Hurst Choir tour around Wales - Hurstpierpoint College

Hurst Choir tour around Wales

It has been a while since the College Chamber Choir has been away for a long weekend. For many years, the Chamber Choir was the choir-in-residence at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in North Norfolk for their national pilgrimage. This residency has not happened for five years and, following pandemic restrictions, we were keen to get the choir out into the wider country to celebrate their achievements and to bring our music-making to communities that are further afield.

On the Friday before the half term break, 25 choristers and five members of staff embarked on the journey to West Wales. Following a drive during which the M4 was not kind to us, the choir arrived at the Youth Hostel in Poppit Sands near Cardigan to a hearty fish and chip supper. Having the whole hostel to ourselves was a real luxury and this meant that we were able to enjoy time together in the communal spaces for breakfast and in the evenings.

Saturday was a busy day for the choir, musically. At sunrise we were down on the vast Poppit Sands beach at sunrise to truly appreciate our surroundings now that we could see them in the light! Following a brief drive down the coast, the choir arrived in St Davids – the UK’s smallest city. At 1230 they gave a concert in the Nave of St David’s Cathedral. A large audience of tourists, parents, friends and local cathedral-worshippers enjoyed the concert which was opened by the College Brass Ensemble followed by a selection of anthems, motets and other choral music sung by the choir accompanied on the cathedral’s fine grand piano. The choir then had a few hours to explore the shops and coffee shops of St Davids or to join staff for a walk along the coastal path before returning to the cathedral for our rehearsal for that evening’s service of Choral Evensong. This was the tour’s first really formal moment and all the choristers really rose to the occasion. The canticles were by Dyson in F and soloists Georgie and Willem really filled the cathedral’s gorgeous acoustic. The anthem was Be Thou My Vision by Bob Chilcott with another fabulous soprano solo sung by Amy. It was during this anthem that the choir really came into its own with the singing reaching a new level. It came as little surprise that a couple who had attended evensong asked about this anthem as they now wanted to have it at their forthcoming wedding!

Sunday morning saw another early start, this time dressed in old clothes and swimming gear ready for a morning of coasteering. Coasteering takes place on the foreshore and involves rock-hopping, shore-scrambling, swell-riding, cave exploring and cliff jumping. It is about discovering wildlife and coastline at close quarters! Having all squeezed into a wetsuit, the intrepid choristers set off into the sea in different groups all meeting up at the end in a flooded slate quarry for jumps of up to 10 metres. This was a really tremendous experience and everyone loved it. It was made even more special as seals popped out of the water to see us and to swim alongside us. After a brief change into school uniform, we headed up to our next musical event.

Llangrannog is a remote coastal village in Ceredigion. It is the home to the Urdd Centre – an outdoor education facility which is used through the year by Welsh schools. This centre has recently been home to over 100 Ukrainian Refugees whilst homes were being found for them. The village welcomed these refugees and many had quickly become part of the local community. The church in which we performed had asked that we hold a musical event in aid of local Ukrainian Charities and this was a very fitting way for us be involved in the local Welsh community. The church in Llangrannog was packed with standing room only at the back and the audience was palpably impressed by the choir’s singing. A retiring collection yielded £500 for charity which was incredible for such a small village. After an hour’s fun on the beach at Llangrannog and a fine supper at the local pub, we returned to the Youth Hostel tired and ready for bed!

Monday was a busy day and began with a boat trip from New Quay where we spotted a plethora of dolphins and bird life. Following lunch we travelled to the cliff top church of the Holy Cross in Mwnt. This is a tiny church perched on a cliff commanding spectacular views across Cardigan Bay. Here, the choir gave a concert in aid of Cardigan Cancer Care – an amazing local charity enabling those in remote coastal communities to access cancer care at hospitals often far afield. This was a very special concert in a particularly special location and, again, the church was packed. At the end of the concert, all of the choir was particularly moved to hear how appreciative the representatives of the charity and the church were. It was doubly moving to come out of the church to find a spectacular rainbow stretching across the skies over the sea. Following the concert, we returned to the Youth Hostel to prepare for the most eagerly anticipated event of the tour – the Sopranos and Tenors vs Altos and Basses Rounders Match on the beach. Umpired by Dr Blokland the two teams fought hard for victory but the ultimate result was a draw. Rounders was definitely the winner. Our final night in the youth hostel was spent enjoying pizzas and chocolate, singing and dancing and the tour awards ceremony before an early start to tidy up, board the minibuses and head back to Hurst. All returned exhausted but pleased with the footprint they had left in West Wales. In addition to raising over £1000 for local charities, our talented singers had given a lot of pleasure to the hundreds of people who heard them sing.