As Christmas approached, the Fellowship headed to Aldeburgh and Snape for an intensive residential week of rehearsals, masterclasses and concerts.

HELENA COOKE (ALTO)

Our residency at Snape Maltings was one of the projects I had been most looking forward to in this year, particularly the chance to spend a few days in one of my favourite places with this wonderful group of people and to have the opportunity to take part in masterclasses with renowned mezzo soprano Kitty Whately. We were met at Saxmundham station by our driver for the week, Karen, who would prove to be the best taxi driver ever, putting up with Will and Ben in the front seats all week, making an extra trip to pick up the boys when they were stranded at Snape after ‘Messiah’, and generally being an absolute legend. As a huge fan of Benjamin Britten, both Snape Maltings and Aldeburgh are very special to me and so spending the week in these two places was pretty ideal. We were staying in two lovely cottages on Aldeburgh High Street, though the girls were incredulous to find out that the boys’ house was much bigger than ours! Many of us made beach trips in the mornings, which for me included singing excerpts from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ with Ana and Hannah, and listening to the ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from ‘Peter Grimes’.

Our musical work began with a sing through ‘Messiah’ choruses with Ben, as we would be augmenting Aldeburgh Voices for the performance, as well as doing step-out solos – no small ask! We then moved on to the masterclasses with Kitty Whately and accompanist Nathan. Each of us had brought a solo song or two, as well as our ‘Messiah’ arias. It was incredibly exciting to hear people singing solo for the first time, or in the case of the York alumni, the first time in a few years! Occasionally choral singing can be slightly constricting and people don't always sing with their full sound, so it was liberating to hear everyone opening up and building in confidence. I think we all learned a huge amount from the masterclasses. Kitty was very good at making us all feel at ease and in many cases, really helped us with opening up the sound. There was a wonderful wide range of music too, from Mozart (including stratospheric top Es), to Copland, to Rob's Rossini. Kitty also had a range of tricks and ideas to help with the performance side of things, including 'imagine you're talking to your friends in the pub', which proved a particular struggle given how infrequently musicians are found in such places… To round off the day, we rehearsed with Aldeburgh Voices. The standard was very high, and the members extremely welcoming.

The next day mostly consisted of prepping for the performance, and running through our solos with the wonderful and unfailingly sensitive orchestra. We were concerned that our voices would struggle to carry in the hall, as we were all standing behind the band, but the Maltings has a really generous acoustic for singers, and our fears were allayed when we sat out in the auditorium to listen to each other. Fuelled by Aldeburgh's unsurpassable fish & chips that lunchtime, the concert went really well - solos were adrenaline-filled and everyone had clearly saved their best for the performances (particular mention to Ben Inman’s spontaneous top Bs!) I was nervous for my first aria but hugely enjoyed the rest. It was extremely gratifying to get a standing ovation from a large proportion of the audience at the end, and lovely to see the customary standing-up in the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ (and even some joining-in from a few audience members!). Every time I sing ‘Messiah’ I notice new magic moments and appreciate it more and more, and this performance was no exception.

The Christmas concert on Sunday was hugely enjoyable too, with lots of different groups taking part, including Group A (a youth choir from nearby Lowestoft, Benjamin Britten’s birthplace), Aldeburgh Brass (a professional brass quintet), and Aldeburgh Voices, all expertly conducted and compered by Ben Parry. Highlights for me included the Aldeburgh Brass performance of ‘Let it Go’, and Ben's ‘Aldeburgh Carol’. The Fellows also performed a fiendish (and luckily very thoroughly rehearsed) arrangement of ‘Sleigh Ride’ by Ben, and our YouTube viral sensation, ‘Wexford Carol’, in its new arrangement by James Rose. It was lovely to perform as an octet again, especially having become even closer during the week together. It is fantastic to get to sing with such a lovely and talented group of people so regularly, and I miss them all already!