In summer 2014 Somerville College Choir toured the US. Here Choirmaster David Crown reports back.

We’d made it! This, to my mind is a feat when touring with any group. 22 people had ended up in Washington DC to sing Evensong at the cathedral, 24 hours after touching down in America. No last minute glitches of passport- or ticket-kind. Somerville Choir was on tour.

My only rule on tour is that all the singers must be in the right place at the right time and physically able to sing! Soon enough, this was a disciplined group that did just that.

Months of planning had brought us to Washington, Boston and their environs for a mixture of concerts and services. An exciting and exhausting whirlwind six days of travel and music-making ensued. While I had to return immediately, many of the rest of the group stayed on to enjoy the sights and visit New York…..they thoroughly deserved their holiday.

The choir has never sung better in my seven years in charge. As with all collegiate choirs there is turnover year on year and this was a comparatively young group. Consequently it had taken a while to settle but over the course of the yeardelivered many scintillating performances. (Bach’s John Passion was a particular highlight). But the choristers surpassed themselves here, starting well and improving with every outing.

Standing ovations at the end of every concert (from audiences in which the majority sang in choirs themselves) were a testament to a choir at the top of its game. Several individual performances would have graced any concert hall and it was a thrill to hear the group achieve such a level of choral excellence across a wide range of repertoire from the Renaissance to the present day. And despite the singers’ doubts, my choice of encore (Bridge over troubled water) went down a storm!

Within the craziness of the Oxford term there is so little time to do more than get through our weekly services. Being on tour means there is space to socialize more. This was a delightful bunch who also seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Some longish train and bus journeys as we meandered across the country were the backdrop to conversations and discussions both esoteric and banal, as well as games and singing.

None of this could have happened without the whole-hearted support of the Principal, Treasurer, Sara Kalim and her team in Development (who masterminded a hugely successful ‘crowd-funding’ exercise), and of course the choir members and organ scholar.

If you have not heard the choir then some Youtube recordings from the tour will be appearing soon. I am always looking for concert venues outside Oxford so if you would like a concert, perhaps as a charity fundraiser, then do drop me a line.

Projects in the pipeline for 2014-15 include our next CD with Stone Records (the wonderful Advent CD will be on sale again this Christmas!). We will undoubtedly do more tours as proud representatives of the college. The choir is increasingly establishing itself within the Oxbridge firmament and, as with this tour, across the globe!

David Crown, August 2014.

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