Sophy Robinson charts the progress of a rather special group of Dorset vocalists: the Orlando Singers
Published in November ’11
Corfe Mullen boasts a steep hill on the road between Wimborne and Wareham. And it was this gradient that defeated a young man some thirty years ago, forcing him to get off his rickety old bicycle onto the verge to lie on his back and to get his breath back, and to take in the stars and the night sky.
The landscapes of Dorset have influenced many creative people and David Everett, the musical director of the Orlando Singers, remembers his early inspiration vividly. ‘I was taking a year out before studying music at university, and living near Bournemouth. The countryside round there was so beautiful, and the quality of the air and light extraordinary after eighteen years of growing up in Manchester!’
David used to cycle to Wimborne Minster every week to sing in the choir there – an hour each way – and visited churches around the area. So, some years later, when some musical friends encouraged him to set up a choir with its roots in Dorset, he was only too keen to give it a go. ‘I’ve been involved in running choirs since I was 17. So after my first successful concert at a school in Upton, I decided to set up the Orlando Singers and to get a season of music together because there is a wealth in the repertoire for unaccompanied choirs. Many of the county’s beautiful churches have wonderful acoustics, but no live musical performances, and I wanted to change that.’
Eighteen years later and the Orlando Singers chamber choir is going from strength to strength with some twenty members, many of whom have successful semi-professional singing careers. While based in Dorset, it performs across the south west region, and in the last year has delighted audiences in Lady Saint Mary parish church in Wareham, St Martin’s Church in Salisbury, Wells Cathedral, Christchurch Priory and the Russell-Cotes Gallery in Bournemouth.
Emma Dorey, is one of the sopranos and recently sang a solo in Westminster Abbey, as part of the Orlando Singers’ summer tour as a visiting choir in August. ‘I fell in love with the choir two years ago during a concert at Christchurch, and was then terrified that I wouldn’t get through the audition! We sing mostly early chamber music, as well as some contemporary sacred pieces and, even though I’m normally into more light-hearted and popular music, it’s wonderful to be stretched and sing unusual works I’ve never even heard of before.’
And audiences seem to like it too: for example this year at Christmas the Russell-Cotes Gallery and Museum has booked two evening concerts on 8 and 15 December, as last year’s single event was a complete sell out.
The Orlando approach can be best described as to entertain through joyful and uplifting music, to bring a fresh approach to familiar choral favourites and to intrigue and challenge the audience with lesser-known works that extend the listeners’ musical appreciation.
To achieve these high standards, membership of the choir is demanding. David Everett puts people through tough auditions, good sight-reading skills are essential, choir members are issued with CDs of all the musical programmes and are expected to come well-prepared to rehearsals, which last all day in a village hall in Spetisbury.
‘We don’t do sing-along sessions like many choral societies’, says Gareth Jones, who’s been a tenor soloist with the group for many years. ‘I come from a very musical family – my grandfather was a leading tenor in Dorchester Operatics in the 1920s, and my parents were both keen musicians and had me singing in a madrigal group in the front room from the age of five! I have had some formal training since then and improved my tone, and voice control and quality. Early morning on the day of a concert you’ll find me out on my bicycle climbing the hills around Dorchester – it really opens up my lungs for a performance.’
Chris Tapley, an alto soloist, is another dedicated member of the chamber group. ‘I was a chorister from an early age, and have since had several lay clerk positions at abbeys and cathedrals including Winchester, and now Wimborne Minster. And I do a fair bit of other solo professional work. I really enjoy this choir’s repertoire which is varied, although I particularly like the early music. And I really enjoyed the weekend we spent making a CD at Bryanston Church: it was a relaxed and beautiful weekend, and allowed us to really perfect our sound in a way that live concerts don’t always allow.’
This month the Orlando Singers can be heard at Christchurch Priory on 19 November at 7.30pm. The programme includes two choral works: Vivaldi’s Gloria and Handel’s Dixit Dominus and the Wessex Chamber Orchestra also perform Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. ‘We’ve been doing this atmospheric candlelit concert at the priory for nearly 10 years now,’ says David Everett, ‘and it’s a wonderful programme this year.’
‘Handel’s Dixit Dominus is renowned for being one of his most challenging choral works. It’s difficult from both a technical and rhythmic perspective, and has double soprano parts all the way through. But it also has incredibly beautiful solos, and some rousing choruses.’ But David also wanted to do something unexpected, ‘I’ve chosen Vivaldi’s other Gloria, you’ll have to listen to our CD to hear the well-known one! It’s fascinating: he wrote probably as many as four but only two survive. All were lost and only discovered after the Second World War. The start of the last movement is similar to the popular one, but it’s very different in other respects, and this is a rare opportunity to hear this work which deserves more performances.’
David also composes new works for the Orlando Singers using skills he honed during a musical degree. ‘As well as studying composition, singing and the organ; I’ve also learnt to play the clarinet, violin, piano and trumpet in my time! I’m currently writing a Requiem, and have completed three of the five movements which should be finished next year. It’s not a doom and gloom requiem at all. It includes texts such as ‘Oh Light Everlasting’ and reflects the early inspiration I felt on those late-night cycle rides puffing up the Corfe Mullen hill, and gazing at the stars in the Dorset skies.’
You can see the Orlando Signers in action on the following dates:
Classics by Candlelight at Christchurch Priory, 19 November, 7.30pm; Christmas Carols at the Russell-Cotes museum and gallery, Bournemouth, 8 & 15 December, 7.30pm
For more information contact David Everett. Tel: 01202 528348
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.orlandosingers.co.uk