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Harmony One choir in rehearsal at St Clements

Harmony One choir in rehearsal at St Clements

Harmony at Christmas

It has been a great year for musician, Debbie Warren, culminating in a brilliant performance of Benjamin Britten and John Rutter Carols at Christmas and her appointment as Soundwaves Community Choir’s first resident Music Director. HOT’s Chris Cormack looks at Debbie’s achievements in 2015 and carol concerts this Christmas. If you’ve  missed the concerts in the last few weeks you can still get in the mood for Christmas this Saturday at St Mary in the Castle with the Hastings Philharmonic Choir.

In less than two years in Hastings, Debbie Warren has made her musical mark.  She is adored by her Harmony One choir which performed its Christmas Concert on Saturday 5 December 2015 at St Clements Church –  73 years to the day after  the World premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and in the format Britten had originally intended – with female voices and harp. Debbie coaxed the best of performances from her Harmony One and they raised £767 for Hastings Furniture Service and just over £100 for the church – not bad for one evenings’ work! And in the year that Harmony One has existed, Debbie has found and promoted twelve singers to sing solo at the concert and they all performed so splendidly. They are (in order of performance): Sue Kidd, Tessa Stambrook, Annike Jasse, Natalie Broomfield-Hill, Esme Needham, Deirdre Goodger, Cheryl Fryer, Lindsey Oakham, Fiona Rankine-Wright, Heather Spence, Julie Gidlow and Andrea Needham. How many choirs could present twelve soloists with confidence? The concert also included interesting medieval music performed by the Fipple Consort led by Chris Green.

Most people will not be aware that Benjamin Britten originally composed A Ceremony of Carols for women’s voices. The work has become synonymous with boy trebles (mainly because the first recording was with a boys’ choir), but the very first performance of the work was by the ladies of the Fleet Street Choir in the library at Norwich Castle on 5 December 1942. It was later broadcast on the BBC World Service on 25 January 1943, performed by the same choir. This concert was graced by harpist Vicky Lester, who stood in at very short notice for an indisposed Isabella Asbjornsen. Fortunately Vicky had just come from supporting the same Britten concert at Westminster Cathedral and her beautiful performance reflected this.

The Axel  Johnson - Benjamin Britten composes his Ceremony of Carols

The Axel Johnson – Benjamin Britten composes his Ceremony of Carols

There is an interesting story behind the composition of Britten’s work. Britten (aged 28) and Peter Pears were returning from America at the height of World War II. They gained passage on the cargo ship, MS Axel Johnson (photo left) in March 1942. It took five weeks to complete the treacherous journey across the Atlantic, hiding from German U-boats. Britten had bought a poetry anthology (The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems – all in middle English) in a little bookshop in Novia Scotia before they set off on their voyage. It was these poems that Britten set to music whilst confined to his tiny cabin on board the ship. Pears, in a letter to Elizabeth Mayer back in New York, reports that while on the ship, Britten had written “7 Christmas carols for women’s voices and harp! Very sweet and ‘chockfull’ of charm!” The work went on to become “A Ceremony of Carols” – one of Britten’s best known and loved works.

Debbie Warren photo:

Debbie Warren photo:

Debbie Warren has over 30 years experience directing music, much of it in the theatre, where she participated in over 200 professional and amateur productions. Trained at the Royal College of Music where she studied piano accompaniment with Robert Sutherland, Debbie lived and worked in London for many years until moving to Hastings to be by the sea in 2013. Her career encompassed West End Theatre, conducting at the Royal Albert Hall, playing in rock bands, folk groups and jazz bands, session musician work and writing music for radio ads. She regularly writes and arranges for choirs and had two choral compositions premiered this year – one as already mentioned at the International Composers Festival and the other at the Brighton Fringe in May. She spent many years working in youth theatre for Westminster Council, as well as Redroofs Theatre School and independent drama schools including Centre Stage Theatre School which she set up and ran with partner, Linda Davies, for 8 years. She has taught hundreds of children to play the piano and worked with thousands of people in various choirs, drama groups and instrumental ensembles.  She starts as resident musical director for Sound Waves Community Choir in January, which she is very much looking forward to and hopes to continue developing her musical career in Hastings.

Christmas not Christmas without Hastings Philharmonic Choir!

Christmas not Christmas without Hastings Philharmonic Choir!

Harmony One seeks to perform interesting and exciting music for the female voice and encompasses all musical styles. They have already been busy performing at local events including singing mediaeval carols at the recent Frost Fair and traditional fishing songs at the Midsummer Fish Fest in June. They also surprised visitors to the latter with a flash mob choir! In the summer, they gave a concert of sea-themed songs in the Stade Hall amongst the paintings of local artist and member, Laetitia Yhap. In September they formed part of the Festival Chorus for the International Composers’ Festival opening concert at St Mary in the Castle for which Debbie composed a piece for chorus, piano and strings. In May, Harmony One sang the backing track for a video campaign for Hastings Furniture Service and so HFS became the obvious choice for the charity to benefit from their Christmas concert.

There is a range of ages in the group from women in their 30’s through to their 70’s with a diverse mix of backgrounds. Some are Hastings born and bred and they count amongst their members several artists, writers, professional musicians and teachers, a librarian, an environmental activist and a retired fisherman’s wife who recently celebrated a golden wedding anniversary in St Clements!

In joining Soundwaves as Music Director, Debbie must follow a row of Hastings’ best temporary directors including, most recently, the distinguished Jenny Miller of Barefoot Opera fame, who produced for Soundwaves a beautiful Dickensian Christmas Carol Concert at All Saints Church last week.

Those in the know will have identified that many of the soloists and other participants of Harmony One are also singers with Hastings Philharmonic Choir, who this Saturday, 19 December perform their traditional Christmas Carol Concert, recognised by many as the best of the bunch, so why not tune up for Christmas with a musical feast? Please note the concert starts at 5pm, and finishes before most other events start, leaving you plenty of time for any of your other Christmas Saturday engagements.

Hastings Philharmonic Choir ‘Christmas Carols For All’ is at 5pm on Saturday 19 December at St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF. Tickets £10 – £8 concessions and £2 under 17’s. Call Box Office on 01424 552119

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Posted 15:43 Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 In: Music & Sound

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