Weekly Notices

26 July 2020

Keith Skerrett (tenor) has brought this very interesting interview to my attention. It is with Declan Costello, who is a Consultant ENT surgeon. He is doing some research on the ‘dangers’ or not of singing. The interview also provides a good summary of the current status of singing in the government’s mind. It is 15 minutes long (the interview, that is).


All the best,

Philip Booth


14 July 2020

Another note from Duncan:

Dear SCS Member,

Today is Gerald Finzi’s birthday! Born in London 14 July, 1901. A man of music, apples, cats, Thomas Hardy poetry and trips in England. A great inspiration to those of us not travelling abroad this summer. He said to one friend “Your effusions about Venice are most dull…..Great Somerford is a tiny little English village. Pigs, fields, thatched cottages, lanes, an inn, a parson, squire and about 200 inhabitants. Perfect quiet – heavenly”. 

He collected Apple tree varieties and rescued some from extinction like Vaughan Williams collected folk songs. We also have Finzi to thank for preserving a lot of Ivor Gurney’s beautiful poetry and songs. With his wife Joy, he edited and catalogued Gurney’s works for publication, while Gurney, for the last 15 years of his life was committed to an institution, having been gassed in the War.

Finzi was an agnostic of Italian Jewish descent and wrote some sublime music for the Christian Church including one of the loveliest Amens ever written, from his choral masterpiece Lo! the full, final sacrifice.
Here’s a faultless live performance from St. John’s College, Cambridge.

He studied a little with Edward Bairstow in York. The Summertown Singers had a lovely time with Bairstow’s exquisite Jesu, the very thought of thee in Riga two years ago. Here’s a beautifully paced reminder from Japan.

Gurney’s wonderful Down by the Sally gardens.

SCS has sung I praise the tender flower and My spirit sang all day.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mjgMz2IiwE4  sung by a one-to-part Dutch group.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyVEM3zNmu4  St. John’s, Cambridge, again on top form.

Here’s that Amen for those in a hurry!

It’s up there with the ones from Handel’s Messiah, Brahms’ Geistliches Lied, Parsons’ Ave Maria and Byrd’s O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth and Praise our Lord, all ye gentiles.
Have I left any out? Iain?

I hope your spirits, if not your voices, are singing a little every day!
Happy Birthday, Finzi, and another glass of cider please – where’s the app…..to order…

Best wishes,



 8 July 2020

Dear SCS Member,

Diane Benfield (alto) has brought this to our attention:
To keep rust at bay, Radio3 offers a weekly singalong to piano accompaniment just before 9.00am. Lyrics and key provided online.
Tomorrow (Friday) is Where’er you walk from Handel’s Semele.

A bit of news: the dates for the Summertown Singers’ visit to Porto next year have been settled: August 9 – 15 (Monday to Sunday). Put it in your diary!

Otherwise, there is little else to report. Whether we start back again in September is still uncertain. Churches at least have to open first. You may be aware of the various discussions about whether singing is more ‘dangerous’ than normal talking. Here, for example, is a piece from the Church Times, which quotes the thorough review paper written by the baritone soloist Ed Ballard. Petitions have been doing the rounds with regard to financial support for artists, and there have been letters to newspapers from eminent musicians on the same subject. There is also a report of a British study being started on the dangers or not of singing (the Church Times piece quotes a German study). So the case is being argued in various places and on various fronts. All that can be said is that we are keeping abreast of these discussions, but the decision, at least initially, is not in our hands.

That’s all for now!

Philip Booth


15 June 2020

A note from Duncan:

Dear SCS Member,

Another Birthday!

Charles Wood was born today in 1866 in Armagh, Northern Ireland. He lived at 11 Vicars Close, opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which used to be the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Here he was a chorister in the then thriving choir, before entering The Royal College of Music as a scholar, and Cambridge University.

By all accounts he was a gentle and lovely man with an amazing place in 20th century English music; a star pupil of Stanford and Parry and went on to teach Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and Michael Tippett, three of the greatest.

We sang Full Fathom Five in our “Celebration of English Melody” in 2014, and Expectans Expectavi in “Murder, Morse and Mozart” in 2013 (it was the anthem at a murderous evensong at Magdalen College Chapel in The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin).
Doesn’t time fly!?

