Joyful celebration of Rugby Phil’s 150 Years
by Diana Walls
‘Have a go!’ called John Rutter enthusiastically. Yes, the great man himself was in Rugby for a glorious day of singing to celebrate Rugby Philharmonic Choir’s one hundred and fifty years. John Rutter, composer, conductor of choirs around the world, came to the Temple Speech Room on Saturday, 29th April, to take the baton from Phil director, Mervyn Bethell, to lead ‘Come and Sing’. And come, we did – in our hundreds. Mervyn accompanied on the piano as John Rutter directed sacred music by Handel, Bach and Rachmaninov, and a mix of compositions by Rutter himself including jazz for Shakespeare.
The whole day was generous and inspiring. On arrival, a buzz of people greeted each other, members of community choirs, talented leaders of choirs and one ardent fan of John Rutter who had dropped in from Canada. ‘1867’, displayed on the stage, signalled the choir’s achievement. Dr Jonathan Smith pointed out the double celebration, since Rugby School is celebrating its four hundred and fifty years. So what was the Philharmonic Choir like in 1867? we wondered. One thing is certain. They did not enjoy themselves as much as we did.
To illustrate the joy of choral singing, the day was perfect. John Rutter showed his skill as a communicator, telling stories and amusing anecdotes and jumping onto the stage for ‘the grand performance’. Encouragement was balanced with the right amount of criticism with many helpful tips. For a high note our jaws must drop, to make our mouths ‘tall’. We must ‘refresh the note’ rather than just repeat it. ‘Keep that note moving; it is alive.’
Poignant moments when John Rutter revealed how he came to write ‘Look to the Day’, for Cancer Research UK’s Service of Thanksgiving, and how Bach’s ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ had opened up music to Rutter at the age of nine. Music-making, said Rutter, unites people in a way that nothing else does.
The Day testified to this and what a good sound we made. Rugby Philharmonic Choir excelled themselves as hosts, providing welcome, a café, delicious food by Paddy Steele.
The Choir’s Anniversary Concert will take place on Saturday, 8th July in the Temple Speech Room, ‘1867 and All That’. Everyone will want to be there.