Handwashers’ Newsletter 28thth February 2021

Little did we know, when we first started knocking out these weekly Handwashers’ Newsletters in March 2020, that we would reach 50 and still counting. We hope that they have helped our members to feel that the Choral Society still exists, though sadly dormant for now. Thank you to Carleton for his Columns and to those members who have provided contributions and encouragement and please let’s have more.


Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810 – 1876) has graced this column before. Living at a time when standards in church music were at a very low ebb, he did much to try and improve matters. He held a succession of cathedral posts including Gloucester, Winchester, Exeter and Hereford and was the first organist of the ‘new’ Leeds Parish Church (the church where I was based before moving to Tewkesbury!).

As a composer he was, frankly, in a different league to most of his contemporaries and he was also considered to be one of the finest organists of his generation, noted particularly for his abilities as an improviser and his pedal technique.

The motet ‘Cast me not away’ was written in 1848 whilst at Leeds and is a setting of words from Psalm 51. Scored for unaccompanied six-part choir it is a most expressive work, owing much to the polyphonic style of the Renaissance period. Listen out for the harmonic clashes at the words ‘the bones which thou hast broken’. Apparently, Wesley had fallen whilst on a fishing trip and broken his leg. The fact that he chose to set these words during a period of convalescence gives a certain added poignancy!

The performance here is sung by Hereford Cathedral directed by my good friend Dr Roy Massey, who has resided in Tewkesbury for the past 20 years.


ANOTHER SOLOIST HERO who, Andy recalls, saved the day for us:

For our concert in December 2012, mezzo Grace Durham had been engaged as one of eight soloists from the Guildhall to sing Second Woman in Dido and Aeneas, but gallantly picked up the additional role of Sorceress when the mezzo billed for the part fell ill.

We had separated the two groups of soloists to reflect the Dido story, but now playing both a ‘goody’ and a ‘baddy’, Grace needed to switch sides several times. Conscious that stepping across the aisle would spoil the effect, she cleverly receded from the scene on the one side to re-appear as her alter ego on the other, finding an unnoticeable route round the back of the organ and choir stalls! Our reviewer that night – early music critic Simon Pickard – described Grace’s performance as ‘exemplary’; we engaged her again for our Elijah the following year.  She’s now based in Paris but still finding opportunities to sing Purcell – most recently in August with a song recital ‘From Purcell with Love’ broadcast live from Innsbruck on Austrian national radio.  To recapture the memory, listen to the Witches scene from Dido (Act II Scene I) in which the Sorceress and the Enchantresses plot Dido’s downfall – ha ha ha!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgW2vwDrwQM This recording is by Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Choir and Players. They’re my favourite interpreters of this work by far.

(And here, for afters, is Grace herself singing Fauré: https://youtu.be/r_LOyODicaU  and Anna Dennis singing Dido’s lament so grab a tissue before clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H–Z9UzQYE Ed.)

MORE ON VAUGHAN WILLIAMS from Down Ampney resident, Pam Varey:


Ralph Vaughan Williams was baptised at Down Ampney church on 1st December 1872. His father, the vicar, invited Rev. Hyde Beadon, the vicar of a neighbouring parish, to officiate. Perhaps he was nervous or perhaps baby Ralph wriggled, but every vicar’s nightmare happened – he dropped the baby! His mother managed to grab the skirts of his christening gown and prevented the poor little chap from falling onto the stone floor! There are no more records of Rev. Hyde Beadon taking any more baptisms in Down Ampney!

Down Ampney Vicarage, RVW birthplace

EDITOR’S FOOTNOTES Ralph Vaughan Williams’ mother, née Margaret Wedgwood was granddaughter of Josiah Wedgewood and Erasmus Darwin. As members of the Lunar Society they contributed to the ‘English Enlightenment’ of the late 18th Century.

Most of us remember RVW’s hymn tune, ‘Down Ampney’ to  Come down, O Love divine so let’s close the doors and windows and sing along to the words provided here: https://youtu.be/zXO4rqBQOAU

GINNY STARTS LAMBING any time now: We wish her well and hope that the Sheep may safely graze by J S Baaach: https://youtu.be/B1nyzGR3tUE

COFFEE CONCERT Warwick invites us :

Putting on concerts in Covid-times is a bit like to score triple top in darts: every time you think you’re going to hit the target, things conspire against you. So it has been with the song recital for Music at Minch coffee concerts devised by James Gilchrist which was originally planned for November, then January. Restrictions are still in place, so it is now going to be streamed ‘live’ next Saturday March 6 at 11am, and will be available thereafter to view.

James is singing a collection of songs by Louis Spohr from 1815, five songs by Brahms and a selection from the pen of Prince Albert. They’re all very entertaining, and in some ways it occurs to me that viewing them online has its advantages. Rather than sitting 20 yards away from the performer, you can get ‘up close’ and become perhaps much more involved in the performance than would normally be the case. And for those eager to see ‘how it is done’, watching James sing at close quarters is an object lesson in itself.

It’s free to view, but if you are able to contribute to costs of putting it on, you can buy the performers a virtual ‘coffee’ and there’s a link from this page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzCT8VeNl6s&ab_channel=MusicatMinch

And talking of Pages, here’s saluting Tim’s marvellous efforts in keeping this Newsletter going through thick and thin. It’s been invaluable, receiving one of these in one’s inbox every week. Thank you, Tim, and well done!


Andy writes:  You won’t be surprised that Tim wanted to leave out Warwick’s final paragraph, but having seen it, and knowing that many would respond with a hearty ‘Hear, hear!’, I managed to override his modesty and editorial privilege and instruct him to retain it!