Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Rossini would have been proud

Thanks to the combined effort of many people, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society returned to providing full performances with a concert featuring Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ on Saturday 18th June 2022. It was performed as close as possible to it’s original, but unusual, setting for voices, piano and harmonium and was a suitable way to mark the Society’s emergence from the chaos of Covid. Our first live audience for quite some time brought out the best in the choir after rehearsing under so many restrictions and they were well supported by a group of young but excellent soloists. The whole piece was dominated by the piano accompaniment, beautifully played on an instrument hired in to match the occasion.

The enthusiasm of the audience for the opportunity to enjoy live music was matched by the thrill of the choir being able to perform to them once again. Everyone now looks forward to the next opportunity.

Restarting Rehearsals

We are delighted to confirm that our rehearsals will recommence at Sunderland Minster on Wednesday 2nd February 2022. Please come a little early so that the organisation of scores can take place and we can commence the rehearsal promptly.

All of our Covid precautions remain in place and we need everyone to be aware of the Guidance to Members and act accordingly.

We look forward to seeing everyone then.

Hallelujah – we did it

Bishopwearmouth Choral Society have been rehearsing a shortened version of Handel’s Messiah since September 2021 when choirs were allowed to sing again, properly distanced in a well-ventilated space. Unfortunately Sunderland Minster is not large enough to accommodate an audience as well as the choir, musicians, and soloists so our performance on Saturday December 4th 2021 was only available to see and hear via an online streaming available on the Minster’s YouTube channel for a short period.

A small orchestra took part with two soloists, Anna Dias – soprano and Sophie Horrocks – mezzo soprano, all conducted by David Murray.      

Rehearsing once again

We are pleased to announce that the Society has started rehearsing again from Wednesday September 8th.

If you are interested in joining the choir please see the Member’s News section which has additional information about our approach.

A New Start

As you will be aware it has not been possible to hold choir rehearsals for some time because of Covid-19 and all of our recent concert plans had to be cancelled. However we now have a target date to resume rehearsals of Wednesday 8th September 2021. Arrangements are being put in place to make these rehearsals Covid-secure and details of how this will be done are now published in the Members News section for anyone to consult. We very much look forward to re-establishing regular concerts but this will take some time to organise while we ‘find our voice’. All details will be published here under Events in due course.

Our apologies to everyone

People often say “No news is good news” but at the moment it is probably nearer the truth to say that most of the news is bad news. It is particularly true of choirs and of our Choral Society because the very act of singing – which is what we do – is considered very inappropriate to preventing the spread of Covid-19. So faced with all of the recent studies and the latest government advice,  at the moment it is simply not practical or safe to restart our usual rehearsal schedule preparing for our next concert, or even arrange an annual general meeting.

We can only offer our apologies to our members for not being able to start our rehearsals in September and to our loyal patrons for the concerts that have had to be cancelled and continue to be in jeopardy. As soon as the guidance becomes more certain and we can reconvene under safe and workable conditions then we will update everyone with the information.

Most enjoyable and uplifting

Our thanks to Vincent Smith for allowing the publication of this review of our concert on Saturday 7th December 2019, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

An imaginative programme was presented by the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society to a receptive audience at the Minster on Saturday Evening. Of the four works performed three were by Benjamin Britten. The opening item however was the Motet “Beatus Vir, a setting of Psalm 112 by Monteverdi. There is a direct joyfulness to the work which was captured from the onset. The contrasting textures and drama which are integral to the music of Monteverdi were fully captured and enhanced by the tasteful support of the instrumental group of two solo violins, organ and continuo.

The full string group were to give the chorus a well deserved rest as it performed the “Simple Symphony” in which Britten uses themes from four of his pieces, written when he was but a boy. The audience responded warmly to each of the movements in turn and not least to the delightful “Playful Pizzicato.” One of Britten’s most charming and uncomplicated works which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

A feature of the Choral Society is the encouragement and opportunity given to young singers and that a regular group known as Bishopwearmouth Young Singers, meet under the direction of Eileen Bown. What a contribution they made to this event! The Twelve Apostles introduced the soloist, Richard Pinkstone, a young tenor with a rapidly growing reputation. His interaction with the Young Singers as they faced each other was pleasing to eye and ear. Their interaction was also effectively communicated to the audience. How inspiring to hear youngsters sing with clarity of diction and tuneful voices and to be able to respond so wonderfully to the voice and personality of someone with whom they will have only had limited rehearsal time. Equally vital to the performance was the skill and musicianship of Eileen at the piano.

