers was outstanding and I know the audience enjoyed your programme enormously.

"Please give my thanks to the individual members and particularly to your guest conductor Ben Pinnow who was excellent. Not only did the choir sing well but they looked so happy!"

There's a little write up about the evening in the excellent Penarth Times.