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August 2022 - Steph Hares

When sitting down to write this and finalise my DID collection, I realised that what I have settled on as my top five would be vastly different at another time. I find that the time of year and my mood often influences my “favourites”, so this collection is reflective of the here and now. I wonder what I may choose in six months’ time? (Ironically I have managed to sit on this for almost exactly six months - Ed.)

I have chosen four different choral pieces and a wild card musical number as although I enjoy a variety of music, listening to choral performances is always favoured. Having been singing in Bristol Chamber Choir (formerly the Bristol Madrigal Society) for over twelve years now, I’m surprised a madrigal hasn’t snuck into my top 5 but maybe one would if it was spring/summertime. (Ironically... um... yeah.... sorry Steph! Ed.)

So here we go!

Hymn to the virgin - Benjamin Britten

Having said the above though, this piece is virtually always my number one. It holds special meaning having attended the same school as Benjamin Britten, Gresham’s School in Holt, North Norfolk. Britten wrote this piece aged sixteen whilst convalescing in the school Sanatorium. The main body of music is sung in English by one choir with a response in Latin usually by a semi-chorus/quartet. At school this was often sung with the main choir at one end of the chapel and the responding quartet at the other which added to the beauty of the performance.

Here is a link to another former pupil and musician Tom Appleton who talks about the piece and its links to our school.

Blessed be the God and Father- Samuel Sebastian Wesley

The fantastic opening few lines of this piece, with the risky entrance of the organ after a few phrases, reminds me of singing it in the school Chapel and awaiting that interesting moment of "has the choir gone flat?!” There was often frantic waving from the musical director to cut the chord short if we were too far out of tune. It has some delightful clashes to lean into, and I love the mix of choral, unison and solo sections. The final section always leaves me uplifted but it is the tantalising and scrumptious chord in the organ which precedes this before resolving into the energetic ending, which I can’t get enough of!

Shenandoah - James Erb

I chose this particular arrangement of the American folk song, not only because of its sheer beauty, but also because of the memories it evokes. In particular, memories of being on choir tours in various European countries and having the privilege to sing this in some incredible churches. Rather than standing together as a choir block, we would be individually placed around the church which had a gorgeous effect. It is truly mesmerising, and I could listen to it all day!

Ubi Caritas – Maurice Duruflé

This motet from Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, based on a Gregorian chant, is an absolute favourite of mine. I love it when plainchant is revived or interwoven in newer works as these chants and the history behind them should never be lost to time. This beautiful setting is both emotive and comforting.

You Will Be Found - From the musical Dear Evan Hansen.

A musical number was definitely going to be my wild card and what a tough decision this was. Numbers from Les Misérables, Sweeney Todd or Chicago were certainly in the running. However, I settled upon a movement from a more recent musical – Dear Evan Hansen. As some may know I work in the NHS to support people who struggle with their mental health, having struggled myself when I was younger.

Music can have almighty strength at times, to cut through and soothe even the most desperate and difficult moments. Music has certainly been there for me. This powerful song reminds me that there is always hope and how important it is to support one another.

Desert Island Discs is a radio show first broadcast first broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942. It's now broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and hosted by Lauren Laverne. You can find more information here.

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