During our time in lockdown, the choir of Hampstead Parish Church has felt a profound sense of loss. In a busy life as an aspiring soloist, it’s easy to ascribe to the cult of the individual, but if lockdown has reminded us of anything, it’s the profound, joyful interdependence at the heart of music-making. Concert, recital, opera cancellations were indeed wounding, and relentlessly so, but it wasn’t until the closing of churches, that we looked at the centre of things, and realised that the anchor of which we’d only just noticed the existence had become dislodged. It’s not until you’re lost, that you realise exactly what tethered you, and in most cases that tethering is arrestingly simple, shaming you for needlessly searching for complexity elsewhere. Lockdown aside, the life of a young musician is frightening, lonely, map-less: we may be aspiring soloists, but for many of us, choral singing had been our way into music, and coming together on Sundays was a way of honouring that, and maintaining our connection with the source of our identities as musicians.
As Jeremy said in his first sermon following the closing of church, the Coronavirus is forcing us to re-evaluate the intuitive behavioural manifestations of connection, and learn a new language of love: one in which to be physically distant is to be emotionally proximate. We think Hampstead Parish Church has exemplified that new language, widened its vocabulary, made it so aptly fit this new reality, and in so doing, invited the entire community to learn and speak it together during lockdown. We’re profoundly grateful to have been able to continue in some capacity our work as a choir. But we’ve too had to find a new language of music-making: each standing alone in front of a screen, singing at a stressed looking avatar of ourselves, listening to the obstinate unmusicality of a click track. Or holding an Inspector Gadget-worthy array of devices, accumulating a collective blooper reel increasingly at odds with the fourth commandment. The spectacle of this might be funny, and we’d certainly have rather done it than not, but it has reminded us of what a profoundly bodily and inter-relational act music-making is.
Lockdown, however, has not been defined by what we lack. This new climate has provided us with the opportunity to connect more deeply with each other: whether it’s been recording the weekly anthem and hymn, attending virtual services, or characteristically meeting in a ‘zoom pub’ every Sunday, we’ve been held in a reassuring mesh of group purpose and pattern. We’ve never been the sort of choir to “take the money and run”, and have long been profoundly affected by the sense of loving community at Hampstead Parish Church, finding friends and collaborators in the clergy and congregation, and never feeling like an appendage to the community. Lockdown has only brought this into sharper relief: extreme resourcefulness has come into its own in an outpouring of creative compassion, as a cursory glance at the website, hpcinexile.org, will show. We want to contribute further to that outpouring.
Being deprived of the thing you love gives you the time, space, and deep sadness to examine it from almost every angle. As a group, we started to examine our musical dreams and ideas, those projects we’d always wanted to do, but had written off as pipe dreams, incompatible with the busy and often necessarily reactionary life of freelance musicians. Historically, plagues are followed by periods of abundant artistic activity, and we’d hate to break the precedent.
We are a very strong group of musicians with a profound sense of musical, intellectual, and human curiosity, and that is a very fertile breeding ground for exemplary, joyous, enlivened music making. We also work very well as a team: each member of the group is a fantastic musician and person in their own right, and we want to explore the notion of non-hierarchised music-making, which celebrates the multifaceted strengths of each person. Devising a season which showcases our abilities as soloists, ensemble singers, conductors, pianists, organists, curators, and perhaps even the odd rogue trumpeter, is a lovely way for HPC’s congregation to get to know us better, and for audiences outside HPC to realise what a wellspring of creativity this church can be. Going even further, our sacred meditations invite members of the congregation to become part of The Hampstead Collective, as readers of the selected texts for the evening, celebrating confluence and cultivating our pre-existing friendships beyond the choir.
Our proposed season aims in no way to detract from our official role within church worship, or indeed to undermine the pre-existing hierarchy of Music Director, Organist, and Choir. We delineate our objectives in this venture by adopting the name, ‘The Hampstead Collective’, and restricting our activity to Monday evenings.
