Reunion Evensong (September, 2016)

It was a pleasure for the old and the new to collide at a ‘reunion’ Service of Choral Evensong in St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury. The service was led by the College’s Chaplain, Elizabeth Pitkethly, and directed by Jeremy Summerly (current Director of Music), Roger Allen (former Director of Music), Theo Lester, and Jonathan Lo. The organ accompaniment was provided by Daniel Pugh-Bevan and David Quinn.


To listen to highlights of this special occasion in a glorious acoustic, click below:


Trinity Term 2016 + Tour of Palestine

This post is long-overdue, although the timing of the post benefits from an opportunity of a period of gestation for many thoughts and reflections on the past few months. Trinity Term proved to be an incredibly busy time for the Choir, especially if the academic commitments on first year students and finalists are taken into account. It is a mark of the level of commitment offered by our musicians that so much can be achieved in such a short expanse of time.

Choir Dinner


The Choir Dinner is an annual celebration of the present Choir. It usually takes place following the Choral and Organ Scholarship Open Day. As ever, this was a night to remember.


Ascension Day 

ascen-2It has become a tradition for members of the Choir to sing a service of Choral Matins from the top of the Chapel tower on the feast of the Ascension.

ascen-1As a developing tradition, this year three trumpets were included in the climb. It was a glorious wake up call for all those living in and around New Inn Hall Street.  Unlike previous years, the tower top was bathed in blinding sunlight, which enhanced the breathtaking views of Oxford that can be enjoyed from the poor end of town. 

One of the more curious events of the day is the tradition of the so-called ‘Beating the Bounds’. This ancient custom sees the College temporarily invaded by the Parish Priest of St Michael at the North Gate, along with a rabble of willow-yielding parishoners boundsand tourists who then proceed to hit a brick in the wall above Bullwark’s Lane. It is reminder t
hat while the history of the College is relatively brief , it occupies a site that is soaked in the history of the City and University.




Frideswide Voices

We loved having Will Dawes and his girls-voice choir, the Frideswide Voices, to sing with our Altos, Tenors, and Basses. To have a foundation for the training of young female voices in the city is a real blessing, as it provides an invaluable experience that is otherwise of difficult access to Oxford-based girls. We hope our relationship with this choir continues to grow and flourish for many years to come.

Christ Church img_20160616_172247

St Peter’s Choir sang two services at Christ Church Cathedral.







On its first international tour in recent years the Choir embarked on a series of concerts and services as part of a the Palestine International Choral Festival. Tours of this nature to the region are a first for an Oxford College Choir, and so 25 singers from St Peter’s relished the opportunity that this provided. For the duration of the trip the Choir resided in the middle of a surprisingly bustling Bethlehem, a short walk away from the imaginatively-named ‘Manger Square’, on which the Church of the Nativity can be located.
The festival aims to bring a variety of musical experiences to locals in a part of the world where such activities cannot form part of daily life as they do here. The Choir participated in both concerts and workshops with various local groups.
In equal measure this two-week tour was thus both extremely busy, and intensely rewarding.  One of the highlights of the tour was the opportunity to stay with host families in The Galilee. This was the perfect opportunity to experience the extraordinary generosity of our hosts, while also having a chance to ask questions about what life is really like in this fascinating part of the world.
A special note must be made of solo performances by Rory Green (Finalist), Elena Hargreaves (Alumnus) and Dr. Matthew Thomson (Acting Tutor in Music 2016). In Haydn’s “St. Nicholas Mass”, which was incidentally performed by the choir in the church of St Nicholas, superlative performances occurred.
Ellie and Rory also took solos in performances of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem Mass, sung at the Lutheran Church of the Reeder, in Jerusalem, a church which is a stone’s throw from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As in Bethlehem, it is difficult to express how it felt to be so close to these sites of such historic, cultural, and religious importance.


The tour was a fitting end to the Choir’s first year under new Director of Music, Jeremy Summerly. Jeremy’s relationship with the region is long-standing. Many thanks must be conveyed to him for providing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a great privilege to visit, sing, and learn with a wonderful selection of people. A tour of the Holy Land was a wonderful close to three years at Oxford for many, and a renewing experience for those who are to return to the College to make music in the new academic year.
pal4 pal5

It all started at an Open Day…

First Year, Eleanor, on attending a Choral Awards Open Day, and life at St Peters:

“I attended the Choral Award Open Day in 2014, and had the most incredible time. It definitely fuelled my desire to study at Oxford and immerse myself in the Oxbridge choral world! During the day I had the opportunity to sing in a Service of Choral Evensong with the Chapel Choir of St Peter’s.

