Handwashers’ Newsletter 14th June 2020


Many of you will have been encouraged by the recent announcement regarding the re-opening of churches. Whilst it will undoubtedly be quite some time before these buildings are fully functioning in a way to which we are accustomed, these small steps are to be welcomed.

For those of us involved in church music it has been – and continues to be – a challenging and frustrating time, but we look forward to the day when, once again, our great cathedrals, churches and chapels are filled with the sound of great music.

Herbert Howells has already appeared in this column. Although the Gloucestershire born composer wrote music in many genres, it is for his church music that he is often remembered. Indeed many (including myself) consider him to be the most important contributor to the English cathedral repertoire of the twentieth century.

Among his many liturgical pieces are over twenty settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, the canticles traditionally sung at Anglican Evensong. Most of these were written for specific buildings and today I share with you his glorious setting of the Magnificat written for Gloucester Cathedral. The long, soaring phrases seem to match perfectly the grand, resonant space from which Howells received much inspiration.

This performance is by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, directed by Stephen Cleobury, who sadly died last year. I dedicate this to all those who love making music in our wonderful churches – and that, of course, includes choral societies! https://youtu.be/qt-uT_AfhRE

FIONA’S BRASS Like choral societies, brass bands are a major resource for amateur music making.

No one knows this better than Fiona Cordiner, tenor horn player in Cirencester Band, and here she describes two pieces with Gloucestershire connections:

The first is the Severn Suite by Edward Elgar.  You may have come across this as an orchestral work, or as an organ solo, but it was originally written in 1930 as a test piece for the National Brass Band Championship (and dedicated to Elgar’s friend George Bernard Shaw). I had the privilege of playing this in the Usher Hall at the Edinburgh Festival many years ago, and still love listening to it. There’s a recording available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toN2769ySkQ if you would like to hear it.

The second is the Down Ampney March by Debbie Wiseman (Classic FM’s composer in residence), written in 2019 in memory of those who served at RAF Down Ampney.

Cirencester Band played the first public performance of this march, at a special service of commemoration marking the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.  It has subsequently been adopted by the Band of the RAF who hope to use it on ceremonial occasions. Unfortunately I don’t have a recording for you to listen to, but if you’d like to read more about the event, there’s some more information here: http://www.ampney.info/vicar/Arnhem_Service_2019.html

(Those of us of a certain age remember the comedian, Jimmy Edwards, on the wireless. During the war he piloted Dakotas based at RAF Down Ampney. He flew several times to Arnhem during Operation Market Garden towing Horsa gliders full of troops. Interviewed years later he recalled taking off towards Cricklade, his laden aircraft struggling to gain height. He swore that he flew between the pinnacles on Cricklade Church, below! A great comedian and, like thousands of others at Arnhem, a very brave man. Ed.)


Before coming to Cirencester I lived in Usk, Monmouthshire, and was a member of Monmouth Choral Society. (MCS) Whilst I was there Mark Foster was the conductor. He was well known in the Gloucestershire area and until 1999 also conducted the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra – even though he lived in South Wales near Brecon.  He retired from MCS in 2005 and died in 2007 aged 84. The choir was then conducted by Benjamin Nicholas (who also conducted Stroud Choral Society). 

When we were performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Cheltenham Town Hall with the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra there was a most beautiful peacock butterfly flying around and at one of the very energetic points in the choral section it landed on Mark’s’ head. How the choir carried on I am not sure, but he knew it was there and there was nothing he could do about it!!!!


Composer of the Week last week focussed on Joseph Haydn and included excerpts from his masses, sung almost as well as we have done over the years. If you missed it, start here where: Donald Macleod focuses his attention on Haydn’s humanity; a man of exceptional character with a warm, generous personality, and a great sense of humour: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00040w0


We went on a trip to Barcelona to sing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Mass in D) in 3 concerts at the Palau de la Musica. An early start in UK (5am) with an arrival in Spain late afternoon. There was a rehearsal in the evening from 9pm till 1am. We were on our knees by then.

After the last concert on the Sunday morning we walked back across the square by the new cathedral where all the locals were dancing. Our men threw their DJ jackets into the centre of the ring and joined in the dancing called the Saldana.

If you haven’t been to the Palau in Barcelona, it is recommended. It was built for the local choir in about 1904 and is magnificent. The style is a smaller version of the Royal Opera House.


Here’s a quiz for you: In this 1950 clip sent by Sonia LaFontaine and featuring Mario Lanza, the angelic choirboy soloist grew up to sing tenor. Which of these tenors is it?                                               

Is it Amiyo Banerjee, Christopher Burton, José Carreras, Andrew Crane, Robert Crow, Plácido Domingo, Victor Gilks, Luciano Pavarotti, John Pinnington or Graham Shearn? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmJSWgWNCFQ

Answers to timp470@btinternet.com