It seems only fitting in an issue in which we start to think about 25 years of teaching and learning at the BISC, that we acknowledge the efforts of our stalwart Musicians in Residence, Diana Gilchrist and Shelley Katz. The pair have overseen musical programming at the Castle since the class of 1996/7, and now, still going strong in their 22nd year, they have recently received the exciting news that Bader Philanthropies has agreed to fund their research efforts for the next five years.
This is not only wonderful news for the couple, but for the Castle community as a whole, where music plays such an important role in the social lives of students and staff on campus. After so long at the helm however, The Castle Herald had to ask, (in the nicest possible way of course!) Why are you still here? When did this love-affair with Herstmonceux Castle begin and what has kept them coming back for more?
Shelley recalls that he first became aware of the Castle when he read an article on Alfred and Isabel Bader. The Baders’ vision of providing an extraordinary study-abroad opportunity, with emphasis placed on global citizenship, really struck a chord with him. The Baders’ values and commitment to offering enhanced opportunities to young Canadians compelled Shelley and Diana to contact the Baders and set up a meeting in London, over tea.
Soon after the initial meeting, Shelley and Diana found themselves on a tour of the Castle and grounds and in no real time at all, they had moved their young family to Herstmonceux Village and were holding their first Chamber Choir rehearsals. Diana remembers those early days extremely fondly, although as she puts it,
“There were so many unknowns in the beginning! There were no models in place at that time, so Shelley and I team-taught and plugged the holes where we saw them. We adapted to new roles as we went along. We began our association with the Castle as performers, then when we started inviting the public to the Castle for recitals, we became community liaisons, and then before we really knew it, we were both professors! The penny really only dropped that I was now a lecturer, some ten years ago, when former Academic Director David Bevan encouraged me to pursue a part-time PhD.”
Shelley adds, “We have always juggled roles, but in our hearts, we will always be performers first.”
The pair have actually never stopped performing, in the UK and abroad. Prior to joining the BISC, Shelley and Diana had performed in various opera houses in Germany – Shelley as a pianist and conductor and Diana as a soprano. Diana’s leading roles include Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos), Gilda (Rigoletto) and the title roles in The Merry Widow and The Cunning Vixen. As a performer, Shelley’s career has taken him around the world. He has performed in the Musikverein in Vienna, Rachmaninoff Hall in Moscow, and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. As a researcher, he is the Director of the Surrey University Symphonova Project and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge.
The Symphonova Project is a source of great pride for Shelley and there is no doubt that his work will benefit greatly from the Baders’ generous grant. There was also more good news recently when Dr. Hugh Horton approved plans to set up a Symphonova Lab in the Basement Offices in the Castle. There is an obvious synergy between the Symphonova Project and the BISC’s plans to offer both an Innovation Connector and First-Year Physics program in 2018/19, so the decision was not a difficult one. The Symphonova Lab will be accessible to the first students in May, with a view to having the program up and running full-time in September. Shelley’s immediate plans concern the recording and release of at least two Symphonova CDs to showcase his creation. He will also be involved in the recording of an updated version of the ‘Oil Thigh’ this March, with new arrangement by John Burge.
Meanwhile, Diana hopes to complete her PhD very soon and will use the grant to continue her work on researching and integrating exciting experiential learning opportunities into the curriculum. She has the final word, and it is fitting that she does so, as it perhaps sums up why the couple have stayed at the Castle for as long as they have, and made such a success of musical programming at the BISC.
“The choir is not just about singing. It is a communal activity in a safe space, where all abilities are welcome. It can sometimes be scary, but there’s a real sense of achievement when you face your fears and make music you can be proud of! My job keeps getting better and better, the more students I can help to feel that way.”