Handwashers’ Newsletter 14th February 2021


Our tentative plan for a spring/summer re-start and a concert on November 6th remains in place, but restrictions on gatherings look likely to continue for some months yet and for much longer than we anticipated when we canvassed members’ opinions back in September. Some of us are increasingly missing each other’s company as the winter drags on but have also become familiar with Zoom as a way of keeping in touch with friends and colleagues. We therefore propose to take up Carleton’s offer to host some Zoom-based ‘meet and sing’ sessions for those who’d like to see familiar faces again and sing some well-known pieces together. We know that many members previously indicated that they would prefer to wait for the re-start, so taking part will be entirely voluntary – like our August sessions – and there’s no pressure on anyone to participate if they don’t want to.

As you can imagine, Carleton’s had to adapt to alternative ways of making music and last month started optional evening Zoom sessions with his Pershore Choir. He runs these from the piano and while he plays everyone else is muted, so for those whose voices may not be at their best there’s the added confidence booster of knowing that you’re not being heard by anyone but yourself!  

Bob Merrill and Ros Ivison have been involved in similar singing activities during lockdown. Both are happy to talk to you about their first-hand experiences if you want to give them a call. They can also help you to get started on Zoom if it’s new to you and will be able to offer help on the day to anyone having IT problems. If you’d initially like to be just an observer to see if it appeals, they can advise you on that too. 

Please e-mail Bob if you’re interested so that he can send you the details and joining instructions once the arrangements have been made. Bob’s and Ros’s contact details are robertwt.merrill@gmail.com (07866 972389) and ros.ivison@sky.com (01793 750563).


This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. This is the time of year when Allegri’s famous Miserere, a setting of Psalm 51, is often sung. It is thought that this work was written in the 1630’s for exclusive use in the Sistine Chapel. It is scored for two choirs of five and four voices respectively, which join forces at the end in a rich, sonorous nine-part texture.

Gregorio Allegri (1582 – 1652)

It is highly likely that many embellishments have been added to the original score over the years, and some musicologists even claim that the notorious top treble C’s are not original. These notes have certainly become an essential feature of the piece and have caused many sleepless nights for choristers (and choirmasters!) alike over the years. There is no such anxiety in this incredibly poised performance by Tenebrae: https://youtu.be/H3v9unphfi0 

There is a story – which may or may not be true – that the fourteen year old Mozart wrote down the entire score of this work after hearing it just once during a service. For such a precocious talent, I personally think this is an entirely plausible claim.

It was good to see, in last week’s newsletter, the photograph of the wonderful organ at St Bavo, Haarlem, and was highly amused to see my name in the same sentence as Mozart! (Thanks editor…) Holland is a real treasure trove for organs – particularly baroque ones – and I have been very lucky to visit and give a number of concerts over the years. I did have the good fortune to play at Haarlem whilst a student. On the same memorable trip I played in a masterclass in the Oude Kirk, Amsterdam – the church where the great Dutch composer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was organist. 

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621)

Nowadays, the church is situated in the heart of the red light district of the city. As I said, a memorable trip!

Amsterdam – the heart of the red light district

FOOTNOTE Carleton’s mention of precocious talent is an opportunity for us to enjoy further examples of child prodigies. The first sent by Chris Burton: https://youtu.be/UAfuMol1e-0 

and this from Catherine: https://youtu.be/YfzbCe6MCPs 

CHASING THE DRUM Tim vaguely remembers:

Many years ago, CCS joined with Swindon CS and Highworth CS to perform Carmina Burana in a sports hall in deepest Swindon on a baking hot summer day. As some of you know, Carl Orff endowed this work with copious percussion and, sure enough, at the afternoon rehearsal loads of kit was prepared noisily in front of us and the orchestral parts were played on a pair of electronic pianos.

Carl Orff (1895-1982)

The lady playing the bass drum was quite obviously with child and as she bashed the drum it slid away from her on the polished floor. Perched as she was on a stool, her limited mobility prevented her from controlling or following it. Eventually the conductor, noticing her plight, sat us down while a solution was found.

A xylophone was re-sited so that the player, the only percussionist permanently sitting down, could stick out his right foot and halt the bass drum’s escape. He looked uncomfortable by the end of the concert, as did we, melting in our DJs, but it worked.

Turn your volume down before enjoying the Carmina Burana opening chorus, O Fortuna, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and do enjoy the singers’ diction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OKXZ0aF8UQ 

I did warn you!

The first half of this concert was William Walton’s Façade which, thankfully, didn’t involve the choir.

Sir William Walton (1902 – 1983)

Neither before nor since the event have I made time to find out what this was all about though I do remember a lot of impassioned recitation from behind screens. Perhaps you can enlighten us . . ?

Here are Rattle (again) and actress Alyson Hannigan giving it their all, though without screens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79ahguBURn4

JANUARY BRINGS THE SNOW Jane waxes poetical here: January brings the snow.

POSTSCRIPT to the Parry piece last week. Andy has just found this complete recording of Invocation to Music: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kBtlzuTxaWJhOXaNMFuqlxTEB3h2c-C2E


Andy has received this email from Ailsa O’Connor, our contact at Churn Project which provides our concert refreshment and to which charity we have donated proceeds from our Christmas Concerts:

Dear Andy

As part of the Churn Project’s outreach during the last year I’ve been organising a monthly 20 minute online concert, via facebook live.  Mostly it’s to give people something to look forward to and, if they feel like it, they can make a donation, so it brings in some funds too.  They generally take place on the 3rd Thursday of the month at 7.30 and can be live or can be recorded if people prefer.  

We’ve had solo singers – classical and jazz – a four-part harmony group, pianists and a sax player so far.  Do you think there is anyone amongst your musical contacts (choral or instrumental) who might be willing to give a short performance for us?  We generally get around 30 people watching.

I’ll welcome any suggestions you may have

with best wishes, Ailsa

If you would like to help please email Ailsa: ailsa.oconnor@thechurn.org.uk


At Glyndebourne in 1991, soprano Amanda Roocroft was singing Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte while dating chorus member David Ellis. Ellis took exception to the too realistic courting Roocroft was receiving from her on-stage lover, tenor Kurt Streit, and punched him in the Nether Wallop.

(Those of you who, like Margaret and Willie, know Glyndebourne will be aware that the Nether Wallop is the house carvery restaurant, not a part of the tenor anatomy. Ed.)

Here is Amanda Roocroft in Cosi fan tutti: https://youtu.be/p8FnicEd2YA