Monday, 5 February 2018

The Cross and the Crown

Is the Title of our Spring Concert

In my last blog I talked about the journey taken by Haydn's "7 Last Words" from orchestral to choral.

It is, of course, a very devotional work and, by its nature, rather sombre, dealing, as it does, with Our Lord's final moments suffering a gruesome death by crucifixion.

We then had the task of deciding what would best complement this work. We chose to perform two of Handel's coronation anthems. In their own way, they also have a devotional quality as they exhort the king to be faithful, strong and devout.

Handel wrote four anthems, and they have a specific order in which they were played at the first coronation (that of George II) : "Let thy hand be strengthened" was played first, then "Zadok the Priest", then "The King shall Rejoice", and finally "My Heart is Inditing" at the coronation of the Queen. "Zadok" is usually played first these days (although, as we haven't had a coronation for sixty-five years, who knows what will happen?).

Handel chose the words himself, extrapolating from anthems sung at James II's coronation.

The best known is "Zadok" which we won't be singing. We will be singing "Let thy Hand be Strengthened" and "The King Shall Rejoice". These are wonderful pieces, full of joy and solemnity, fit for a monarch.

And whether your crown is made of thorns or gold and jewels, being King is a serious and solemn matter.

Join us for this musical journey on 21 April 7.30 at St Mary's Church, Glastonbury.

Full details to follow

Cantilena is on Facebook and you can check out our website on:

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Last Words

Meditation on Christ's last words on the cross

For their Spring concert, Cantilena will be performing Haydn's The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross. 

Originally this work was commissioned as an orchestral work to be performed at the Santa Cueva Oratory in Cadiz for Good Friday in 1786. This what Haydn himself had to say about this:

"The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse."

Subsequently Haydn adapted it for string quartet.

It seems strange that a piece based on words should start out life without any voices, but it wasn't until 1794, when Haydn heard that someone else had added a chorus to his work, that he thought he could go one better and he wrote his own choral version in 1796.

The words themselves are not taken directly from the bible, but are derived from poetry by Joseph Friebert, adapted by Gottfried van Swieten.

So the work has had a long journey to arrive at the version for choir, solo and strings that we are privileged to hear today.

Click on this link to hear some of it:

The concert is on 21 April 2018. Full details to follow.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Keep Singing

Christmas Starts Here

There's nothing that gives you a high quite like singing to a full house, with an audience primed and ready to support you.

Friday, 1 December, saw the choir deliver its Christmas concert. There's always some pre-show nerves - have we sold any tickets? has everyone remembered their music? the right clothing? (I heard tell of one choir who had a member turn up in jeans, clearly unaware of the dress code!).

But a goodly audience braved the icy winds and filled up St Mary's nicely with no overcrowding.

And I think that we gave a good show, with an eclectic selection of Christmas music and readings. The audience helped with lusty renditions of carols, especially "O Little Town" and "Hark the Herald" with the choir giving the descants.

We delivered William Byrd's "Laudibus in Sanctus" with a great deal of verve and audience members clearly loved its joyous ending. And there were little sigh of delight as Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque" settled to its peaceful end. I'm sure that everyone had their favourites and found something to bring Christmas into their hearts.

Mince pies and mulled wine added their own flavour to the evening, and we are very grateful to all our sponsors.

Victoria Poole from St Margaret's Hospice spoke to the audience and I hope succeeded in raising funds for this worthy cause.

So we took pleasure in giving pleasure and I hope the audience felt that Christmas was now good to go.

Happy Christmas, Everyone!

Friday, 10 November 2017

A Time for Giving

Giving and Singing

In Cantilena we all love to sing, of course. And it would be wonderful to be able to do it all for love. But what we do doesn't come free; there are venues, instrumentalists, soloists and publicity to pay for.

So it's particularly good when we can combine what we do with benefitting others. There's no better time to do this than at Christmas, when people are more receptive to charitable giving.

For many years now we have showcased St Margaret's Hospice in conjunction with our Christmas concert. St Margaret's does fantastic work supporting the terminally ill and their families and nearly everyone has experience of loved ones dying. At our concert on 1 December, they will be invited to talk about their work and you will have the chance to talk to their representatives and to donate.

There's more than one way to donate and we have been fortunate to attract sponsors. We have Burns the Bread to thank for the mince pies. Burns the Bread is not only an award-winning bakery, but is well known for supporting all kinds of projects throughout the county. The pies taste wonderful as well.

It's been pleasing to note the return of independent off-licences in the area, especially Wells. The Grape and the Good has a wonderful range of spirits and beers as well as fine wines. Not the sort of thing you see in the supermarket. And they have generously agreed to sponsor the mulled wine to go with the mince pies.

That makes it all perfect; beautiful music to kick-start Christmas, delicious Christmassy eats and giving help to those who need it.

Don't miss it:

Date: Friday 1 December 2017, 7.30 pm
Location: St Mary's Church, Glastonbury
Tickets: £12.00 from Dicketts Stationers in Glastonbury, by calling 01278 7228760 or on the door

Useful links:

Cantilena is on Facebook or find us at:

Tuesday, 31 October 2017


A Sound of Angels

Somehow we all think we know what angels sound like, even though nearly all of us have never seen or heard any. Words like "pure" and "high" come to mind, although when you read about the angels who sang to the shepherds they seem to have been belting it out.

This term's concert is entitled "A Sound of Angels" and includes some beautiful music.

One piece is "Lux Aurumque" by Eric Whitacre, a contemporary composer. The words are simple:

Warm and heavy as pure gold
And the angels sing softly
To the new-born baby

It is truly angelic, using delicate clashing harmonies threading  around each to the calm ending. Click on this link to hear it:


In the choir we are doing our mortal best to sound as angelic as possible.

