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A union of beauty: harp and female voices

It’s not unusual for choral leaders to find themselves absorbed in repertoire sourcing, especially in the lead-up to a new academic year. That world of discovery can be both a challenge and a joy! And, most recently, I have been reminded of how fitting the union of harp and upper voice ensembles is, and how many composers have been drawn to the affinity of this successful pairing and its interesting sound world.

Having long wanted to work with upper voices and harp, I was thrilled to secure a collaboration with renowned harpist Olivia Jageurs. This has been an exciting process of re-discovery for me as I planned the repertoire for our next two choral events; the Ethelflaeda Festival in Romsey Abbey (Hampshire) next month and our festive concert in Guildford towards the end of the year.

Ethelflaeda Festival

Being invited to perform at the Ethelflaeda Festival on Saturday 22nd October, is an honour. Romsey Abbey is dedicated to St Ethelflaeda, a former Abbess at the Benedictine convent that stood on the same site around 1,000 years ago. In her memory, this annual festival aims to combine art, music, words, and prayer into a reflective and inspiring event. But what repertoire should we offer at such a unique event that would allow us to showcase the voice and harp at their best?

I started in what many would have assumed the obvious place: Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. Originally written for boy trebles, it offers both challenge and colour for women’s voices. We will perform a selection from this work and have chosen to balance it with Gustav Holst’s Songs of the Rig Veda (No. 3) and Imogen Holst’s Welcome Joy and Welcome Sorrow. She and Britten had a close, loyal friendship through their Aldeburgh connection, so it makes perfect sense to place their work side by side.

Ethelflaeda means “noble beauty”. She was the third Abbess at the convent in Romsey in the 10th century: a holy, brave, wise and independent woman. In reverence of this, Corra Sound will perform Eva Holm Foosnæs’ Salve Mater, Rebecca Clarke’s Ave Maria and Ola Gjeilo’s Ave Generosa, which sets text by Hildegard von Bingen. These are all a cappella works but remain of appropriate significance.

Our first half will close with a work by harpist Sarah Deere-Jones: Veni Coronaberis comes from her stylish set of eight mediaeval songs written for upper voices and harp. To further reinforce the theme of fearless femininity, we include Canadian composer Don MacDonald’s superbly powerful and rhythmically gripping work, She is the River, which embodies undeniable female strength throughout and gives our concert its overarching title. We can’t wait to bring this stimulating programme to a Romsey audience.

Festive Concert, St Nicolas' Church

We will be bringing highlights from the Ethelflaeda programme to Surrey with our festive event at St Nicolas’ Church, Guildford on Saturday 3rd December. Aiming to inspire and entertain our audience, the repertoire will feature festive additions including Winnie Bruckner’s enticing folksong The snow it melts the soonest (loved by our St Mary’s Church audience last Christmas), and Ola Gjeilo’s The Rose, which sets text by Christina Rossetti and features on the album Winter Songs. The hypnotic, undulating piano accompaniment will instead be played by Olivia on the harp.

At this event, we will also feature two more Canadian composers: Eleanor Daley, with her exquisite lullaby O my deare heart, and Kelly-Marie Murphy’s triumphant work Hodie, Christus natus est, for voices and harp, which will finish the programme with a celebratory flourish.

I very much hope we can share our love of performing this unique combination of repertoire by diverse composers with you.

See more about our next performances at our events page.

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