Sunday, 16 June 2019

Cake, Wine and Song!

We are 40!

We humans have a way of marking the passing the passing years and paying special attention as each decade passes.

This may seem arbitrary but it gives us all an opportunity to stop and review our achievements. It's also the opportunity for a party.

This year Cantilena marks its fortieth birthday. We are a small community choir and that makes it doubly special. It's easy to see how a 200-strong choral society might mark off the centuries, but a small choir's existence is much more volatile.

We have decided to make a splash. We have commissioned a new work by David Bednall. This is a setting of "Nightingales" by Robert Bridges and we will be giving the world premiere at our Summer concert.

We will team this with a range of English part-songs, including some other Robert Bridges settings. There will also be the now legendary Cantilena Buffet, bubbly and cake. 

This one is a must!

See you all there!

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Once More with Passion

Bach St John Passion

This term we have been working on what is arguably the finest work of its type, possibly even of the whole choral repertoire - The St John Passion by J S Bach.

This Passion was written for St Thomas's church in Leipzig but its first performance was actually in St Nicholas' Church in Leipzig on Good Friday 1724. 

Bach took the strong view that this is a piece for the whole congregation, so he wrote it in the vernacular, using Luther's version of the bible, which the congregation would know, and included Hymns (Chorales) which they could all sing.

Although this work is usually performed as a concert piece these days. there is a strong argument for singing it in the native language of the audience.

Cantilena has chosen to perform a new translation which matches Bach's musical rhythms. In that way we lose neither the music or the passion.

And this work is full of passion, from the crazy rantings of the crowds of Jews, soldiers and priests to the personal reflections of the arias and the commentary of the chorales.

The setting is full of human drama: Peter's angry outbursts, Pilate's baffled attempt at justice, the soldiers' greed. The story is told by an evangelist, starting with the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and ending with Jesus' death.

From the opening bars we are aware that this story is about suffering and sorrow. The final chorus: "sleep well.... and I will lay aside my weeping..." leaves us with the sense of loss that follows Jesus' death. We will have to wait until Easter Day for this to be resolved.

Come and immerse yourselves in this gripping and enduring tale of love, betrayal and grief.

Here are the details:

7.30 PM Friday 12 April 2019
St Mary's Church, Glastonbury
Tickets £12.00 (£1.00 children) 
from 01278 22870, from Dickett's stationers, Glastonbury, or on the door.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Polish up your voice

Cantilena Vocal Techniques Day 2019

We all love to sing. It brings us joy and communicates with others. We hear that singing helps people who can't otherwise speak, who are depressed or suffering from dementia. And singing together is one of the best things one can do for mind, body and spirit.

Sometimes people say "Oh, I can't sing!" and then they tell a story of some fearful teacher who threw them out of the choir, rather than educating them how to find their voice.

Even those of us who sing regularly can do with a little bit of vocal polishing, so to speak, from time to time. Many people who sing in choirs have never had any vocal training.

For many years now, Cantilena has attempted to address this by holding occasional vocal and choral training days. These are not the same as "come and sing" days where people gather to sing specified works under a well-known conductor, though these are lovely, of course.

We ask someone who has expertise in vocal training and choral conducting to lead the day. We learn how to breathe, pitch our voices, listen to others, extend our vocal range. We do exercises to stretch the body and fill the lungs. We practise enunciation and often do a little bit of sight reading. People are often surprised to find that their range can go further that they are used to, suddenly finding that top G or bottom A. We discover how the way in which we pronounce a vowel sound or bring a word to a close can affect its pitch and tone, making notes dark or light. We experiment with dynamics.

In 2019 we will be holding one of these events. These are the details:

Saturday February 16 2019
10.00 am - 14.00
St Mary's Church Hall, Magdalene Street, Glastonbury
Price £12.00

Our leader will be Ben Sawyer. Ben is a counter tenor, conductor of several choirs and styles himself as a vocal educator. Here is a link to his website:

Put this date in your diary; we will be providing more information soon.

