We round out Women’s History month by meeting Eleanor and Liz, two sopranos who have been with the society for years

How long have you been singing with Fitz?

Eleanor: Since 2017.

Liz: I’ve been singing with Fitz since my second year of University in 2019.

How long have you been associated with choral music? 

Eleanor: I sang in school as an alto in the chamber, chapel and school choir, but never really saw myself as a singer – just as something that I did because I was a music scholar (piano, organ and bassoon). When I came to university a friend recommended that I audition as a soprano choral scholar at Clifton Cathedral and it was like a switch had been flicked! That year I began to do much more choral singing and haven’t stopped yet!

Liz: I was lucky enough to be a chorister from the age of 7 at St Mary’s Parish Church, Horsham. If it weren’t for this experience, I wouldn’t be doing music as a career today!

What have been some of your personal choral highlights? 

Eleanor: SO MANY! An absolute top one is the performance of Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri with The Fitzhardinge Consort – a staggering piece of music. Other highlights include the Martin Mass for Double Choir with Bristol University Singers, singing Howell’s Collegium Regale for Evensong at St Paul’s and for the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Music School by the Queen, as an alumni of King’s School Bruton. 

Liz: The first time I ever sang the ‘Gloria’ from Howell’s Col reg. was a personal highlight – so exciting to be involved in that sort of music-making with other people. 

What have been some of your personal Fitz highlights?

Eleanor: As above, the Buxtehude. Other highlights have been rehearsing the Macmillan Miserere, despite not yet having a chance to perform it, and singing Hail Gladdening Light at one of our first rehearsals back after lockdown – hearing all the different lines and being completely absorbed and enveloped by it was very emotional, especially after so many months of not singing.

Liz: Definitely singing Bach’s ‘Singet dem Herrn’ in my first ever concert with Fitz in 2019. A bit of a baptism of fire, but it was my first experience singing a Bach motet and I’ll never forget it. 

What does choral music mean to you? 

Eleanor: Choral music brings me so much joy. It is what makes me happy after a long day at work. It is so powerful and emotive and I feel very fortunate that it is a part of my life and that I can bring the joy of listening to other people. I became a music teacher because I think music is brilliant and I love music – it is so important to me that I keep that love and passion and choral music allows me to do that!

Liz: Choral music has been my longest musical love – whatever phases I’m going through in my listening and performing, I always come back to choral music!

In conversation with Ella, part of our alto line for almost 4 years, and Annie, who joined us as a soprano in 2021

How long have you been singing with Fitz?

Annie: I’ve been singing with Fitz since September. I’ve really enjoyed it so far and I’m looking forward to doing more concerts with the group, not least performing Handel’s Messiah at St George’s in April.

Ella: I’ve been singing with Fitz since 2018

What first drew you to choral music?

Annie: I started singing choral music by accident, to be honest. I’ve always loved singing, but I started off singing more musical theatre. It wasn’t until I moved school and joined the Chapel Choir that I started to sing choral music and I really started to enjoy it. That passion has just grown since starting university and later joining Fitz and I’ve never looked back!

Ella: After an initial short spell of reluctance from my nine-year-old self, my parents thankfully managed to encourage me to audition for a choristership at Bristol Cathedral. 

What would you like to see Fitz doing over the next few years?

Annie: I would love to see Fitz go on tour. We’re so lucky to have so many great concert venues in the South-West which we get to perform in, but it would be amazing to go on tour and reach some new audiences.

Ella: I’d like to see Fitz continue to thrive and host a variety of events and performances, both traditional and contemporary; to maximise its capability in enticing wide and diverse audiences. 

What does choral music mean to you? 

Annie: Whether it’s through listening or singing I will always have a passion for choral music. I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had to sing during school, university and beyond. I’ve made some of my closest friends from singing in choirs, sang some amazing music and there’s never a dull moment.

Ella: Choral music for me, represents a peaceful tradition and history. It’s a form of escapism that I am lucky enough to enjoy with lifelong friends.

In conversation with Emily and Jenna, two of our longest serving female singers

How long have you been singing with Fitz?

Emily: I joined Fitz in September 2019 when I moved to Bristol.

Jenna: On and off for many years as both alto and sop, but regularly again in the past couple of years as a sop.

How long have you been associated with choral music?

Emily: Since I was at school, I was a music scholar at Glenalmond College and was lead Soprano (!) in the Chapel Choir there. We attended Chapel every morning and did regular concerts and tours in Europe.

Jenna: Since I was 7 and joined the Bristol Youth Choir. A few years later I was among some of the first girls to join the girls’ choir at Bristol Cathedral. It’s amazing that I still get to sing with the cathedral choir, and I am also now an assistant conductor and vocal coach at Bristol Youth Choir, coming full circle! I hope that I can inspire the singers there in the same way that I was all those years ago.

What first drew you to choral music?

Emily: I got the buzz from being in the first National Girls’ Choir of Scotland in 2007 and from then I progressed through their choirs. In 2011 I was in the main choir NYCoS as a Soprano 2, in that year we learnt Walton’s- Belshazzar’s Feast for the 15th Anniversary of NYCoS, Durufle’s Requiem EIF, and Tippet Child of Our Time. It was a lot to learn in a week, but we had the most amazing time, I remember thinking after the concerts in the Usher Hall for Edinburgh’s International Festival that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Jenna: The feeling in your body when you sing – it’s freeing and joyous. And the sound of voices coming together in harmony just can’t be beaten.

How did you first become associated with choral music?

Emily: My previous school music teacher Mrs Joan Taylor really cemented a sense of belonging through choral ensembles. It is great to perform solo, however, the thrill of excitement when singing with others, was what captivated me the most. She pushed me a lot for projects such as Scottish Opera Connect and NYCoS choirs, and I’m forever grateful that she did. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without her guidance.

