New choral responses for school choir

Mrs YiRu Hall, director of music writes:

This term the 70-strong choir at St Swithun’s  performed a newly commissioned set of Preces and Responses by Alexander L’Estrange at a service of evensong at Winchester Cathedral. 

As a director of music in an all-girls school, I am always on the lookout for upper-voice repertoire and I found that although there are a few sets of responses published, a lot of them are written for young boy treble voices and are often only in two parts with organ accompaniment. 

My choir comprises 70 girls between the ages of 14 and 18, many of whom are experienced choral singers who enjoy singing in many parts. The altos produce a strong rich tone and are comfortable singing forte down to As and Gs below middle C and the all-female voices are able to blend more easily than boy trebles and male countertenors. I asked Alexander to write a set of Preces and Responses for unaccompanied SSAA which would suit these developing teenage voices. He has produced a beautiful set of musical sentences, each with its own distinctive musical flavour, with added note chords which tingle and float away in the acoustic of the cathedral. The girls really enjoyed working with him before the service, learning about his approach to the text and especially his thoughts about his setting of the Lord’s Prayer which uses a chanted drone in free rhythm in the inner parts with shifting chords either side, producing a mesmeric effect. We look forward to singing them regularly in the cathedral from now on and I would thoroughly recommend other girls’ schools to give them a go. 

Alexander said “I was delighted to be asked to write a new set of Responses for such a fine all-girls choir and it was an added privilege to be invited to work with the girls and rehearse them. They made a lovely rich sound with excellent intonation, and responded well to the different nuances, moods and tempi required. I look forward hugely to performing "Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose" with the school next March. “

 Mrs YiRu Hall (left) with Alexander L'Estrange and sixth form students Emma Exton, Alice Ceiriog-Hughes and Georgina Moffat