Chichester Cathedral choir contributes to Coram Boy at the CFT

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The choir of Chichester Cathedral will be heard as part of Coram Boy, the second production on the main-house stage at Chichester Festival Theatre this summer.

Helen Edmundson’s piece, based on the novel by Jamila Gavin, runs from Friday, May 24-Saturday, June 15 offering glorious music and murder most foul in an enthralling, moving and richly colourful tale of 18th century England.

The choir has recorded 15 minutes towards the soundtrack. As Charles Harrison, organist and master of the choristers at Chichester Cathedral, explains: “A couple of months ago I heard from Max Pappenheim who is the composer for Coram Boy. He's also an organist and has a church music background and he was very keen to include in the soundtrack for this play the voices of choristers and he thought it especially appropriate to involve the Chichester choristers as this is a Chichester production at the CFT. He was interested in working with us and we spent an evening recording. He sent me through 15 minutes of music for us to do.

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“The play is set in the 1750s. Max has in some cases adapted pieces by George Frederick Handel who was the pre-eminent composer of the time and Max also has a particular fondness for Purcell. He has imitated his style but some of the work he sent us was original pieces that he has composed using 18th century models.”

Charles Harrison, organist and master of the choristers at Chichester Cathedral (contributed pic)Charles Harrison, organist and master of the choristers at Chichester Cathedral (contributed pic)
Charles Harrison, organist and master of the choristers at Chichester Cathedral (contributed pic)

There was a degree of familiarity for the choristers: “We do sing excerpts from the Messiah as anthems at Evensong but it is interesting that Handel didn't write anything that could be performed as written by a cathedral choir in a cathedral service. The 18th century was not a very good time to be a cathedral chorister. The Church of England was not in particularly good shape in those days, and elaborate services and wonderful music were not high priorities. The choristers were not treated very well and didn't enjoy a very exciting musical diet.”

Today's choristers are treated considerably better and they certainly enjoyed the challenge of recording for the theatre: “It was refreshing and exciting and quite different from what we usually do. The experience of recording is very special and requires a certain focus. Microphones are extremely sensitive and tend to be very close. It's very critical. Everything that is not quite polished is immediately obvious. We had to work very hard to get down to the tiniest of details. It was certainly demanding and we did all this after the children had had a very full day at school.”

Charles has heard some of the edits and is delighted with the results which will be heard in a venue which is already very special to the choristers. For many years the Chichester Cathedral choristers have been an essential part of the Christmas concerts at the CFT.

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As part of the project for Coram Boy, the choristers were also asked to provide some individual notes recorded separately which we will be used as a collage of sound effects: “I'm very interested to hear how that is going to work,” Charles added.