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Castle choirs prove 'wonderfully enriching'

Collaboration with Oxford this year provided an exciting challenge for BISC singers.

Queen's in the World

Every September, during orientation, musician in residence Shelley Katz has a few questions for the new group of students at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in Herstmonceux, England.

He is eager to get them involved in the choir program at the Castle, and so, he asks:

“Who sings?”

A few hands go up among the 140-plus students.

“In a choir?”

A couple of hands.

“In the shower?”

Several more hands go up.

BISC students joined with Oxford students to perform Mozart's Coronation Mass at Oxford's University Church of St. Mary. (Supplied photo)  

“We want the choir programs at the BISC to be as inclusive and accessible as possible,” says Diana Gilchrist, also a musician in residence at the Castle who runs the choir programs with Dr. Katz. “Many students join the choirs with little to no musical experience. Over the course of the year, they strengthen their abilities and it becomes a wonderfully enriching experience that builds their confidence and teamwork skills.”

In addition to many other musical activities, Ms. Gilchrist and Dr. Katz offer the opportunity to sing in a large choir, or a smaller chamber choir. The highlight of the year is the chance to collaborate on a large-scale performance. This past academic year, the BISC students joined with the Choir of St. Hilda’s College at Oxford University – an uplifting experience that was, for many students, the pinnacle of their time at the BISC.

“This was a great challenge and an extraordinary opportunity,” says Ms. Gilchrist. “The students prepare a full work – this time, Mozart’s Coronation Mass – for these collaborative performances. It required a lot of dedication and a substantial time commitment on their part, but they rose beautifully to the challenge of performing this work for appreciative audiences.”

For the collaboration with St. Hilda’s, the BISC choir prepared for a good part of the year, working towards a weekend in February with performances at both the Castle and at Oxford, a two-hour-plus drive away. The weekend also included social events with the Oxford students, who stayed overnight at Bader Hall at the Castle. At Oxford on Sunday, they performed at the University Church of St. Mary with a student orchestra. Afterwards, they attended a college banquet at St. Hilda’s, which gave students special access to Oxford college life and hospitality.

“It was a surreal experience being part of such a powerful group of musicians all singing together,” first-year student Leah Battista (Artsci’19) wrote in a BISC newsletter. “Standing in the ballroom (at the Castle), it was easy to let yourself be swept away by the magnificent sounds filling the room. I know I was.”

Ms. Battista also commented on the challenge of performing the Coronation Mass, and the strength of Ms. Gilchrist and Dr. Katz’s leadership.

“It was a difficult, rewarding process that gave our choir a strong sense of purpose towards a shared goal,” she wrote. “Our spirits were bolstered by the incredible determination Shelley and Diana brought to rehearsals every week.”

Dr. Katz and Ms. Gilchrist are seasoned musicians who have been based in England for more than 20 years and have had a strong presence at the BISC since 1997, when Alfred and Isabel Bader initiated the musician-in-residence program. Because of the transitional nature of the campus, every year they build up the choirs from scratch. Ms. Gilchrist says this presents a challenge, especially when you want to work with other choirs that build up their student base over many years, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to see the intense development of students’ abilities over a short time.

“Most students who participate in the choirs are not music majors – this can seem daunting for everyone, but throughout the year, we get to see the great sense of accomplishment the students feel after working very hard and dedicating themselves to the process,” she says.

“It truly is an excellent experiential learning opportunity – and the rewards are great.”

For more information, visit the BISC website or contact Dr. Katz and Ms. Gilchrist by email.