12919118_1551994498464088_289649744_nI was made to feel so welcome, and adored the experience! As a result I applied to read Music at St Peter’s. The experience of singing with the choir on the Open Day was the goal I needed to get me through my exams and meet my offer – I wanted nothing more than to sing with the choir again! I’m now in my first year and loving reading Music at St Peter’s. Overall, it was an invaluable day that confirmed my determination to study and sing at St Peter’s College, Oxford.”


Hilary Term 2016

Alongside the usual Hilary Term traditions, there were two new services signposting its beginning and its close. The first, a candle-lit Epiphany Carol Service; the last, a Sequence of Music and Readings for Passiontide. Both were well attended, and made for a a reflective and interesting break for the regular cycle of Evensong Services.

Our first public concert with Jeremy Summerly was a great success. Jeremy’s programme centred around Faure’s remarkable setting of the Requiem. The programme was also devised in such a way as to complement the ‘Father’ Henry Willis Organ at St Peter’s, which we are fortunate to have as our principal instrument for the accompaniment of Services.

We also welcomed Paul Spicer back for a workshop with the Choir. Paul has been a big supporter of the Choir for many years, and we always take so much from the time he spends with us.

Term rounded off with a celebration of Red. Billy Watson’s 90th Birthday, for which he had requested an all-Bach organ recital. To celebrate both Billy’s milestone year, and the four year anniversary of its consecration four years previously, we used both of Willis and the Barron Chamber Organ, donated by Billy’s successor, the late Christopher Jones. For more, see the Master’s Blog.


We are looking forward to welcoming those interested in apply for Choral and Organ Scholarships to St Peter’s on the 30th April. Booking is helpful, but not essential. More information is available from the Music Faculty Website.

Also, tower time is coming up…there is news of a brass band this time…

Ascension Day, 2015 Ascension Day, 2015 Ascension Day, 2015

St Peter’s Choir, ‘Handy’, ‘Crisis’ and Deliberate PR

On the 18th December, members of St Peter’s Choir teamed up with Deliberate PR and the cleaning app, Handy to raise money for Crisis. Users of the app could demand the group as carollers at their home or office, with proceeds going towards the leading charity for homeless people.  Our adventures around London were documented mainly through #CarolsOnDemand on Twitter. However, we also made it into many newspaper articles, which can be found below:

Michaelmas 2015

A sense of anticipation has been in the air for the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAduration of Michaelmas Term for various reasons. Jeremy Summerly’s appointment as Director of Music has made for an incredibly exciting and enriching term for all who are involved in Chapel Music at St. Peter’s. At the same time the Choir welcomed a new Organ Scholar, Benjamin Maton, whose assistance has proved invaluable to the Senior Organ Scholar in the accompanying and administering of the College Choir. Continuing thanks must also go out to Sue Young for her work with the Choral Scholars.

UntitledMusically, Michaelmas Term always begins notably earlier than the full academic term, with Organ Scholar and Choral Scholar Admissions Week, during which Rex Roxburgh was elected the incoming Organ Scholar. Rex will join Jeremy and Benjamin from October, 2016, following his gap year as an organ scholar in Australasia.

In addition to the Choir’s busy schedule of regular services of Choral Evensong on Thursdays and Sundays, the Choir have found the time to prepare for two high profile concert performances, and two Advent Carol Services.

Ralph Allwood returned to oversee a conducting workshop dayRalph Allwood's Annual Masterclass during which undergraduate choral conductors from across the University were given opportunity to workshop their talents with St. Peter’s Choir in a rehearsal and service of Choral Evensong. Many thanks to Ralph for what is always an extremely rewarding day for so many members from across the University.

St Peter’s Choir was approached by Stephen Darlington, the Director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral, whose Choir were participating in a performance of Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium with the elite chamber choir, The Cardinall’s Musick. Members of St. Peter’s College Choir made up choirs 6, 7, and 8 in Tallis’ monumental 40 part motet, which was performed once to the original Latin, and again in a later English version called Sing and Glorify. 

As a result of oversubscription in previous years, and fire regulations placed on the Chapel due to major renovations being undertaking at St Peter’s as part of the Perrodo Project, it was necessary to hold two Advent Carol Services this year. (NB: That’s one more than a televised service that takes place in The Other Place!)

As ever, this Service was a great occasion, with the two Benjamin Britten 'A Ceremony of Carols' 2014Services interlarded by the annual JCR Hog Roast. Preparations swiftly turned to the annual performance of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carolswhich this year was accompanied by Heather Wrighton. Included in the programme was also a setting of Gradual Viderunt Omnes, composed by the 12th Century French composer Pérotin Magnus.

