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Music at Sidney Sussex

Sidney Sussex rose from the ruins of the Cambridge Greyfriars in 1596 and has long been a nest for professional musicians. Indeed the large chapel that stood on this site in pre-Reformation times was the regular venue for University ceremonies and was the venue where a number of early English composers took their degrees, including Robert Fayrfax (MusB, 1501; DMus 1504) and Christopher Tye (MusB, 1536). One of the earliest musicians in the College was the Royalist pamphleteer, author, and violist Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704), whose family were patrons of the composer John Jenkins. Earlier still, the great Elizabethan composer William Byrd would have been well-known to the foundress, Lady Frances Sidney, and indeed two very fine elegies by Byrd survive for her nephew, the poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney. Currently resident in the College is Dr Christopher Page (1991), founder and former director of the multi-award-winning Gothic Voices, and Dr David Skinner (2006) who is a co-founder of The Cardinall’s Musick, director of Alamire (www.alamire.co.uk), and Sidney’s first Director of Music.

The College prides itself in being an open and friendly environment for music-making at a very high level among those reading a variety of subjects. In addition to organ and choral scholarships, the College awards a number of music bursaries annually, including one for choral composition (The Kennedy Pritchard Prize) and another for music performance (The Larkum Prize); there are also a number of dedicated trust funds available for a variety of music making in College, including the Powell Arts Fund and the Waldemann Family Jazz Fund. The College boasts an active Music Society which organizes weekly chamber recitals with guest appearances. Small-scale operas and musicals are often staged in the Master’s Garden in Easter Term.

Choral & Organ Scholarships

The Choir is a major focus of College life, and is made up of six to eight sopranos, six altos (male and female), six tenors, three baritones, and three basses. We are seeking applicants from all voices types, up to a maximum of three per voice part for each year. The College has a junior and senior Organ Scholar; there are two student organists in residence in any given year. Organ Scholars are provided with an annual stipend, comfortable rooms with a piano, and the costs of organ and singing lessons are borne by the College. Choral Scholars receive an annual stipend, free singing lessons, and occasionally take on roles as tour administrator or choir librarian (which has an additional stipend). Other ‘perks’ include free national and international tours, Choir formals, and a number of social events throughout the academic year. For further information, please contact the Director of Music (director.music@sid.cam.ac.uk), or visit the following websites:

University Choral Scholarships
University Organ Scholarships

The Commitment

Sidney is an ideal choir for those who cannot commit to a daily singing routine, but are still keen to make music at the highest level and take part annual tours and commercial recordings. The regular term-time commitments are as follows:

Sundays: 5pm rehearsal for 6.15 Choral Evensong
Wednesdays: 5.30pm rehearsal for 6.45 Latin Choral Vespers
Thursdays: 6-7.30pm rehearsal (for upcoming music)
Fridays: 5.30pm rehearsal for 6.45 Choral Evensong

Free formal hall is offered on Fridays and Sundays. Extra rehearsals are occasionally arranged at the beginning of the academic year, and for recordings, tours, and special College events.

Concerts, Recordings & Tours

The Choir regularly performs at home and abroad and, more recently, has made a niche in making professional recordings for specialist markets, including museums, art galleries, and national libraries. Their first recording with the new early music label Obsidian (www.obsidianrecords.co.uk), Thomas Tomkins ‘These Distracted Times’, was awarded Editor’s Choice and CD of the Month in the Gramophone, and they have since gone on to record and tour a number of innovative programmes. Activities for 2008 included a recording of the music of Ludwig Senfl with the early brass ensemble QuintEssential, which took place in Regensburg in Bavaria. The Choir has also recently toured California (2009) and Spain and Italy (2010), Germany and Austria (2011), Dubai and California/Las Vegas (2012), and will return to the Italian Riviera, Florence and Rome (including performances in St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican) in 2013.

Repertoire

Sidney Choir performs a wide range of music from late medieval to newly commissioned works. The Choir excels primarily in music of the 16th century (the research specialism of the Director of Music) and the late 19th/ early 20th centuries, but endeavours to maintain a healthy balance of music from all periods. Choral and Organ Scholars are invited to offer suggestions for the termly music lists, and we often perform works written especially for the Choir by members of the Sidney community and beyond.

Singing & Organ Lessons

Choral and Organ Scholars are offered six singing lessons a term from one of our staff of three singing teachers: Ghislaine Morgan, Veronica Veysey Campbell and Nicholas Hurndall Smith. In addition, the Organ Scholars receive regular tuition on the organ and piano. The singing teachers also offer sectionals, and a termly masterclasses. All singing tuition costs are borne by the College.

The Instruments

The College has recently commissioned a new chamber organ from Taylor & Boody (for arrival in June 2013), which will be of an elaborate Renaissance/early Baroque design with 7 stops tuned to an historical temperament at A=415, while the main organ will soon be replaced by a 30-stop, three manual instrument by the Dutch firm Flentrop (c.2015). The Chapel also possesses a Meitke Bach harpsichord, a Model D (full concert grand) Steinway, and other grands are situated in the Master’s Lodge and William Mong Hall. There are two historical square pianos which are used for 19th-century ‘Parlour’ evenings: a Clementi (1806) in the Knox Shaw Room and a Broadwood (1826) in the New Parlour.

Mixing with Professionals

Sidney is one of the few colleges in Cambridge to host annually a professional musician or ensemble in residence. The first incumbent in 2007 was the viol consort Fretwork, and in 2008 we welcomed the gothic and renaissance harpist Andrew Lawrence-King. The College elected the American composer Eric Whitacre to a Visiting Fellowship in Michaelmas Term 2010, and he has since become Composer in Residence. The College also regularly spotlights a number of professional musicians who work alongside members of the Choir, and provide very useful connections for music-making in the wider world. Our latest recording project included the music of Thomas Weelkes, featuring soloists from within the choir and Fretwork. The current Ensemble in Residence is The Tippett Quartet.