We do however wish to acknowledge our provenance. The Hampstead Collective has grown organically out of Hampstead Parish Church Choir. We have hugely valued the liturgical punctuation of the year afforded by HPC continuing its worship during lockdown. A common grievance within this new landscape has been a collective feeling of listlessness, a nebulous, featureless topography, unmarked and vast, horizon pending, us pining for shape and direction. Following and participating in the cadences of the liturgical year has been a source of deep comfort for us in lockdown, and we wish to celebrate that, ‘riff off’ that if you like; musically illuminate the enlivening seasonality of the church calendar. Again, this is in no way to detract from our primary contributions as a church choir, but rather, to complement these contributions, to extend our musical reach into repertoire beyond the scope of Sunday services.
THE HAMPSTEAD COLLECTIVE
Catherine Backhouse became a cathedral chorister in Edinburgh at the age of eight and has loved singing ever since. She performs a lot of opera these days but evensongs at Hampstead have a special place in her heart, connecting back to that early discovery of the wonderful choral repertoire and the magic of singing in a beautiful church. Recording weekly videos for the church’s online services was the only singing she had to do during lockdown and she is very grateful to have had that purpose and to be part of such a lovely choir and church community.
Christine Buras is an American soprano from Washington D.C. and has been a member of the Hampstead Parish Church Choir for three and a half years, though she first depped there on a very memorable Ash Wednesday in 2009 when only half the choir (and no conductor!) turned up for the service. She was a chorister at Washington National Cathedral, where she also made her professional debut in George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children. Christine fully intended to become a respectable orthopaedic surgeon, but the combination of 8 am Chemistry lectures and the realisation that she loved singing in choirs more than anything else made her reconsider. Christine received her bachelor’s degree in Music History and Theory from the University of Chicago, including a year spent in the Music Department at King’s College London, and subsequently received her masters in Historical Performance from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. She then returned to London second masters degree in Vocal Studies from the Royal Academy of Music, and has been living in the UK since then. When not singing, Christine can often be found knitting jumpers, walking on mountains in Scotland, and hosting extravagant dinner parties.
Aidan Coburn first sang with the senior choir at HPC when he was just sixteen in an undisclosable year, and has been involved with music making at the church in various ways ever since. Between then and now, Aidan read undergraduate music at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge and postgraduate vocal studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Aidan taught academic music at The London Oratory School where, in addition to teaching the choristers, he also directed the internationallyrenowned Schola Cantorum, and ran the Singup Chorister Outreach Programme. As a singer, Aidan has worked with, amongst others, Glyndeboune and Wexford Festival Operas and at the Royal Opera House. In addition to singing, Aidan has performed widely as a conductor, having founded Shadwell Opera (with whom he won the International Herald Angel Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and now conducting the Colla Voce Singers. At Hampstead, Aidan continues to sing in the senior choir as well as directing the Junior Choir and the Community Choir.
Jess Dandy is a Cumbrian contralto and director of the mental health initiative, SongPath. A regular at Hampstead since 2017, Jess grew up vicariously in the tradition of Working Men’s Choirs, singing hymns with her grandfather, and later formalising those early influences as a choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, where she sometimes made time for her Modern & Medieval Languages degree, particularly when it involved spending a year masquerading as a student in Lyon. A postgraduate degree and fellowship at Guildhall School of Music & Drama followed, where she got to know Aidan & Cath, with some sporadic depping at Hampstead Parish Church back in 2013. She now divides her time (COVID-19 notwithstanding) between Cumbria & London, worming through books, and tramping where the mood takes her.
Baritone, Trumpet, Arranger
Belfast-born baritone Malachy Frame was Northern Ireland Opera's 'Voice of 2016,' having won the competition at the company's annual Festival of Voice in August. Since then, operatic roles have included Figaro in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Figaro in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Guglielmo in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Slook in Rossini's La Cambiale di Matrimonio, Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Count Ceprano in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Malachy has been a member of the choir of Hampstead Parish Church for two years, and before this sang with the choir as a regular deputy for four years. Having recently come to terms with the unlikelihood of a lateemerging Premier League footballing career, Malachy has spent lockdown rediscovering and embracing a former life as a trumpet player and a remarkably unsubtle musical arranger.
