Coventry Cathedral Chorus was formed in 1963 shortly after the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral and is regarded as one of the UK’s leading choral societies. From its formation until September 2017 the choir was known as Saint Michael’s Singers, taking its name from the saint to whom the cathedral is dedicated. However, the choir has felt for some time that it would like to be more closely aligned to this iconic building and all it stands for. With its new name the choir will now be instantly recognised for what it is and where it is based. The name change will put the choir more firmly on the musical map, particularly in the English Midlands, where most of its concerts are presented. It will also be more identifiable to a wider audience, both within the UK and beyond.
The choir has a membership of around ninety auditioned singers from all ages and walks of life and promotes its own season of concerts in Coventry Cathedral and at other venues in the English Midlands area. Over the years the choir has performed with numerous professional soloists, conductors and orchestras in many of the famous concert halls, cathedrals and great churches of the UK, as well as in mainland Europe.
Coventry Cathedral Chorus has made many recordings over the years, featuring in the Hymnmakers series for Kingsway Records which has been critically acclaimed in the UK and USA. Most recently it released a new recording of its own – ‘Carols from Coventry’ – which includes arrangements of Christmas carols in tribute to the late Sir David Willcocks. Tracks from the choir’s recordings are played on radio stations around the world.
The choir broadcasts on both radio and television and form part of the stage choir for BBC television’s annual Songs of Praise Big Sing, recorded in the Royal Albert Hall, London, and conducted by Paul Leddington Wright.
Paul Leddington Wright has been conducting orchestras and choirs since he was 15, at which age he held his first position as Organist and Choirmaster of the Maidenhead Methodist Church. His first organ recital tour abroad took place at the age of 17 where he played in New York, Boston, Hartford USA, as well as Montreal, Canada, and Jamaica. He was organ scholar at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge where he studied music with David Willcocks, Peter Hurford and Peter Le Huray.
In 1984, he was appointed Organist and Director of Music at Coventry Cathedral, a post he held until 1995. He was Artistic Director of the International Church Music Festival from 1988 – 2010, a highlight being conducting Puccini’s Missa di Gloria in the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome, in 2009.
Paul has worked for BBC television and radio since 1986 as a conductor and arranger. He has conducted the BBC’s ‘Big Sing’ at London’s Royal Albert Hall every September since the 40th anniversary programme in 2001. Last September, he was honoured during the recording for 30 years work on ‘Songs of Praise’. He will again be conducting this year’s ‘Big Sing’, and is currently involved in 3 recording sessions for the series.
He is a busy arranger and composer, and his music is published in the UK and USA. He has received recent commissions for organ and choral music for Oxford University Press.
Paul is currently Associate Conductor of the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra and will be conducting a programme of television and film music this coming November in the Spa Centre, Leamington.
To read more about Paul visit his website paulleddingtonwright.co.uk
In order to pursue a busy free-lance career, working for the BBC and abroad, since 1995 he has held the part-time position of Associate Director of Music at Coventry Cathedral where he currently is the regular organist. He has been conductor of the cathedral’s choral society, Saint Michael’s Singers, since 1984. In this capacity, he has conducted many concerts in Cirencester, notably the annual Messiah which takes place again on 23rd December 2017.
Ahead of our new season we caught up with Musical Director Paul Leddington Wright to ask him about what that the breadth of work that role requires, and what he was particularly looking forward to in the next year. Read on to find out what he told us.
What inspired you to make music your career?
From the earliest age, music was all I ever knew that really interested me. It was my passion, and having engaged with all the opportunities during school and university years to make music, it was the obvious path. One major source of inspiration as a teenager was listening to an LP of Simon Preston playing the organ of Westminster Abbey. Since then, Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm has been one of my party pieces.
There’s far more to the role of Musical Director than conducting. Can you give us an idea of the breadth of work involved?
Selecting programmes can be time-consuming and require a lot of thought. Programmes like Christmas Concerts and Discover the Classics require much more effort and thought than doing a one-work concert. Then there’s venue/orchestra/soloists, and that all relates to costs which are hugely important and often defining. For us to do a large work, we often need to join with another choir and that requires looking far ahead.
Preparation for rehearsals is important. Assessing what to do each week so all the music is learnt is critical. Music needs to be marked-up, ready. There may well be changes, but something to start with is very important. Taking a rehearsal with singers or players, one has to remember that you are dealing with individuals and part of the role is bring them all together to ‘play’ as a team. Judging the mood of a rehearsal is important and may need some ‘people-adjustment’ as rehearsal proceeds. I always start with a plan, but it usually goes out of the window within minutes!
Close to the concert, the practical logistics of chairs, staging and general presentation is necessary. I will often spend time in the space laying out chairs and thinking through where everyone should be. This can vary in complexity.
Finally, you get to a point in the last 48 hours, when focus is 100% on the actual music and producing a performance. That’s why I can often come over as somewhat distant in those situations, as it’s like a drone hovering over its target until the job is done!
You’ve been MD of Coventry Cathedral Chorus for 35 years. How has the choir changed and developed over that time?
Wow, that long? Time for someone else methinks! Quite hard to say as I am always in the present and future, not the past. There were definitely more singers and we just tipped 100 at one point. Membership is crucial and we need to work harder on that. Mind you, we are certainly not the only choir to have that challenge. I believe we have become more versatile musically but on the whole maintained standards and also the ability to learn really quickly when necessary, perhaps quicker than in the past as there seem to be more challenges with the amount we do these days.