No work can be described as easy to perform but although written mostly for amateur performers St Nicholas, the first major work of Britten, does pose many challenges. Richard Pinkstone was ideal as St. Nicholas. There was another soloist too, Stephanie Little, one of the Young Singers who had important interjections to make which were performed with confidence and clarity. The Young Singers took the role of the treble soloists again to great effect and as in the 12 Apostles without copies. The chorus was in great form and clarity of diction helped to maintain audience involvement in the colourful story of the life St. Nicholas a mixture of fact and legend. Oh! And that includes us too; because the congregation get to take part as there are two hymns towards the end of the work. To the orchestra was added an organ (Colin Wood), percussion and a piano duo with Venera Bojkova joining Eileen Bown. David Murray the Music Director welded all together with his masterly conducting technique and musicianship to provide a most enjoyable and uplifting evening to which one must add the acoustic and environment of the Minster.

Vincent Smith


This performance was attended by The Right Worshipful the Mayor, Councillor David Snowdon, and his Mayoress, Councillor Dianne Snowdon, who joined the Patrons of the Society for a small reception before the performance.

Tea and Trains

To mark the end of our 70th Anniversary season on Sunday 7th July the Altos decided to take us for a ride ………. a train ride on the Tanfield Railway – the oldest railway in the world. Thanks to the calm efficiency of the organisers we were treated to exclusive use of both the Directors’ Carriage (for those taking tea) and the Balcony Carriage (great for the youngsters who could see straight into the back of the locomotive). Once aboard from East Tanfield we could travel the whole of the line and could take advantage of the other stations to explore Causey Arch or stretch your legs on the many pathways (and some did!).

The highlight was the sumptuous High Tea taken in the Directors’ Carriage which was so extensive that there was not enough railway to complete it all and most came away with a bag of goodies to eat later. It was all of a very high standard,  beautifully served by friendly volunteers, although the tea cups did rattle a bit on bends.

Everyone at the Tanfield Railway were very welcoming and deserve praise for what they have achieved in maintaining part of our heritage, whilst giving us all a very enjoyable outing.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the events marking this special 70th season.

What a year it has been!

On Saturday 22nd June, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society completed the performances in its 70th Anniversary Season with a concert of 20th Century American Classics. As well as marking continuous performances in Sunderland over many years, the evening was special in many ways.

To add to the evening the Society were joined by their President, Anne-Marie Owens, and the Bishopwearmouth Young Singers who all contributed to the performance. The audience included both the Mayor, Councillor David Snowdon, and the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Harry Trueman, with their consorts. Instead of the usual orchestral accompaniment there were two pianos and percussion but this also allowed David Murray, the Musical Director, and Eileen Bown, the Society’s accompanist, to both take part in an even more involved way than usual – all combining to make for a particularly memorable event.

Our thanks to Colin Greener for allowing us to share the following crit, which was prepared for submission for publication to the Sunderland Echo :

A Celebration of American Classics
Bishopwearmouth Choral Society treated an audience in Sunderland Minster on Saturday 22nd June to the sonorities of the American Musical Classics at their very best. This concert marked the end of a very special season for Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, which saw them celebrating the 70th anniversary of the formation of the Society and was dedicated primarily to the works of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Conducting and accompanying the concert was acclaimed pianist, David Murray. The concert began with two settings of Old American Songs by Copland, entitled Ching-a-Ring Chaw and Stomp your foot. Ching a ring Chaw finds its roots in Minstrelsy, and Copland made a point of rewriting the lyrics to efface any of the song’s minstrel baggage. He said ‘ I did not want to take any chance of it being construed as racist’. It was very energetic and fast and there were many tongue twisters in the text, deftly managed by the choristers. The second piece, Stomp your Foot, is described as a square dance. The effects of this were soon felt: I had to suppress the urge to dance myself. Looking around, I could see that I was not the only one in this predicament.

