Ancient & Modern: Evensong and the benefits of WhatsApp

Jess Griffin, of the Chandos Chamber Choir, on finding inspiration in poetry for their Adopt a Composer project with Laura Snowden.

Since Chandos Chamber Choir’s first meeting with Laura, we have generated some wonderful ideas for the text for our piece. Mostly this has taken place on our choir messaging (WhatsApp) group, which we set up last summer to facilitate communication while on our short tour to Cork in Ireland. We all found this informal way of chatting an easier and less daunting way of sharing ideas than perhaps emails or face-to-face.

Most of the suggested texts were written by women, to fit in with our female composers theme for the concert in which our piece will be premiered. Collectively, we all agreed that we’d like something inspired by nature.

A late entry to the discussion was a poem entitled 'Evensong' by Cherry Smyth. This seemed a perfect fit as Cherry is from Ireland and we had found our time in Cork to be a really bonding experience for the choir. The eventful tour included some enjoyable singing, a particularly appreciative audience, a visit to the local A&E and delayed or cancelled flights.

It resulted in several of us venturing to kiss the Blarney stone but whether this has improved our gift of the gab or singing, I’m not sure! 

In addition, the choir usually visits a cathedral every year to sing the services for a weekend. This will normally include one or two evensong services so it seemed appropiate to use Cherry's 'Evensong' as the text to our piece, even though the poem itself is not actually about a church service! Laura contacted Cherry about permission to use her poem and she was most enthusiastic. She lives in London, where we’re based, and is keen to come to the premiere performance, and possibly a rehearsal.

Composer Laura Snowden

Laura turned up to a rehearsal in February, armed with many different versions of the beginning and the end of the poem set to music.

Chandos Chamber Choir with composer Laura Snowden

We had great fun trying them all out and tweaking them to create the best sound - this meant the bass part was reduced to only one note for the first phrase, which left the basses in a good position to provide feedback on what the rest of us were singing. Laura has since been to visit us again for a shorter time and with only a couple of things to try. I think we were all weary after our cathedral weekend in Winchester, which had just taken place, and we struggled somewhat with the sight reading but enjoyed trying out glissandos in different ways to make some really ethereal sounds!

Musical director James Davey with Chandos Chamber Choir and composer Laura Snowden

Laura is very keen to make the composition of our piece as collaborative as possible, and it’s a real privilege to be involved in this process.


To find out more including how to apply as a composer or a group to take part in the Adopt a Composer project 2019-20, click here.

Follow Adopt a Composer groups and composers on social media:

Chandos Chamber Choir  Facebook / Twitter

Laura Snowden Facebook / Twitter

The Adopt a Composer project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising composers to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a première performance and possible broadcast on BBC Radio 3. If you’re a music group or composer and you’d like to take part, find out more.