How do you hope that will continue in the next five years?
We must enlarge our singer base and build our numbers. Rehearsal space has always directed a membership of around 90-95, but we are below that now and need to bring it back up. I hope that the choir will continue not only to perform the greatest choral works as we have done since the 60s, but also do all we can to encourage children and young people to sing and make music. To this end, what we do at Christmas, with Discovering the Classics and sometimes in other concerts is absolutely critical and should be part of our ‘raison d’être’.
Which piece of music are you most looking forward to conducting over the next year? Why that particular piece?
The Dream of Gerontius. To bring a major work off the page and into a live experience with performers and audience is a huge responsibility, very demanding but also hugely rewarding. This particular work is such a dramatic and wonderful interpretation of Newman’s great poem with some very hard writing but just ‘out of this world’ music as Elgar colours the story of the death of Gerontius and his journey to heaven. Elgar said ‘this is the best of me’, and as such it is the conductor’s job to make sure the performance lives up to the writing.
I think my favourite large-scale choral works are (in no particular order)
The Dream of Gerontius
Bach’s St John Passion
I shall have conducted them all this year – what a privilege!
I do get very nervous about the responsibility and getting it right, but that’s good and keeps you on your toes. As a conductor of a major work, you are rather like the captain of a huge ship, steering it through perilous waters, full of rocks below the surface. However, all the while you have to ensure the ‘passengers’ (audience) and ‘crew’ (singers and players) are having the best time unaware of the rocks below and any other issues that emerge during a performance …. I conducted Part 1 of ELIJAH without glasses! Hey ho!!! Another day at the office!
COVENTRY CATHEDRAL CHORUS PRESIDENT
Ahead of Mothering Sunday, we caught up with our President Pam Rhodes
to hear about her connection with the choir and the importance of music in her life. Here’s what she told us.
How did your relationship as patron of CCC come about?
I have been a great fan of the choir for as long as I've presented SONGS OF PRAISE, which is
thirty-two years this Easter. They have regularly taken part in our annual SONGS OF PRAISE 'BIG SING'
at The Royal Albert Hall, as well as contributions and performances at many other SONGS OF PRAISE
events around the country. A small group from the choir travelled with us when we made two special programmes for Easter in 1999, the last year of the Millenium. For many years, under their 'recording' name of THE HYMN MAKERS, the choir recorded a wide range of albums featuring well-loved hymns by inspiring hymn writers, which I still play very frequently on my Sunday morning Premier Christian Radio programme, HEARTS AND HYMNS. There is a great family atmosphere amongst the choir members, which stems from the mutual dedication between the choir and their Musical Director, Paul Leddington-Wright. He has been the primary musical director on SONGS OF PRAISE for decades, well-known across the country for his skill, knowledge and talent for music. Paul is able to draw the best out of any singers he conducts, not just choir members, but congregations and audiences too, encouraging them to sing with a winning combination of attention to detail and unashamed enthusiasm.
What part does music play in your life?
I have a particular love of hymns, not just for the words and writers, but for the music which brings the verses to life. I often think I'd like to go on a 'Name that Hymn' quiz because I have a head full of hymn melodies! Apart from that, I have been asked to compère many musical events over the years - from performances with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to JOHN RUTTER introducing a COME AND SING concert, amongst many others. And this will be my eighth year of compèring the huge BATTLE PROMS Concerts at various stately homes around England during the summer months, where a 60 piece orchestra entertain crowds of up to 12,000 people with familiar classical music that can be quite explosive - we have 200 live cannons to help the music along!
Do you play an instrument? Or sing?
Years ago, I was chosen to be one of just four lady singers joining around 20 men to become The George Mitchell Singers. Working with George Mitchell was a wonderful experience for someone who loves harmonies and glorious old songs! For about five years, I was the singer with THE THAMES TV BIG BAND, a Glenn Miller line-up band of Thames Television staff members based at Teddington Studios. We played in the Thames TV Bar once a month, but then did a whole range of charity evenings throughout the year - one of them at a high-security prison! I sang in Old Tyme Music Hall for quite a while, and for a while ran my own amateur company who took performances to OAP Clubs around London. I've also played Maria in 'THE SOUND OF MUSIC', Charlie in 'CHARLIE GIRL' and various other parts in amateur music productions, which I've thoroughly enjoyed. I learned to read music through playing the recorder from an early age, and as a teenager was still playing descant and treble recorder at a level which allowed me to compete in county-wide competitions. I taught myself the piano, and enjoy that very much, but would never feel confident to play in public! I can only play whilst reading the music, although my dearest wish would be to be able to busk! I'd love to be a pianist who could sit down at the piano with everyone having a sing-song around me! I can do a pretty reasonable party-piece on the concert xylophone. I learned the technique from a wonderful teacher I first met at junior school, but he taught me well and we often did duets at concerts when I was younger. I never lost the knack of playing the xylophone, and on many occasions on SONGS OF PRAISE, when we've had a xylophone in the line-up of musical instruments, I asked if I can have a quiet ten minutes with my sticks when no one's around to listen!
You're coming to Coventry for Mothering Sunday. Which hymn would you choose for your mother? Why that particular hymn?
I would choose LOVE DIVINE, ALL LOVES EXCELLING - because my mother was a Methodist who really loved the hymns of Charles Wesley, especially this one. I know the words describe God - but to my mind, that first line perfectly describes the unconditional love that was at the heart of everything my Mum did.