Keep in touch by going to our website:

Or email us at

Friday, 22 June 2018

Coming Together

Summer Idyll Concert Shaping Up

As our Summer concert draws near we are busy attending to the final details. After a term of rehearsals we now feel that we are fully absorbed into the sound and emotional world of the madrigals.

Readings have been carefully chosen to complement the music.

This year we are being joined by Steve Walter (Lutenist) and Hayley Guest (soprano) who will perform some lute pieces and songs. Steve is the inspiration behind Rosafresca, which seeks to inspire us with a passion for Elizabethan and Spanish Renaissance music. 

Choir members are each contributing to the buffet supper which is included in the ticket price.

Posters have been put up, programmes printed, press releases issued.

We have been fortunate enough to secure some sponsorship:

From Collier Reading, designers of the Pavilion, and from Tukosawa, local makers and restorers of bespoke garden furniture. Without their help, it would be much harder to be able to provide concerts of a high standard at a price audience members can afford.

The weather forecast is looking good, so we very much hope that audience members will feel free to stroll outside and socialise comfortably.

So, really, there's nothing left to do except enjoy it. And that goes for performers and audience alike!

Don't miss it! All the details are below.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Right Place

New Venue for Summer

For Cantilena, the Summer concert has always been an opportunity to mix making music with socialising with our audience. Over the years we have performed in many places around the Glastonbury area.

Sometimes we have sung out of doors, which can be a mixed pleasure, as well as places such as the Rural Life Museum, the Abbot's Kitchen and Abbey House. We tend to avoid churches, if at all possible, to reflect the lighter nature of the concert. So the hunt is always on for new and interesting places.

This year our concert "A Summer Idyll" will be held at The Pavilion, Millfield Prep School, Edgarley. This beautiful building was opened in 2014 and boasts a range of excellent facilities, including the hall where we are to perform.

Unlike our usual format, where the audience sits in rows facing us, we are having the concert "cabaret" style where the audience will sit at tables, maybe with a glass of wine, to watch the performance.

Afterwards, there will a be a buffet (and more wine if you wish) and a chance to socialise with the performers.

Below is all you need to know about the concert.

We hope to see you there!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Simple Meanings

The Meaning of Madrigals

A few more thoughts on the subject of madrigals. They are very pretty to listen to and great fun to sing, but the words are an equally important element.

They covered the whole range of human life and emotions and often used "conceits" to give a twist to the meaning. One of my favourites, and the first proper madrigal I ever sang, is "April is in my Mistress' Face" by Thomas Morley.

Here is the simple little poem:

April is in my mistress' face.
And July in her eyes hath place.
Within her bosom is September
But in her heart a cold December

In four lines the mistress stands before us. She is young and fresh, but has a changeable nature - sunshine and showers. She's sultry with a full, ripe figure. But she's cold, in the dead, final way that December is, with no looking forward to Spring.

The writer carefully avoids the generalisations of the seasons in order to give us this richness.

Follow this link to hear the song:

So, our job is to convey all this detail of meaning to our audience with a madrigal that lasts barely a minute and a half.

Here are the details:

A Summer Idyll
30 June 2018
Millfield Prep School Sports Pavilion, Edgarley
Tickets: £12.00

The ticket prices include a buffet supper

More on this soon.

Monday, 30 April 2018


Midsummer Delight

Cantilena Sings Songs to Invoke Summertime

As usual, we go directly from our Spring Concert to our more lighthearted Summer supper concert.

This year our concert is on 30th June, so close to Midsummer and certainly before the evenings start to darken. So, how better to celebrate than with Madrigals? 

Madrigals were originally an import from Italy but English composers of the 16th and 17th centuries took the art form and made it their own.

See the source imageOne of their favourite subjects was the joy of celebrating the coming of Summer, with madrigals such as "All Creatures Now" and "Now is the Month of Maying". These songs describe a peaceful bucolic world of well-fed shepherds and shepherdesses, frolicking and dancing innocently. The realities of rural life had no place here! 

There were a couple of inspirations. Poems about Arcadia by Virgil and Thomas Watson gave names and characters to flesh out the scenes. 

