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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Cook Weber

The Choir at Royal Holloway College, London

I have spent the past two days visiting the Royal Holloway College Choir and their superb director, Rupert Gough. This is a choir that has a daunting schedule — I use ”daunting” carefully because I want to try to describe how very much repertoire they consume and perform, but please don’t infer that these student are over-singing or being over-worked. The singers receive a relatively small stipend to sing in the choir, and for the most part, they do not receive college credit for their eight hours of weekly rehearsal and 50 concerts a year. They are frequently engaged in domestic and international tours and recording projects.

The choir normally consists of 24 singers, although I heard 21. They are singing without masks and in a normal configuration. Rupert likes to use 8-6-4-6 voicing and says that four tenors is “enough.” I have to agree that, in this case at least, these four tenors were wonderful and certainly “enough.”

The first rehearsal on Tuesday evening took place in their ”chapel,” a word that, with typical British reserve, completely understates the size and opulence of the space.

When the singers walked into rehearsal, they reminded me of college kids all over the world — backpacks, jeans, water bottles, friendly chatter. Seeing them certainly made me miss my own UH college kids. The casual observer would never guess that these are far from normal college students — they are emerging artists with considerable talent and skill. In the chapel, they stood for the entire 1.5 hour rehearsal; the piano was used only in the single accompanied piece they rehearsed.

Today’s choral schedule began with a 40-minute, beautifully performed “Wednesday Lunchtime Concert” (Repertoire is listed at the bottom of this post.). Things that were slightly awry in Tuesday evening's rehearsal — cadences that had been just a bit funky initially were equivalent to a gymnast“sticking a landing.” Diction was energized/expressive, and the singing was even and lovely throughout. This choir will sing an evensong with entirely different repertoire tomorrow night and then an entirely new program the following Wednesday, and on and on throughout the semester.

The Wednesday rehearsal, which took place after the Lunchtime Concert, began in a spectacularly beautiful Picture Gallery, but then we were kicked out because a tour was taking place. (How many times has this happened to every choral director on the planet ?) Rupert and the singers took the move in stride, each grabbing their music stand and bidding a wistful farewell to the chairs.

The rehearsal proceeded rapidly and productively. I love everything about this choir — their sound, their focus, the speed and productivity of their rehearsals, and their astonishing command of a huge chunk of repertoire.

I hate to leave, but Sweden calls! I’ll be back in the UK after a bit.

Lunchtime Concert Program, October 20, 2021 (All pieces had an American connection.)

  • O light of light (Dan Locklair)

  • Go down, Moses (Michael Tippett)

  • Shenandoah (arr. James Erb)

  • The gift to be simple (arr. Bob Chilcott)

  • The Rose (Ola Gjeilo)

  • Ubi caritas (David Briggs)

  • Man proposes, God disposes (Carson Colman). This piece is based on a painting in the Royal Holloway Picture Gallery of an ill-fated expedition to one of the Poles; The Royal Holloway tradition is that, to avoid bad luck during final exams, they cover this painting with the Union Jack. :-)

  • Magnificat (Flor Peter’s)

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