News & musings

News & musings

view:  full / summary

Six degrees of separation, St David's Day Gala

Posted on 1 March, 2015 at 13:45 Comments comments (103)

Shameless name-dropping alert: if you are of a nervous disposition look away now… Last night Spectrum brushed shoulders with those giants of the music industry Bryn Terfel and Simon Cowell, thanks to our performance at the Town Mayor’s Charity Gala for St David’s Day in Penarth’s Paget Rooms.

Let me explain. There has long been a theory that all people are only six introductions away from any other person on the planet. Microsoft found this theory to be more or less true (read this fascinating article from The Guardian if you are sceptical).

And so it goes that Spectrum ended up sharing the stage with the show-stopping Jodi Bird, last seen wowing audiences on Simon Cowell’s show Britain’s Got Talent. Then in countering a severe tenor shortage, we invited guest tenor Keith Ingram to join us for the night. He in turn introduced us to his son Joseph, who stepped in at the last minute fresh from rehearsals with the BBC National Chorus of Wales and … Bryn Terfel for the St David’s Day Gala broadcast on BBC Radio 3. See?

But it was our MD’s musical connections that led to the privilege of being conducted on the night by guest conductor Ben Pinnow. Despite having just 30 minutes of rehearsal with the choir, he showed great musical intelligence in picking up on all the details that Dave had worked on tirelessly with us. He was a joy to sing for and led us to a stirring performance of ‘O Radiant Dawn’ and, at the end of a long night of choral entertainment, still held the audience spellbound during ‘Eli Jenkins’ Evening Prayer’.

Boasting just one legitimate Welsh choir member, we made our bows and quickly legged it offstage before we were caught doing John Redwood impersonations during the Welsh National Anthem…

Happy St David’s Day.


How can I keep from singing?

Posted on 21 January, 2015 at 11:55 Comments comments (0)

As an antidote to the January blues, last week we invited singers to put some colour in their cheeks by joining Spectrum for a vigorous vocal workout at our first annual open rehearsal.

In raising awareness of the event, the Penarth Times reported that numerous scientific studies have shown that choral singing has a particularly powerful effect on both physical and mental health and well being. Benefits include increased muscle tone, concentration, alertness, heart health, lung capacity and a better sense of belonging, confidence and self esteem.

A number of voices answered the call, including a potential bass from Llantwit Major and soprano from New Zealand! Let's hope they stay the distance...

Girls and boys, 30 December 2014

Posted on 3 January, 2015 at 9:40 Comments comments (0)

Herald the news to old and young: when it comes to the purity of the treble voice, there are no fundamental differences apparently between the singing quality of boys and girls. Canterbury Cathedral's inaugural girls' choir sparked the debate, which was hotly contested through correspondence in The Times.

In research conducted by David Howells, a sample of trained singers showed that there are no differences between the voices of boys and girls. Rather the ability to produce those magical high harmonics is more likely to depend on the size of the vocal tract and skill in voice production.

It is just a fact of life that adolescence signals an end to a boy's chances of being picked to sing the opening verse of 'Once in Royal David's City'. There is less comfort for the ladies, though, as the spine-tingling effect wasn’t reproduced by an adult operatic soprano. It seems that harmonic production can be correlated with the length of the vocal tract and so shifts down with age.

So, both our ex-trebles and our excellent sopranos are allowed a little nostalgia for the good old days, whilst a certain bass’s application to try out for the descants remains filed in the bin for another year...

Don't worry, David (naming no names), trebles are over-rated. As this fabulous a cappella cover version of Meghan Trainor's anthem celebrates, as we all know It's All About That Bass !


Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, St Augustine's, 6 December 2014

Posted on 11 December, 2014 at 14:05 Comments comments (0)

Spectrum launched its festive concert season at St Augustine's Christmas Tree Festival in Penarth on Saturday, contributing to a varied programme of live music throughout the weekend, which helped to raise more than £2,500 for charity.

The MD wore a slightly pained expression throughout, which we put down to his shiny new shoes (couldn't possibly be the quality of the choir's singing), and completed the ensemble by plucking a tenor and bass out of his musical maestro's hat (thanks for your glamorous vocal assistance Jakob and Ben).

Our first Christmas concert together was a special occasion not least because, after five years in rehearsal, the choir finally unleashed the wonderful ‘Christmas Medley’ by Mark Duthie upon an unsuspecting public …as the final notes of ‘White Christmas’ drifted away into the William Butterfield Grade I listed interior, it was practically snowing.

And for those who took up the Facebook ‘name that tune’ challenge, let me put you out of your misery right here.


'Twas brillig, St Lawrence, 27 September 2014

Posted on 30 September, 2014 at 8:50 Comments comments (1)

The text read: 'I'm running late, don't start without me!'

The minutes ticked by and the choir waited anxiously outside the church for the White Rabbit to appear. She was navigating through football traffic in Cardiff having just taxied friends to Bristol airport. She dashed in virtually on the dot of 6pm, vital seconds saved no doubt by David having put St Lawrence Church on the map for the first time (Google maps that is; radio history already put it there in 1897).

As on previous occasions, Rev’d Margaret Stark had organised some thoughtful touches to make the choir feel welcome. Hay bales draped with soft blankets made a comfortable perch for singers during readings, performed by Shelagh Greenland to an appreciative audience that included Penarth’s Town Mayor, Councillor Martin Turner.

Earlier, our esteemed music director had disappeared down the rabbit hole to Lavernock Point, returning with something unspeakable on the sole of his shoe. The ensuing bluebottle buzzing around in A flat didn’t put us off our vocal stride, nor did the dying of the light; although it made watching Dave even more of a challenge than usual. With each piece he faded Cheshire Cat like into the architecture of the church, until only the gleam of his blue tie remained.

