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Evensong inspires new music commission

Friday 18 November

Highly acclaimed composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad is writing the settings for Even You Song, a new choral work inspired by the structure and themes of Choral Evensong.

The work was devised by Lucy Sheerman, who has written the libretto, and Betina Furnée, who has created digital projections to be shown during the performance. Both have an interest in space and the moon and were inspired by the “beautiful otherworldly” service of Choral Evensong. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis texts have been retained intact so that their settings, along with the anthem where suitable, can be absorbed into the Church’s choral repertoire. There is also a version of a psalm, adapted responses, a hymn for the congregation and an organ voluntary.

All the music is linked to the theme of going to the moon. “The Nunc starts on the lowest note the men can sing and gets higher throughout so the last notes on the organ are beyond singing range, representing going up to heaven”, explains Cheryl Francis-Hoad. As for the anthem, this “involves some quite experimental writing where the children will be making heartbeat sounds, whistling sounds like the sounds in space and slow vocal slides to give the impression of weightlessness.” At the very end the organ voluntary will be loud and dramatic, like the rocket taking off, with all the sounds of the engines and burning rocket fuel. “Although it’s unlikely anyone will notice, throughout the service the keys of the pieces get higher and higher to reflect the voyage up through space to the moon.”

For Frances-Hoad this has been a rare and huge task. “I’ve written Psalms and a Nunc Dimittis before but this is the first time I’ve written a piece of this size”, she says. The challenge has also been to write music for both schoolchildren and the Cathedral Choir. “I’ve written quite a lot for mixed abilities and I enjoy doing that,” she says. “It’s quite a skill to write that way and still sound like you.”

Work in schools

Four Peterborough schools, Bishop Creighton, St Augustine’s, West Town and William Law, will provide singers to take part in Even You Song. At an early stage teachers from these schools were introduced to the music by Steven Grahl. He and Alex Carton, the Cathedral’s Schools and Families Officer have since visited the schools to tell the children about Even You Song and to sing some of the music with them. The teachers will continue with rehearsals, but meanwhile the artists, Bettina Furnée and Lucy Sheerman, will be talking to the children about the inspiration behind the work. They will tell them how they interviewed people about a potential trip to the moon, and that these words became part of the libretto. They will also invite the children to talk to their own families about what they would think of taking a trip to the moon.

Could you and your partner survive a trip to the moon together?

This was the big question that poet Lucy Sheerman and visual artist Bettina Furnée asked twelve Peterborough couples from all walks of life. The answers they received provided the raw material for the libretto and the “aphoristic statements” that will become digital projections when the hour-long piece is performed. As a thank you to the people involved in the interviews, they were all invited to take part in a free tower tour at the Cathedral, led by Canon Jonathan Baker (with his wife Sue, he was also one of the interviewees). Many of the people on the tour had not met each other before but were excited to be involved in the project and also to experience the tower tour.