Without being a Bach or a Stravinsky, I’m not sure word-setting, craftsmanship and gorgeous vocal writing made for soaring architecture get much better than in the attached perfect miniatures (scroll down for the links). Two Oxford Choirs (The Sixteen was originally from Oxford, with Harry Christophers at Magdalen), the choir from Wood’s Cambridge college and The Victoria Chorale from Singapore.

I trust you are all keeping well, and let’s hope we can meet again before long!

Very best wishes,

Expectans Expectavi

Hail Gladdening Light

O Thou the Central Orb
Tenors – excuse the misprint!

Full Fathom Five
I like the slower tempo bringing out the lovely harmonies, e.g. the alto suspensions on “pearl”!

Oculi Omnium
The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord: and thou givest them their meat in due season.


12 June 2020

Dear Members,

Just a few things:

Firstly, there is obviously not going to be a summer party for the choir tomorrow. It has remained on the Dates for Diary page of the website in some kind of forlorn hope. And cancelling it now is just an excuse to make some contact rather than because any of you will be wondering about whether it is on or off!

Secondly, the Summertown Singers trip to Porto, planned for 17-23 August, has now been cancelled. The trip has been rescheduled for 2021, though, so it is hoped we will be able to visit this lovely city after all.

Thirdly, there have been significant changes to the website, most of which will be barely noticeable. It now has a new ‘theme’ (the software around which it is built), which is very similar to the old one but much faster. Try it out and see for yourselves. We are grateful, once again, to Paul Crim in Los Angeles for his work on tracking down a new theme and then transferring all the files – at very modest cost to the choir.

Fourthly, Sally Prime (soprano) has brought this to our attention:
It is a petition asking the government to provide financial support to ‘performers and creators’ during the COVID-19 crisis. You may wish to sign it.

Finally, I have not forgotten the question of the heating at St Michael’s. Most things are on hold and this is one of them, but this is just to let you know I will be following up on it in time for our return.

Otherwise, there is nothing, sadly, to report about the date of that return. Any decision about September seems some way off at the moment. We will be in touch whenever there is anything definite.

All the best for now,

Philip Booth


7 May 2020

A note from Duncan:

Dear SCS Member,

I hope you are all keeping well in this prolonged situation. Like me, I’m sure you’re missing the music and singing on a Thursday evening. Let’s hope it won’t be for too long.

Today is Brahms’s birthday! 🍷 (Hamburg 1833).

Below are some lovely links. If you don’t know his Variations and the songs for the Women’s choir he founded in Hamburg, you are in for a treat.

The disheveled bachelor almost became a member of the Schumann family. The Requiem was partly a reaction to Robert Schumann’s final days (and Brahms’s own mother’s death) and he was very close to Schumann’s wife, Clara Schumann. 
Brahms and Clara wrote beautiful sets of Variations on a theme by Robert.

The four songs for that extraordinary scoring of upper voices, harp and two horns are brilliantly sung by The Kansas City Chorale.

If you like the Variations, take a look at Julian’s book:

The Violin Concerto slow moment is gorgeous, and maybe it works as a simple part song!

You might also like to look up Schumann’s Ghost Variations – another lovely theme that Schumann famously thought was sung to him by angels or the ghost of Schubert or Mendelssohn. But he’d actually used the theme in the slow movement of his own violin concerto. The Variations is his last piece and he was very ill, poor chap.

I hope to see you soon!

Best wishes,

Violin Concerto slow movement
y arrangement of the slow movement set to the poem “Liebe” by Friedrich Schiller (recorded live…) sung by Oxford Liedertafel
Four songs for female voices, harp and two horns
Variations on a theme by Schumann
Clara Schumann’s variations on the same theme


31 March 2020


Instruments of Time and Truth (IT&T), whose playing calendar has been decimated by the coronavirus, has asked us if we can move the date of our winter concert, planned for 6 February 2021, to allow them to accept another offer on that date.
We are very happy to do this and so have moved the Brahms Requiem to Saturday 23 January (still with IT&T). This means that the usual longer rehearsal the week before the concert will now be on Saturday 16 January, 10am-1pm. Go to the Dates for the Diary page for other dates. You will see there that we are optimistically keeping the date of the Summer Party open for the time being.


And while I am at it, here are a few more links to music online:


Philip Booth


25 March 2020

Jane Amies (soprano) has brought the following links to our attention. You might like to explore them while we are waiting to meet again.

