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Academia Musica Choir in Cambridge

Posted on 16th March 2023

Academia Musica - choral workshop with George Herbert in the chapel of St John's College, Cambridge - March 2023.

On Thursday 2nd March, the college choir (Academia Musica) left college for a three-day visit to Cambridge.  We had a full programme to look forward to with events at four colleges over the three days. Arriving in Cambridge in the early afternoon, we made our way across the city to Selwyn College where we met with Sarah MacDonald, the Director of Music and “Dr Joe”, one of their admissions tutors for a Q&A session on Cambridge admissions. 

After this we went to the college chapel, first to rehearse and then sing a joint Evensong with the college choir.  David H (our 1st year organ scholar) played the voluntary before the service. We were treated to a pizza supper at the college before we trekked back across Cambridge to our accommodation at the YHA hostel. 

The next morning, after a good breakfast, we headed across the city to St John’s College.  Here we were welcomed by their Access Officer and introduced to three of their first-year students who gave us a full tour of the college.  We were amazed not only at the size of the college, but also by their resources they had available to them!

We had lunch in their brand-new “buttery” and then headed off to the chapel where we had a choral workshop with the Assistant Organist, George Herbert.  This was a wonderful event as George was someone with enormous energy and enthusiasm who really put our students through their paces and also engendered a terrific “can-do” approach to singing; by the end of the hour, the confidence of our singing had grown significantly!

We then had time for a little bit of retail therapy around Cambridge before meeting outside Emmanuel College where we attended a piano recital by international recitalist Michael McHale. This was real revelation to many of our students who had never experienced that level of live performance before. 

After the recital, the Director of Music from the college spoke with the students about the musical opportunities a place like Cambridge has to offer. Another long trek for some (or the relative ease of an Uber for some) took us back to the hostel for a well-deserved rest.

On Saturday morning we had a free morning, and the majority of our students used the time to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum.  Sadly, some parts of it were closed for restoration, so we didn’t get to see their collection of historic musical instruments, but what we did see was amazing. 

In the afternoon we went to Jesus College and, once again, were shown round the college before going to the chapel to sing. This time we were singing with the boys and students of their chapel choir under the direction of their new Director of Music, Ben Sheen, who we had met at Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford last year.

By now our students were “hitting their straps” and not only sang with great confidence but also felt a bit more relaxed and able to enjoy the experience more.  The service was a great success, although we had to leave fairly soon afterwards, not least because there was a concert in the chapel later that evening! 

So we clambered back into the minibus and headed for home, arriving back at the college at 10.30pm.  Our thanks to all the staff and students at Cambridge for giving up their time and hosting us; it was a thoroughly worthwhile event that will live in the memory for a long time. 

Thanks also to Jo Wilkinson and Jonathan Godfrey for sharing the load, and our adult choir volunteers, Martin Loveless and Ian Burrell for supporting us, and lastly to our students who behaved impeccably and were great company.

Tim Pratt