Anne Marie Owens, who is President of the Society, sang three songs from the great American Musical. Dressed in a splendid navy blue dress for the occasion, she delivered Summertime (Gershwin), Can’t Help Lovin’ that man (Kern), and Broadway Baby (Sondheim) with superb artistry. This much loved singer, who hails from South Shields, has had a glittering operatic career and it was a real privilege to hear her sing these songs from the shows with a mixture of real beauty and deep emotion in the first two numbers, followed by a huge brassy finish in Broadway Baby.

The next items featured the Bishopwearmouth Young Singers. Both Copland and Bernstein, the central composers of tonight’s concert, come from Jewish backgrounds, and the use of the Hebrew language became a theme of the evening’s texts. Demonstrating this I believe in the Sun (Howard Goodall) takes its lyrics from graffiti found on a cell wall in Cologne left by Jewish prisoners held there before being taken to concentration camps. The words Al Shlosha D’Varim (Allan Naplan) mean ‘the world is sustained by truth, justice and peace.” The Bishopwearmouth Young singers delivered these moving pieces with a blissfully innocent and pure sound, making these performances deeply touching.

The final work before the intermission was the most exciting performance by the two pianos (David Murray and Eileen Bown) and three percussionists (Andy Booth, Ollie Newton and Ed Chapman). They treated us to Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The two piano texture was used throughout most of the concert to accompany the choir. Here the addition of three percussionists playing it seems every possible instrument you could have thought of – was stunning. From timps through to bongos, drum kit, marimba, vibraphone, gong, vibraphone, woodblock, xylophone and even at one point a police whistle this was a dazzling array of sounds. The integration of the two pianos and this percussion feast was truly awe inspiring and it evoked all the atmospheres and emotions of Bernstein’s great musical West Side Story. This was a dazzling, and at times extremely emotional, conclusion to a brilliant first half.

Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms was commissioned by the Chichester Festival in 1965. These three psalm settings are in Hebrew, not in English. I wonder what the patrons of the Chichester Festival thought when they first arrived? Nevertheless these settings have found their way firmly into the choral repertoire and are regularly performed all over the world notwithstanding their technical difficultly and the challenge of the texts themselves. Bishopwearmouth Choral Society delivered their account with boldness and confidence and Robert Chavner sang the middle movement with great beauty and expression, showing off the impressive range of his countertenor voice. The performance demonstrated vocal agility, the ability to cope with very tricky irregular rhythms, and then in the last movement the ability to sing expressively and quietly. The final unaccompanied bars were magical and a real feat for any choral group. The atmosphere resonating throughout the Church at the end of this work was one of real devotional calm and peace.

This concert was a resounding success. I have experienced first-hand the teaching ability of the two pianists Eileen Bown and David Murray, so I anticipated a thrilling performance, and I was not disappointed. The audience was large, and the responses to the performances during and afterwards were long-lasting and most complimentary. This was the first time I have experienced listening to a concert in Sunderland Minster with this Society and I can highly recommend that you come see for yourselves the special music making that is happening here.

Colin Greener

The Sopranos tease our brains and tickle our tastebuds

  As their part of the celebrations of our 70th Anniversary season, the Sopranos treated us to a social evening with a fun challenge on Friday 7th June. The Society members and their guests were faced with a carefully planned and very imaginative quiz, led by a suitably resolute Quiz Master to keep us all in order.

As the photographs suggest, much deep thought was needed  to cope with a broad range of topics ranging from ‘Can you identify the scientist’ through emojis and algebra to those with a musical basis. There is no truth in the wicked rumour that members had trouble recognising some of the pieces they had previously performed – it was just that faced with only a few bars of the music, it takes a few minutes to work through all of the possible pieces that have featured over the 70 years.

The winners

The night included sustenance for the body, as well as stimulation for the brain, in the form of pies and peas and a good time was had by all.

Inevitably some teams did better than others and those with the best overall performance were rewarded with chocolate, which they were kind enough to share. Our thanks to the organisers for providing such a comfortable setting and so much fun.