After an eventful evening of wine, women and song (accompanied by a few good men) where else could we go but to the Captain’s Wife to drown in a pool of beers...


Radio waves, Lavernock Point 27 September 2014

Posted on 22 September, 2014 at 17:10 Comments comments (101)

Having successfully led worship at Llandaff Cathedral in July, the Spectrum Singers close the summer season by moving from the diocese’s principal venue to its smallest, with an atmospheric evening of words and music at St Lawrence Church, Lavernock Point on Saturday, September 27 at 6pm.

The picturesque church is rarely open to visitors despite its prominent spot at the site where Marconi successfully transmitted the first wireless message in 1897. The evening’s programme pays homage to the venue’s link to radio history with a collection of readings chosen and performed by Shelagh Greenland, a veteran of live dramas broadcast on BBC Radio.

Returning to the intimate setting of St Lawrence will be a poignant occasion for the chamber choir. The singers were preparing for a midsummer concert hosted by the church in June 2013 but were forced to cancel when their late musical director, Stuart Edwards, was taken fatally ill.

‘In many ways the concert will be an act of remembrance for the choir,’ said Suzanne Jones, soprano. ‘Stuart is ever present in the music as all of our pieces were arranged by him and his clever harmonies remain a joy for us to sing.’

The choir is also looking towards the future, however, with the fresh input of its musical director, David Hutchings, who is challenging the choristers to produce a high level of singing. Spectrum is therefore using the concert to launch an appeal for new voices, particularly tenors and basses, as the Penarth-based a cappella group is keen to add to its number.

Marconi’s first-ever radio message was ‘Can you hear me?’ to which the reply was ‘Yes, loud and clear’. Spectrum is asking the same question of experienced choristers who can read music and inviting those who would like their voice to be heard as part of the choir’s line up to listen to the choir in performance at St Lawrence and meet the singers over a glass of wine.

Following the concert Spectrum will also be holding open rehearsals throughout October for prospective new members. The choir meets on Wednesday evenings from 8pm in the Sports Hall at Tabernacle Baptist Church on Plassey Street. Sign up here for further information.

Thanks to Penarth Times for promoting our concert and recruitment drive here.


Grace under pressure, Llandaff Cathedral 9-10 August 2014

Posted on 7 September, 2014 at 10:20 Comments comments (0)

August usually spells a break from rehearsals, but this year Spectrum was booked to house-sit at Llandaff Cathedral while its resident choir was away on vacation.

Spectrum’s cohort of singers was smaller than usual due to the silly season, but ably assisted by a number of peripatetic choristers, with minimal rehearsal time, the choir pulled together two Choral Evensongs and Choral Eucharist over the weekend of 9-10 August, supported by Llandaff Parish Organist, David Thomas, who made magnificent use of the recently restored organ.

‘The music went down really well with all the clergy and members of the congregation with whom I spoke. I think our deputies enjoyed themselves, and though it wasn’t an easy situation, the choir sang well,’ commented Dave Hutchings, Spectrum’s musical director, who also played the final organ voluntary, a Bach Prelude in G.

It was a poignant moment when Canon Holcombe, who took two of the three services and has a long association with Spectrum, remembered the late Stuart Edwards in his prayers, acknowledging that the last time the choir sang at Llandaff, he was directing the music.


One step beyond! Barry Island, 26 July 2014

Posted on 7 September, 2014 at 4:05 Comments comments (0)
'Rarely have I felt so overdressed for anything,' muttered an alto, standing in regulation black choir uniform under the blistering glare of summer sun and Barry bathers.

Hot on the heels of beach volleyball and fire sculptures, Spectrum lent their voice to Barry Island's third 'Weekenders 2014' street festival with live entertainment along the promenade in temperatures nearing 30 degrees C.

We took some holiday snaps but even our starting note from the pitch pipe was hard to hear against the cacophany of seaside noise: screeching gulls, crashing waves, organ-grinding fairground rides and beeping slot machines.

So we were like a fish out of water ... battered and deep fried. After serenading a bemused queue waiting for ice cream with a medley of seaside songs, we rolled up our trouser legs and went for a paddle.

Ballroom blitz, 26 July 2014

Posted on 31 August, 2014 at 3:45 Comments comments (0)

Call it serendipity doodah, but Dyffryn House, which is undergoing extensive renovation, turned out to be the perfect venue for a choir that is doing the same.

Singing from the minstrels' gallery, Spectrum provided visitors to the National Trust property with a warm musical reception on a scorching summer's afternoon. Peering over the balcony and dazzled by the chandelier lights made watching the conductor below a particular challenge, but Dave turned the slight time-lag caused by his remote position to our advantage by slowing pieces and extending pauses to spine-tingling effect.

The choir were invited to perform by the National Trust as part of an initiative by Visitor Experience to bring the property to life: visitors are encouraged to play croquet on the lawn, take tea in the house, paint watercolours in the drawing room, and listen to live music in the hall, which was clearly designed for musicians with a glorious acoustic that complemented the choirs' vocals.

Listen here to a brief snatch of the choir singing 'You are the New Day'. It is a song of hope and appropriately enough happened to be the first piece that our new musical director heard us singing when he first walked into rehearsals...

Read all about it, 31 July 2014

Posted on 27 August, 2014 at 11:10 Comments comments (0)

After pulling off a nail-biting, skin-of-the-teeth performance on the steps of St David’s Hall we’d like to share the resulting clippings…

Read the full story online at Penarth Times.