Handwashers’ Newsletter 19th July 2020


I was very sorry to read this week about a fire in Nantes Cathedral which has, apparently, totally destroyed the organ.

This comes about a year after the huge fire at Notre Dame in Paris where the organ was also damaged. There is a great tradition of organ building in France which has inspired generations of players, composers and audiences alike.

In honour of this great tradition I am sharing with you the Symphony No 3 by Camille Saint-Saens, a piece often referred to as the ‘organ symphony.’ It is not, however, an organ concerto; the organ is simply used as part of the orchestra, appearing in two of the four movements – most dramatically, at the beginning of the finale.

Saint-Saens himself was a fine organist -although better remembered as a pianist -and was the organist at the Church of the Madeline in Paris. (The choirmaster at the time was a certain Gabriel Faure!) This justly popular work was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the first performance was given in London in 1886, conducted by the composer:


#FAIR DEAL FOR FREELANCERS You read the message from Ben in last week’s Newsletter alerting us all to the One Voice campaign that’s been set up by Choral Director Sam Evans. You will see in the Campaign’s latest  video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHoHPM7aYZM&feature=youtu.be ) that the focus is now directed specifically on support for those professional musicians who rely on freelance work in whole or in part for their income. This includes Carleton and Jenny and many of our other professional friends like Nia, Ben, Warwick and his players and many of our soloists. In the past they have supported us; you may want to support them by adding your name to the campaign, if you haven’t yet done so, at OneVoiceCampaign.org

INVENTIVE NAMES Alison Goodall remembers:

Your recent item on the inventive names given to the girls in Vivaldi’s choir and orchestra at the Pieta reminded me of the local amateur orchestra when I was growing up in Kent [I wasn’t a musician, I just did the refreshments!].  The concert conductor at that time was John Lanchbery and he regularly augmented the orchestra with professional players from London.  These players just turned up on the day of the concert.  The poor secretary was responsible for listing all the players in the programme, but she didn’t know who would actually be coming – just an extra cello or horn etc.  It was a while before I realised that Mr Stringfellow in the second violins didn’t actually exist!  I only wish I could remember all the other names she used for the casual members of the orchestra. 

ANOTHER GILKS MEMORY A change from Wormwood Scrubs!

We were in the town of Vic (near Barcelona) where we were lodging in a convent. Our music director Ronald Corp had to ask permission from the Mother Superior for us to stay out late (10pm) so we could visit a local bar for a drink.

A highlight of the Vic visit was to be allowed (by special permission) to sing in the church at the holy site in Montserrat. It is an Abbey which is regarded as a very sacred place in Spain and gets lots of Catholic pilgrims. It is known for its statue of the Black Madonna. Often people from the area name their child Montserrat (e.g. Montserrat Caballe).

The music we sang was O Vos Omnes by Pablo Casals, a capella. It is a beautiful piece of music sung here by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlcAqb-h98A

BROADSIDE FROM DI? (Listen to it and you should get it. Ed.)

A friend of mine sent the following link to a children’s on-line choir singing a Maroon 5 song. It’s not my usual type of thing but it’s a great production sung beautifully. The words are also very appropriate at the moment. See how long it takes you to recognise the piece of ‘classical’ music that it is based on…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB6yjGVuzVo


AND FINALLY . . .  Chris Burton’s sense of humour has been particularly active this week: