A First Trip to Thame

Neil Tòmas Smith reflects on his process so far on his Adopt a Composer pairing with Thame Chamber Choir.

I hope it is not too patronising to call Thame a quintessentially English market town.  Some of it is, after all, quite literally out of scenes from Midsomer Murders.

The promenade of the high street passes the very fine town hall towards the beautiful medieval St Mary’s Church with pockets of fine Georgian, and pre-Georgian, architecture. There are also a reassuringly large number of pubs, one of which appears to be a favourite post-rehearsal spot for the members of the Thame Chamber Choir, with whom I will be working to compose a new piece as part of the Adopt a Composer Scheme.

After some friendly introductions I joined the singers’ ranks to begin rehearsal.  Within the pleasant – and pleasingly warm – confines of Christchurch, we were put through our Purcell paces by director Duncan Aspden for an upcoming concert in which the composer’s work will be interspersed with readings from the colourful Diary of Samuel Pepys. 

It was quite clear from the beginning that this a group of experienced and skilful singers.  After only seven or so weeks of rehearsal much of the programme was sounding terrific – even with the poor addition of a new sight-reading bass. While my compositional contribution will perhaps be a rather different sort of music, their skills give me great faith in their ability to meet the challenges I might wish to throw at them. Indeed, if I want to write a piece that is performable by other amateur choirs I may wish to consider not stretching this particular group of singers to their absolute limit.

As for the piece, my initial research digging around Thame has uncovered the Thame Hoard, which was discovered during WWII and consists of medieval coins and precious rings. With hoards very much in the national conscience at present, this has thrown up all sorts of ideas of history, archaeology and of fragments that I hope to develop with the choir.