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The Derwent Singers’ Golden Jubilee Celebration Concert, Derby Cathedral

PUBLISHED: 11:43 29 June 2018

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Ashley Franklin Photography

One of the region’s premier chamber choirs, the Derwent Singers, marks its 50th anniversary this year

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Over their 50 years, the Derbyshire-based Derwent Singers has earned a constant chorus of approval. After winning two trophies at the Derby Arts Festival a few years ago, the judge spoke of ‘perfect blend and balance, real singing as one… superb colour… so musical.’ Reviews have applauded their ‘clear textures’ and ‘beautifully floated phrases’ while one performance was said to have ‘crackled with vitality.’

Formed in 1968, the Derwent Singers has long been regarded as one of the premier chamber choirs in the Midlands. Taking photographs of them at Breadsall Church recently, I was captivated by their mellifluous, harmonious singing and its immaculate precision. My camera captured the concentration, passion and pride on the face of the choir’s director Richard Roddis, whose experience as a professional choral singer, composer and conductor – he also directs the Derby Bach Choir – has enhanced the choir’s reputation since he took over as director in 2004.

Having enchanted my ear, my eye was then caught by the youthfulness of this ensemble. Of the 30 members of the choir, half are under 50, and ten are 35 or under. One of the younger members, Lara Maleen Kipp, articulates her enjoyment of choral singing: ‘There is something fundamentally vulnerable, human and honest about singing. The voice is deeply personal. Singing together, you entrust this vulnerability to others and they to you. Singing makes us more human. Apart from that, it is beautiful.’

‘Choral singing is an enjoyable and exhilarating challenge,’ declares Jenny Jones. Jenni Curtis concurs, adding that ‘there is a great sense of achievement when a difficult piece has been mastered.’

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‘I have always enjoyed singing’ says Brenda Boyden, who has sung in the choir for 40 years under seven different conductors, ‘but, for me, choral singing provides the additional pleasure of being an essential part in the creation of the harmonies.’ The same goes for Helen Alexander who especially loves singing pieces ‘when each voice seems to float above the other.’

All the choristers I spoke with enjoy the varied repertoire Richard Roddis has introduced to the choir. A typical concert can include music from the 16th century right through to the present day, both sacred and secular, a cappella or with accompaniments.

As well as singing in local churches and halls, the Derwent Singers’ sound has soared around sacred venues such as Southwell Minster, Ely Cathedral and even Notre Dame. Derby Cathedral is the venue for their Golden Jubilee Celebration Concert on 7th July with a programme that Richard describes as ‘above and beyond the regular repertoire.’

It’s an evening of baroque: Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Bach’s Singet dem Herrn and pieces from Latin American baroque, with authentic baroque instruments – strings, cornetti and sackbuts.

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‘This will be very special,’ promises Richard. ‘The Handel and Bach are a huge challenge of virtuosity for the choir and will be a thrilling and joyous experience for the audience. The Latin American music is fresh, exuberant and dance-like and, even though it’s baroque, it sounds incredibly modern.’

Jenni Curtis says she is ‘excited by the energetic and syncopated rhythms of the Latin American repertoire’, while Lara Maleen Kipp is looking forward to the Handel and Bach works: ‘Both composers express divinity through their music and even if you are not religious, I think it’s fair to say that in music you may glimpse God.’ There is unquestionable belief amongst the singers in Richard and that, through him, they will attain the peak of perfection on the night. For Lara, Richard brings three key attributes to the choir: ‘Dedication, passion, vision.’ Other singers add: rapport, patience and humour. And, as Richard points out, all of this is done for the joy and exhilaration of the performance: ‘For us, it’s the thrill of singing live, and when it’s done well, the sound of voices singing together meaningfully is the best musical sound there is. For the audience, there’s the thrill of hearing the music there and then – the occasion and the unrepeatability of it. Music has a unique power to lift us out of ourselves and our everyday life, to reach the soul of humanity. Better still, it can reach everyone regardless of education, culture or experience.’

‘To actually make music with your own personal instrument – your voice – is wonderful,’ declares Helen Alexander, ‘and to belong to a team of like-minded people of all ages is one of the best experiences you can have. When you perform really well, when all the notes are right and the tuning and expression is spot on, there is no greater feeling of satisfaction. The buzz you get is phenomenal, more so because the audience feels it too. 7th July is going to be a memorable night.’ u

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The Derwent Singers’ Golden Jubilee Celebration Concert is at Derby Cathedral on 7th July, 7.30pm. Tickets – reserved £20 & £30; unreserved £5, £10, £16; under 16s free (unreserved) when accompanied by an adult – book at www.derwentsingers.org.uk

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