The details of the concert are in the poster shown here.

Don't miss it!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Getting Organised

New Year, New Faces

Any club or group of people who meet regularly for a specified purpose has to have an organisation behind it. Commonly this will take the form of a committee whose job it is to make day-to-day decisions and run the group as the members would wish.

And Cantilena is no exception. With at least three concerts annually to arrange, soloists and orchestral players to engage and music to be sourced, it's not a simple task.

Cantilena is a registered charity and there are some rules to be followed if we are to maintain this status. One of these is the appointment of officers: Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, to be exact. The size of the rest of the committee is up to us, but these four are the core.

When you think about it, it's really the minimum needed to make us functional. A spokesperson (and someone to step in if needed), someone to do all the communications and minutes and someone to handle the cash.

Many organisations find that, once a committee is appointed, there it stays, with the same people doing the same job for decades. There are two things wrong with this model.

The first most obvious one is that a few people do all the work, which hardly seems reasonable. Members don't always realise how much goes on behind the scenes, but there are times when it's a fair bit, believe me!

Secondly, when the same group has been operating for a long time, it's possible to get stale. It's harder to find new ideas and there can be a "well it's worked so far, why change?" attitude. Which is all very well, but the wealth of talent and ideas in the group as a whole remains untapped.

So, our constitution states that officers have a fixed maximum term of five years, after which new ones must be elected. Officers can step down with a relieved sense of a job well done and choir members can have a chance to participate more fully by taking their turn.

This is managed via the AGM, which takes place early in the new choir year in September, September 26th this year, to be exact.

We are hoping that new faces will give us new and exciting ideas for the next five years.

Find out more about Cantilena on Facebook and on our website

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Changing Seasons

New Term, New Year

The Summer has gone and we start the new year at Cantilena today. There is always some anxiety: has my voice stood up to a Summer of family parties and very little singing? Will there be new members? It's true that it does take a week or two to settle back in. Some members are still on holiday, so we won't really have an idea of our full complement for a while.

The next concert will be our Christmas concert and it's a strange thing to get into festive mode when September is only half gone. Maybe it's a bit like models who do the photo-shoots for swimwear in January and for winter warmers in July.

The music itself will help in that transition. We will be presenting a selection of the best Christmas items for choirs and I, for one, am looking forward to getting stuck in!

The concert will be on 1st December, just before the first Sunday in Advent, so perfect to get you in the mood.

Make a note in your diary: there'll be more information soon.

We are on Facebook and you can find out more about us by reading our website:

Monday, 10 July 2017

What a bargain!

Choir’s got rhythm and at a bargain price

Cantilena’s Summer Concert last Saturday was an eagerly awaited affair. I am more familiar with their bigger Spring concerts and found that the relaxed atmosphere of this event was perfect for a hot Summer evening.

The venue, St Michael’s Church, Shepton Mallet, was a most suitable choice as it had all the amenities and a large hall and garden for the after-show buffet.

The concert was American themed with plenty of traditional spirituals and songs from the slave era. I recognised many – “Shenandoah”, “Swing Low” and, my favourite, “Little David Play on yo’ Harp”. But the triumph of the evening was surely “Steal Away”,  arranged by Michael Tippet for his oratorio “A Child of our Time”. 

Another good choice was the spiritual “Were you There?” – a sad song about the crucifixion, opened by two strong altos.

Cantilena was supported by Simply Uke, a local Ukulele band giving their first concert in front of a paying audience. They played well and the audience was most appreciative.

I very much enjoyed the evening which, at £10, including programme and delicious buffet prepared by choir members, was a bargain. I would have expected to pay £15.00 for a concert of this calibre.

Beatrice Dixon 9 July 2017

Thursday, 22 June 2017

With my Little Ukulele in my Hand

Ukulele Band Joins Cantilena

You learn something every day, they say, and I certainly did today.

At the Summer concert, Cantilena is being joined by Simply Uke, a local seven-piece ukulele band which will add to the American flavour of this concert. Click on the link to find out more.

I decided to find out exactly what a ukulele was and discovered that it was invented in Hawaii, adapted from a Portuguese stringed instrument called a machete, introduced in the 19th century by immigrants from the Azores and Madeira. From there it spread into the rest of the United States, becoming an important part of country music and jazz.

Simply Uke plays a wide range of music, including Classical, swing jazz, pop and blues. They will bring variety to the concert and I'm looking forward to hearing them.

The Hawaiian translation of ukulele is "jumping flea" - which I hope won't form a central part in the concert!

Details: Saturday 8 July at 7.30. St Michael's Church, Shepton Mallet BA4 5BP
             Tickets £10.00 (children under 15 £1.00) to include supper
             Available from: 01278 722870, 
             Dicketts Stationers, High St, Glastonbury, or on the door

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

We Got Rhythm

Exploring the Beat of American Music

One thing that often distinguishes American music from that of the Old World is its rhythmic freedom.

With influences from Ireland, Eastern European Jews and Africa, this is hardly surprising. And there was no musical establishment to hold musicians back. Influences combined; the African American Spiritual uses traditional Christian harmonies, which the slaves were taught by missionaries, and added their own speech patterns to give a unique flavour to their songs. 

In the northern states we see music that is much more based on old folk melodies. We are singing the charming Appalachian lullaby "Black Sheep". Listen to it by clicking on the link.

We are also adding music from Hawaii to the mix which makes this a "must do" event. All the details are below. 

Visit our  website to learn more about the concert and the choir.....