The other was a compilation of madrigals by 23 different composers, put together by Thomas Morley. The collection was called "The Triumphs of Oriana" and every madrigal had to include the words : 

"Thus sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana: long live fair Oriana”

Oriana was said to have referred to Queen Elizabeth I, although she is also said to have hated being called Oriana.

The collection was published in 1601, two years before her death.

Madrigals were intended for home entertainment; unlike church music, all members of the family and both sexes would participate, grouped around part books, and the use of instruments such as flute, viol or lute were permitted.

In the pieces we have chosen I hope that we will be able to express both the joy of Summer as well as their essential intimacy.

More details about the concert will follow.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Cross and the Crown

Is the Title of our Spring Concert

In my last blog I talked about the journey taken by Haydn's "7 Last Words" from orchestral to choral.

It is, of course, a very devotional work and, by its nature, rather sombre, dealing, as it does, with Our Lord's final moments suffering a gruesome death by crucifixion.

We then had the task of deciding what would best complement this work. We chose to perform two of Handel's coronation anthems. In their own way, they also have a devotional quality as they exhort the king to be faithful, strong and devout.

Handel wrote four anthems, and they have a specific order in which they were played at the first coronation (that of George II) : "Let thy hand be strengthened" was played first, then "Zadok the Priest", then "The King shall Rejoice", and finally "My Heart is Inditing" at the coronation of the Queen. "Zadok" is usually played first these days (although, as we haven't had a coronation for sixty-five years, who knows what will happen?).

Handel chose the words himself, extrapolating from anthems sung at James II's coronation.

The best known is "Zadok" which we won't be singing. We will be singing "Let thy Hand be Strengthened" and "The King Shall Rejoice". These are wonderful pieces, full of joy and solemnity, fit for a monarch.

And whether your crown is made of thorns or gold and jewels, being King is a serious and solemn matter.

Join us for this musical journey on 21 April 7.30 at St Mary's Church, Glastonbury.

Full details to follow

Cantilena is on Facebook and you can check out our website on:

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Last Words

Meditation on Christ's last words on the cross

For their Spring concert, Cantilena will be performing Haydn's The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross. 

Originally this work was commissioned as an orchestral work to be performed at the Santa Cueva Oratory in Cadiz for Good Friday in 1786. This what Haydn himself had to say about this:

"The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse."

Subsequently Haydn adapted it for string quartet.

It seems strange that a piece based on words should start out life without any voices, but it wasn't until 1794, when Haydn heard that someone else had added a chorus to his work, that he thought he could go one better and he wrote his own choral version in 1796.

The words themselves are not taken directly from the bible, but are derived from poetry by Joseph Friebert, adapted by Gottfried van Swieten.

So the work has had a long journey to arrive at the version for choir, solo and strings that we are privileged to hear today.

Click on this link to hear some of it:

The concert is on 21 April 2018. Full details to follow.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Keep Singing

Christmas Starts Here

There's nothing that gives you a high quite like singing to a full house, with an audience primed and ready to support you.

Friday, 1 December, saw the choir deliver its Christmas concert. There's always some pre-show nerves - have we sold any tickets? has everyone remembered their music? the right clothing? (I heard tell of one choir who had a member turn up in jeans, clearly unaware of the dress code!).

But a goodly audience braved the icy winds and filled up St Mary's nicely with no overcrowding.

And I think that we gave a good show, with an eclectic selection of Christmas music and readings. The audience helped with lusty renditions of carols, especially "O Little Town" and "Hark the Herald" with the choir giving the descants.

We delivered William Byrd's "Laudibus in Sanctus" with a great deal of verve and audience members clearly loved its joyous ending. And there were little sigh of delight as Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque" settled to its peaceful end. I'm sure that everyone had their favourites and found something to bring Christmas into their hearts.

Mince pies and mulled wine added their own flavour to the evening, and we are very grateful to all our sponsors.

Victoria Poole from St Margaret's Hospice spoke to the audience and I hope succeeded in raising funds for this worthy cause.

So we took pleasure in giving pleasure and I hope the audience felt that Christmas was now good to go.

Happy Christmas, Everyone!