Ben McKee has been the regular bass at Hampstead Parish Church for the last eighteen months, namely attracted by the prospect of out-bassing his cousin, Malachy Frame. He began his career as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, was a music scholar at The King’s School, Canterbury, and then studied music at the University of Manchester. Whilst there, he co-founded the Halle Youth Choir, was assistant conductor of the Hallé Youth choir, and conducted the university’s chamber choir, Ad Solem. As an accomplished bass-baritone, Ben has developed a reputation for both his consort work and performances of new music. In the UK, he is a member of Fieri Consort and Siglo de Oro and regularly sings with groups including the BBC Singers, The Gesualdo Six, Ex Cathedra, The Dunedin Consort, The English Concert, ORA Singers, EXAUDI and Tenebrae. Ben also performs abroad with Theatre of Voices, Chamber Choir Ireland, Coro Casa da Musica in Porto, and was formerly a member of Ars Nova, Copenhagen. As a chorus master, Ben has worked for Coro Casa da Musica under Paul Hillier, preparing the choir for especially challenging programmes including Ligeti’s Drei Phantasien. As a soloist, Ben frequently sings oratorio, with recent appearances at the Gaida Festival in Vilnius and St Paul’s Knightsbridge, Hampstead Parish Church and Chester Cathedral.
Elspeth Piggott has been a member of the choir at Hampstead Parish Church for two wonderful years. She started as a regular when she was still living in Oxford, catching the early train to Paddington on a Sunday morning and the late one back, and making a day of it walking on Hampstead Heath or reading in one of the gorgeous Hampstead cafes between services. Moving to London in summer of 2019, however, she more than made up for it by deciding to live a 10-minute cycle away from church. She has loved being a member of the community of Hampstead Parish Church, the lovely clergy and congregation, and proud to contribute to the fantastic music scene here alongside such esteemed colleagues and friends. Elspeth studied music at the University of York as an undergraduate student, where her love for early music was first kindled. Taking courses in Renaissance Italian Madrigals, Purcell’s Mad Songs and performing at the National Centre for Early Music, she determined to become part of this world. So, upon graduating, she undertook her first professional engagement understudying i Fagiolini’s devastating immersive-theatre project, inspired by the infamous life of Carlo Gesualdo, ‘Betrayal’. Since then she has continued to follow i Fagiolini, as well as Música Secreta, Polyphony and The Marian Consort, into all sorts of mischief across Italy, Spain, England, Scotland and Wales. She also undertook her first professional opera role this year as Cupid in Marco Da Gagliano’s La Dafne at the Brighton Early Music Festival. Rounding out her musical experience, she has also sung with The Sixteen, Eric Whitacre Singers and the Britten Sinfonia Voices, and has performed as a soloist in some of the country’s top concert venues, including the Barbican, Snape Maltings Concert Hall and St John’s Smith Square. As a singing teacher, she specialises in teaching sight singing to children, and has been teaching the girl choristers of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, The Frideswide Voices, since 2017. Outside of work, she has a fascination for the underworld, the queer and subversive, and it is her greatest desire to create a show marrying the Japanese art of shibari with renaissance consort singing.
Paul Robinson, the longest-serving member of the choir, and has really come into his own as the benevolent patriarch of our lockdown ‘zoom pub’ sessions. In the distant past, he was both a chorister and choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge where he read music. He continued his studies as a baritone at the Royal College of Music and was awarded the Opera Scholarship and the Mills Williams Junior Fellowship. Several years later he moved up to tenor. He has performed recitals at Hampstead, notably, with James Sherlock, Julian Perkins and Philip Berg and was the evangelist in several performances at Hampstead of both Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passions. Since 2015 he has been the Music Director of Bergen-based Edvard Grieg Kor in which he also sings 2nd tenor.
Conductor, Organist, Programming
Since becoming involved with music at Hampstead last autumn Geoffrey Webber has greatly enjoyed his activities both on the organ bench and occasionally conducting the choir at Evensong, and is delighted to be starting officially as Organist when circumstances ease. He has always held a wide-ranging interest in both the history and practice of church music, and recently found himself looking at a Hampstead hymnbook from 1835, entitled 'Congregational and Domestic Praise' which included music not only by the church Organist R. A. Firth, but also a rare example of music by a female composer, a Psalm chant by 'Miss Goodricke'. For Geoffrey, the exciting element in this application to the Trust is the chance for the Collective to develop a new type of music-making in the church which draws upon many different strands and traditions of church music across the ages, and combines musical performances with the spoken word.