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Witchert Chorale

by Margaret Watkins – 8th December 2014
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After ten years with the Witchert Chorale, founder member Alison Court has taken her last bow as chair of the successful Haddenham chorale group. This talented group of singers started with just 12 enthusiasts getting together to sing under the guidance of Musical Director David Quinn.

Having now grown considerably in numbers, they gave a delightful concert 'Around the World in Eighty Days' on Saturday 6th December in St Mary's Church, Haddenham to celebrate ten years of singing together.

The Witchert Chorale has gone from strength to strength in this time, raising approximately £30,000 for a variety of charities. The concert on Saturday evening, supported by Haddenham Village Society, was a sell out and the money raised will be divided between The Friends of St Mary's Church and the Village Society itself.

Saturday night's programme, as the name suggests, included songs – and a stylish dance – from around the world written by composers from Purcell to Puccini. Ed Cairns, a well-known village actor who was last seen in in the World War I play recently presented in the church, wrote a witty script based on Jules Verne's account of Phileas Fogg's travels around the world in 80 days. The musical journey linked the songs into a funny and endearing story of a man battling against time and tide. Ed played the part of Phileas Fogg with great panache and enthusiasm and was ably supported by Sarah Chapman as narrator and Fogg's French servant Passepartout, with some amusing foreign accents on the way!

The Witchert Chorale, masterminded by Alison Court, has played to a variety of audiences at home and abroad in the last ten years. Its venues have been just as varied, from the tops of both Cuddington and Long Crendon churches to St Clement Dane's Church in Central London and in Berlin. The singers are looking forward to engagements at the Haddenham Winterfest, carol singing in the village and, in 2015, visits to Waltham St Lawrence and to the Cotswold village of Bledington. In March they will be welcoming their German friends from Berlin, whose choir has a warm exchange relationship with the Chorale.

The singers have built up a loyal audience from Haddenham and further afield since that small group of like-minded people got together a decade ago. Long may they continue to delight with their varied, talented and wonderful singing.


An additional appreciation by Andrew Gordon:

A round the world voyage

For this celebratory show the Witchert Chorale gave us a programme designed around the fictional 80-day journey of Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg. The imagined date was 1902, when people could perhaps for the first time feel that any part of the world was in reach. Entry (to St Mary's) was by steamer ticket (first class), the programme bore a world map accurately splashed with pink, and many of the audience (passengers) entered into the spirit by appearing in tarbushes, kameezes, kurtas etc.

At the outset we were solidly in London, with Britten's version of the National Anthem (first verse piano and loyal, last verse fortissimo and triumphal) and Parry's I was glad (written in 1902 and inseparable from Westminster Abbey). As we took off across Europe we had a blend of popular numbers (Nessun dorma) and deeply researched gems from composers few of us had heard of, such as the 15th century Flemish Johannes Stokem, who lived mostly in Hungary and has a jolly song about a homesick Breton living in Germany.

After a rollicking French drinking song and a solemn session with Russian monks in their church in Athens, we found ourselves in Egypt, where Fogg spends an evening with a Welch Fusilier, giving us all the chance to raise the roof with Cwm Rhondda. Further on we are among students wondering whether they would prefer to be the Sultan or the Pope. In the Americas we have barber's shop, gospel and an extraordinary 'spoken fugue', by the Austrian Ernst Toch, made entirely of geographical names and giving the impression of a train journey, with rattling tracks, roar of tunnel and (I think I heard) a great American whistle.

But perhaps the high point of a memorable evening was a diversion to Argentina, where, to a piano piece 'From the soul', played by Heather Woods with Elizabeth Nurse (violin), Claire-Lise and Benedikt Kessler stepped forth from the choir and took off up the nave with a stately tango, she with side-slit dress, he with trilby pulled down over eyes, leaving us only to imagine the cigarette hanging from lip. A well-received coup, which took us all by surprise.

To guide us through our tour we had Sarah Chapman, also stepping from the choir, delivering a light-hearted script by Ed Cairns, and Ed himself in Edwardian garb as a dandyish Phileas Fogg, always prepared to miss a connection for bit of singing. The evening was a particular honour for Alison Court, the founder of the Wichert Chorale, who, with conductor David Quinn, has taken the group through 10 years of expanding reputation and earning nearly £30,000 for local good causes.

Note: The Wichert Chorale will be giving a repeat performance of this concert on Sunday 11th January at 6.30pm in St Mary's Church, Long Crendon. On Saturday 28th March they will be giving a joint concert with their Berlin friends, the Golgatha Cantorei, who last visited Haddenham in 2012. And on Monday 4 May (Bank Holiday) they will, as usual, be greeting the dawn (or thereabouts) from the towers of Long Crendon and Cuddington (8.30am and 9.30am).

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