Waynfletes on Tyneside - a Wiltshireman's view

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Rehearsing in the Sage

Winchester and Newcastle: if one were to ask members of the public in and around Winchester what connects these two cities, I wonder how many people would know that there is a Diocesan link between their two cathedrals and, moreover, that this has existed since the 1980's? It is this link that lay at the heart of a concert last Spring in Winchester cathedral when members of the Newcastle Bach Choir joined forces with the Waynflete Singers to perform Mendelssohn's great oratorio Elijah. Now, as a reciprocal gesture, the Waynfletes have travelled to Newcastle to perform in Gateshead's wonderful 'Sage' concert hall where, on Sunday 24 November, they sang Elgar's last religious oratorio The Kingdom.

We descended on Tyneside by train, plane, coach and car, some of us being hosted by members of the home choir and the rest staying in a hotel in the city centre. The schedule was quite hectic: arriving on the coach on Friday at 4.40pm, we had to be in rehearsal at the University at 5.30. Saturday was mostly a free day: the rain bucketed down and while some brave souls ventured out to Vindolanda, the Roman fort and museum, the rest of us explored Newcastle and got wet!

Saturday evening brought another rehearsal at the University - by this time we felt we were getting to know the music really well and were able to get our eyes off the music and watch Eric Cross, who made the most of Elgar's detailed markings concerning subtle tempo fluctuations (one or two of Eric's largamente bars seemed to go for ever...!).

Sunday brought, not the usual long lie-in, but an early start, leaving for the Sage at 8.45 for a three-hour rehearsal: our first with the University orchestra. The Sage overlooks the Tyne, with its magnificent bridges and is a spectacular, gorgeous building, designed to make the most of the views over the river (at night the hall also looks fabulous from the outside). The concert hall itself is, as one might expect, acoustically very fine, although it does have a slightly unnerving habit of making you sound as though you are pefforming a solo and every nuance shows. After a break for lunch we lined up for the performance: no-one will ever forget the Bach Choir's concert manager, who gave us detailed, military-precision instructions on everything and then, having spent 15 minutes issuing them, said he would repeat it all later just to remind us!

The concert went well and the soloists - Claire Rutter, Kitty Whately, Ed Lyon and Ben McAteer - were all very good and the audience most appreciative. There was no sign of Kitty Whately's well-known actor dad in the audience, but we did spot a certain Mr Lumsden, looking very relaxed in a checked shirt and carrying a hefty full score that had belonged to Richard Hickox and which contained all his markings. Ed Lyon is, of course, singing in our performance in Winchester and so it was a privilege to hear him give us a 'preview' of what is to come.

Monday brought another early start, as several of us departed for Durham to give a lunchtime concert in the cathedral. John Lunt was our MD for this, a half-hour recital of short choral works for which there was a small but appreciative audience. As the accompanist for three of the pieces, I caused some amusement with a last-minute footwear malfunction: about thirty minutes before the start of the concert my shoes began to disintegrate (I blame the Durham cobbles, but Geraldine says I shouldn't wear old shoes...!). The soles came adrift from the uppers and, with not enough time to get into Durham to buy some new shoes, I resorted to borrowing some gaffer tape from the cathedral's workmen. Unfortunately, it was silver tape, not black, but sartorial elegance was never my strong point. I hope to have better shoes for Winchester Cathedral...

It was a memorable trip, great fun, great music and great company. I would do it again without hesitation.

We'll be performing Elgar's "The Kingdom" in Winchester Cathedral on Saturday, 7 December

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