Workshop with the Hilliard Ensemble

Hilliard shain120317_3237 

As Sydney shifts into an autumnal gear (somewhat forcefully given the recent floods), the city in recent weeks has played host to some of Britain’s finest and world-renowned vocal ensembles including The King’s Singers, The Sixteen, and The Hilliard Ensemble.


The Choir of St. James’ recent sell-out masterclass on 8th February with The King’s Singers was a very good-humoured encounter and involved singing three pieces, each of which was commented on by TKS according to criteria such as phrasing, dynamics, balance of parts, and effective pronunciation. The choristers of St. Mary’s Cathedral also performed. We were all given many good tips on, amongst many other things, breathing technique, listening to each other better, and good diction. We were treated to a couple of pieces performed by TKS themselves which we and our audience greatly enjoyed.

Not therefore so much gluttons for punishment as gluttons for self-improvement, the Choir of St. James’ once again submitted itself to expert analysis when, with gratitude again to Warren, we were privileged to take a private masterclass with The Hilliard Ensemble. Comprising just four male voices, over the past forty years THE has established itself as one of the world’s most highly regarded vocal chamber groups, and has a diverse repertoire including many early and contemporary works.

In a more casual atmosphere on a recent Saturday morning, sans audience and a little groggy at 0930 hrs, The Choir of St. James’ performed four pieces (by Taverner, Josquin, Clemens non Papa and our very own Joe Twist), each of which was advised on, in good humour and very respectfully. Brooke Shelley, Janine Harris, Joseph Twist and Andrew Fysh also performed as a quartet, whose piece was critiqued. Amongst other suggestions, the Choir was exhorted to put across more the meaning of the words (especially if performing in another language) and to make clearer our enunciation; counselled in the fine art of tuning, particularly as regards tones and intervals; gently reminded that intensity does not mean volume (!); and, as with TKS, we were encouraged to listen much more to each other so as to balance better our SATB parts. THE showed us some good exercises for us to practise for this latter, including attempting to perform without the aid of a conductor. We do not however suppose that this will make obsolete the role of Director of Music!

The Choir greatly enjoyed its time with THE, was glad again of the chance to showcase Joe Twist as a composer (to whom many congratulations for being awarded the Brian May Scholarship), and looks forward to similar opportunities in the future.


Isabella Woods - The Choir of St James' (Soprano)

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