Hilary Term’s Chapel and Music Schedule embarks with an Epiphany Carol Service, and closes with a Sequence of Readings and Music for Passiontide. Paul Spicer will be welcomed back to St. Peter’s to direct Evensong on March 3rd.  A performance of Gabriel Faure’s remarkable setting of the Requiem will also take place, on February 27th.


About the Music

Viderunt omnes (1198)                               Pérotin the Great (fl. 1200)

Viderunt omnes                                             All [the ends of the world] have seen
fines terrae salutare Dei nostri.                       the salvation of our God.
Jubilate Deo omnis terra.                               Be joyful to the Lord, all lands.
Notum fecit Dominus salutare suum:             The Lord declared his salvation:
ante conspectum gentium revelavit                in the sight of the heathen he revealed
justitiam suam,                                               his righteousness.

Our concert begins in Medieval Paris, a city quickly developing as a centre of cultural and religious significance in the 12th Century. With a University established in 1170, and a gradually expanding Cathedral of Notre Dame, these two interrelated worlds were to enact significant changes on the function, and treatment of music in this ancient Roman city. The 10th to 13th Centuries are of great musical significance, since notation developed to the extent that music could transform from being a predominantly aural tradition, to one in which the music is written down. This is good news for us, as we can access what the music of this time might have sounded like. Most recorded music of this time is based on the ecclesiastical chants of the Church. Viderent Omnes is based on the Gradual for Christmas Day. This polyphonic setting (multiple voices against each other) of c. 1198 by Pérotin has an unusual rendering as Organum Quadruplum (four discrete voice parts, including the chant). Heavily melismatically treated, the text is barely discernible. The lowest part sustains a pedal drone beneath three florid and intricate upper parts.

La Source (Étude), op.44 (1898)                  Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912)

Andantino – A tempo animato – Tempo primo

A Ceremony of Carols, op.28 (1942)          Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

I           Procession (Plainchant)
II         Wolcum Yole (Anonymous)
III        There is no rose (Anonymous)
IV        That Yongë Child (Anonymous)
V         Balulalow (James, John, and Robert Wedderburn)
VI        As dew in Aprille (Anonymous)
VII       This little Babe (Robert Southwell)
VIII     Interlude (Harp Solo)
IX        In freezing winter night (Robert Southwell)
X         Spring carol (William Cornysh)
XI        Deo Gracias (Anonymous)
XII      Recession (Plainchant)

A month-long transatlantic voyage spent in a tiny cabin next to the ship’s refrigeration unit is an unusual backdrop for the composition of a musical sequence of medieval and Renaissance poems. However, such were the conditions under which Britten wrote A Ceremony of Carols on board the small Swedish cargo vessel MS Axel Johnson. To make matters worse, the crossing was made during the spring of 1942, amidst the constant threat of submarine attack. Britten’s creative surge on board ship (during which time the Hymn to St Cecilia was also completed) occurred as the composer was returning home to England after a period of self-imposed exile in America. During his three years away, Britten had become increasingly homesick, and his decision to leave America was due in part to his discovery of the work of the East Anglian poet George Crabbe. Britten later said: ‘I suddenly realized where I belonged and what I lacked; I had become without roots.’ Britten resolved to return home in spite of the fact that he would have to face a conscientious objectors’ tribunal and possible imprisonment. The two Robert Southwell poems in A Ceremony of Carols are particularly apt, with their emphasis on human frailty and a warrior who is to fight without weapons – so relevant to Britten’s personal predicament at the time.

The nine carols of Britten’s sequence represent a kaleidoscope of the changing seasons throughout the year, and are punctuated by a harp interlude at the centre. Britten was captivated by the sound of the harp and wrote idiomatically for the instrument. The harp’s interlude makes use of harmonies in fauxbourdon style above a slow-moving bass ostinato in a manner reminiscent of late-medieval musical practice. The elegant simplicity of this midway movement is clearly designed to enhance the emotive settings of the two Southwell poems placed on either side. In A Ceremony of Carols Britten constantly evokes an antique atmosphere by his use of fauxbourdon, canon, ostinato, and ritual chanting. And the particular directness of the vocal writing is achieved in several ingenious ways, as for instance by solemn melodic recitation in ‘There is no Rose’, the close canonic writing of ‘This little Babe’, and the excited parlando patter and exultant exclamations in ‘Deo Gracias’. Britten must have been delighted to celebrate his return to England by attending the première of A Ceremony of Carols in Norwich Castle sung by a choir of women’s voices.