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Cambridge Song School keeps young people together

Young people in Cambridge are sustaining a social life through lockdown thanks to the Song School at Our Lady of the Assumption and the English Martyrs. Julia Caddick and Mgr Eugène Harkness report.

Our junior choir rehearsals started back in September. We rehearse online via Zoom once a week for 40 minutes (the duration of a 7-year-old’s concentration span online). In addition, each week, Julia, who directs the school, creates a video of herself teaching one of the new songs the choir is working on. This gets emailed out to parents on a Thursday or Friday and enables the child to practice with her for the next week. They have proved very popular with parents and with children.

 The number of children we’ve had joining us regularly each week from the Junior Choir ranks is 20.

We are learning a Mass setting and an anthem in readiness for when the Covid crisis is past, so that we can be ready to do a Junior Choir Mass within weeks of restrictions lifting. In addition, Julia has taught the children 10 other songs with the intention of leaving them with an uplifting song in their hearts that they can share around the house with their parents.

To end the Autumn Term, the choir did an online concert which was not a choral concert as such, due to the limitations of Zoom. However, 11 children sang solos, and thanks to the Youth Choir having learned and recorded a harmonised arrangement of one of the Junior Choir Carols, the Junior Choir were able in their own homes to sing along to the accompaniment of the Youth Choir.

Our Youth Choir also started back in September but were able, because of their age and slightly smaller number (18) to meet in person with good social distancing in the church. They have loved this. Again, this choir is working on a Mass setting in readiness for more normal times. But Julia has really used this year to teach the Youth choir to move from being a three-part choir, to being a full SATB choir.

The choir has worked on Latin Motets, and in the coming term, will be making the move towards more complex polyphonic pieces. (Viadana, Exultate Justi ; Palestrina, Sicut cervus).

You can listen to the Youth Choir’s recording of Oculi Omnium by Charles Wood here.

Now that we are in a further full lockdown, the Youth Choir is back online. But it is using the time to have sectional rehearsals. Julia prepares recordings of their individual lines, and recordings of a choir singing the whole piece for them to practise with. Julia also prepares a digital copy of the music for them, so that they can practise at home in lockdown. Then when they come back in person to rehearse, they each have their own individual hard copy of the music that they use only when in the church – to avoid virus transfer!  When back together in person, the Youth Choir really enjoyed making ‘in progress’ recordings of their pieces.

It’s hard for them to hear each other when they are spread out around the church (as is necessary for Covid safety), so it was a very pleasant surprise for them to hear how good they are getting. We are really looking forward to the coming term. For so many teenagers who have lost their social lives due to the virus, the chance to come together and sing in Our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs Youth Choir provides a unique ensemble singing opportunity. We have been one of the only places in Cambridge offering real face to face rehearsals for this age group.

We hope that other parishes might find similar ways of keeping our young people involved in parish life and with each other, especially during this period.

Pictured above is the OLEM Song School choir