Metropolitan Opera | Nightly Met Opera Streams
The Ultimate Classical Music Quiz – Classic FMwww.classicfm.com › discover-music › latest › ultimate-classical-musi…

And from the website of Making Music (an organisation that we are a member of):
1. Making music with others
Virtual choirs:
The Sofa Singers, led by James Sills;
Great British Home Chorus, led by Gareth Malone OBE;
Stay at Home ChoirDistant-Sing, run by Making Music’s corporate member, Choir Community;
Duet Yourself (on Facebook);
Corona Virus Choir (on Facebook);
Choir Choir Choir (on Facebook) led by Nobu Adilman and Daveed Goldman.
2. Making music yourself
Free music download from Pennine Music;
Free brass music from Lode for Publishing – plus an online challenge to create your own recording;
Acapella is an app that lets you create and share music with each other.
3. Learn an instrument online
If you have time on your hands, why not dig out that old trumpet and get practising? There are lots of YouTube tutorials out there to help as well as professionals offering online lessons (Making Music’s Corporate Member Your Space Music, for example).
4. Making Music’s corporate member, Black Dress Code, is turning their website into a temporary digital concert hall to allow musicians to stream performances. Audiences will be charged a fee to watch, which will then be passed on to performers. Email info@blackdresscode.com for more information.
5. Watch music
The music section of this Chatter Pack article lists some streaming of live performances and pre-recorded concerts.

And Marie Bridge (committee member and alto) has drawn our attention to this performance of Va Pensiero by Verdi, by a virtual opera choir and dedicated to hospital staff in Italy.

Philip Booth


16 March 2020

Before Boris Johnson’s announcement this afternoon, the committee had already decided to cancel choir rehearsals from this Thursday. And because the possibility of reinstating rehearsals before 6 June is extremely remote, we have also decided to cancel the concert. The committee will give some thought in due course as to when and how we might perform the French repertoire at another date. 

The committee has decided it would like to continue to pay Duncan and Julian, as self-employed individuals and for obvious reasons of good will, for the rest of the term. We will also be continuing to pay our weekly rent to St Michael’s (£35). Bearing this in mind, we have arrived at a figure of £20 that we can offer as a refund on this term’s subscription. We are offering this, however, in the form of a reduction off next term’s subscription. This considerably eases our administration, as otherwise there would be over 120 members to return money to. If next term you decide you would like to donate this £20 to the choir, then you can offer to pay the full subscription when you sign on.

We are left with the memory of the stirring performance we gave of Vierne’s Mass at the last rehearsal and shall have to wait to gather together again! Meanwhile there will only be Weekly Notices when there is something essential to communicate.

Philip Booth


10 MARCH 2020



As I mentioned at the rehearsal last week, the committee is in discussion about what action we might need to take in relation to the coronavirus. I am repeating this now for those who weren’t at the last rehearsal. Basically, we do not think it necessary to go beyond the current public health advice, and we therefore plan to continue with rehearsals for the time being. As you all know, the advice on gatherings may change.
Meanwhile here is rehearsal-specific advice, all of it self-evident, to add to the general advice freely available elsewhere:
1. Do not attend rehearsals if you have been advised to remain at home or isolate yourself.
2. Do not attend rehearsals if you develop any symptoms of a common cold (running nose, cough or sore throat), a flu-like illness (fever, shivering, generalised aching etc), or cough and difficulty breathing.
3. Go home if you develop symptoms during a rehearsal.


If you are a new (or returning) member, please have a look at the Rehearsal Aids page of our website where you will find details of the John Fletcher website. It has all the music for the forthcoming concert on it. There are also links to recordings recommended by Duncan of most of the pieces at the bottom of the Next Rehearsal page.
If you have been a regular member of the choir but didn’t sing last term, you may find that you are no longer registered for the John Fletcher website. If you want to rejoin, please email Marie Bridge, our contact person for the John Fletcher site, at jfletcherrep@summertownchoral.org.uk.
Please explore the new website (http://www.summertownchoral.org.uk). In particular there is a menu for Members. These Weekly Notices and Duncan’s weekly email about the Next Rehearsal can be found there, hopefully making it easier for you to retrieve them.
The links for the YouTube versions of the French music we will be singing in June can also be found on the Next Rehearsal page.
Look at the Summertown Singers menu if you are considering coming to Porto in August.
Work is being done to speed up the website.

This email comes to you from:
Philip Booth
For details of how to contact committee members or Duncan, click here.

The organ of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
(This image related to our now cancelled concert of French music.)