Jenna: I had an amazing music teacher at primary school called Mark Hoskin who gave me so many opportunities to sing and encouraged me to have fun with music. It was thanks to him that I joined the youth choir. Then at secondary school my music teachers, especially Barbara Rusbridge, were amazing and showed me that you really could make a career out of singing – one of them had been in the BBC singers before taking up her teaching role.

What have been some of your personal choral highlights?

Emily: I’ve been lucky enough to be included in some wonderful concerts and ensembles over the years. Singing with the Genesis Sixteen programme was a wonderful year in 2016/17, I really learnt a lot as a performer and met some incredible singers who I have called my colleagues in various projects since then. Singing Mozart and Verdi Requiems at the BBC Proms has been another highlight. There are too many to note, it really depends from concert to concert…!

Jenna: Goodness, there are so many. As a child I was totally inspired by opportunities like singing for the Queen, opening the music for youth concert at the Albert Hall, leading worship at Notre Dame in Paris. Singing at the Lennon Memorial in New York was amazing!! I also still have a golden cazoo given to me by lord Sainsbury at the choir of the year festival – a very random momento from a wonderful experience. As an adult, it’s been being able to work with so many amazing conductors, composers, and singers, many of whom have become great friends.

What have been some of your personal Fitz highlights?

Emily: Singing Durufle Requiem in Bristol Cathedral is a particular highlight with Fitz, it’s such a fabulous requiem and coupled with the acoustic in the building it was pretty magical.

Jenna: Fitz under the moon was brilliant fun and a fantastic way to resume singing post lockdown.

What would you like to see Fitz doing over the next few years?

Emily: I think I have already mentioned this to a few people before, I would love to do James MacMillan’s Tenebrae Responsories. I think they are gorgeous, and I believe Fitz would do them justice. Also being Scottish, I have a massive soft spot for the contemporary Scot composer.

Jenna: I would love to take Fitz on tour and I am really excited to see how we can expand our outreach and get people singing who have perhaps never had the opportunity to do so before.

What does choral music mean to you? 

Emily: What a loaded question! It’s almost difficult to put into words, it’s such a strong emotion to be able to connect with music. No matter what sort of a day you have had, I always feel better singing/playing and making music. I think the simplest way of putting it is that music is a part of my soul, and choral music is a piece of that as cheesy as that sounds…

Jenna: That’s really hard to answer as it means so many things. Choral music has really shaped me as a person in so many ways. I think for me fundamentally choral music is a way for me to connect my singing experiences with the emotions, experiences and interpretations of myself and, importantly, others – those I am singing with. And in doing so, it creates a community for me to be a part of and nurtures friendships that I wouldn’t have otherwise. My dearest friends are mostly those I met singing – some going right back to my first concert aged 7! – and it’s also how I met my husband, so really choral music has played a major part in all aspects of my life and for that, I am very grateful.

To whom it may concern the most
or least (it hardly matters) here
I introduce my worthy friend, and boast
our intimacy dear. He flatters
you with smiling eyes that seem to say
“I know your soul”, though words betray
no condescension, premonition,
any sense of vain ambition.
“My name” he says “is Free Lance, though
by many names I come and go
much as I please.” Perhaps to know
this tale, be it one of woe
or one of sweet adventure is
what brings you here? Well then
let’s hear the story of my worthy friend,
Mr Free Lance, and his happy end.

When Free was born, he came out screaming – 
in every way a normal child
they took him home, his parents beaming,
hoping desperately no wild
thoughts would ever claim the head
of little Free. But in his bed
his dreams would stray to things of colour,
things of music, things that other
older people say are nothing,
just imagination,
adulthood will cure him of the notion
ought else matters but the Golden
Calf we cast, which all our motion
governs. We must be beholden
to that sullen idol – why not he?
What right has he to thinking free?

Much to their intense frustration,
little Free’s imagination
could not be easily contained.
From youth and upward he remained
so unconcerned with things of money
that when he worked the sort of task
that surely only greed for cash
could warrant donning such a mask,
he never lasted, ne’er excelled,
but rather when at home beheld
the things that touched the soul –
things of wisdom, beauty, things which hold
the mind enthralled. So he, appalled
with things of little substance 
– for centuries the mind’s incumbrance –
turned away, and gave his eyes
to the vision of the wise.

In time he trained himself to see
the glorious luminosity of ancient Greece,
and leaning on philosophy, found peace
of sorts, and tasting Sabine wine
read Horace – “Carpe Diem” – time
only is his great resource.
Gilded though your cage may be,
Art makes him infinitely free
to love, think, feel, enter the world
through beauty, not to count the cost
of money earnt, or money lost.
Life is to him the means of seeing
that which surely is our being,
for why else are we here, he asks,
if not with fervent hands to grasp
at truth? To relish godly tasks?

“My name” he says “is Free Lance, though
by many names I come and go
much as I please.” So now you know
the tale of my worthy friend.
“But wait,” you ask, “the happy end
of which you spoke remains untied.”
I asked him once, and he replied
“My name is Free, and Free I died.”

2 October 2020

For DH, who taught me about fine poetry as well as fine wine

Six months ago I wrote that The Fitzhardinge Consort was cancelling all events. The collapse of the performing arts seemed imminent at the very time when we needed them most. I ended, if I recall, on a note of hope, however. I said that music has always survived times of trial, and always will.

I’m now delighted to say that The Fitzhardinge Consort is resuming its performing schedule. We couldn’t be more excited to be singing together again, but this excitement is tempered with anxiety: suspended by a thread, the Damoclean sword of lock-down hangs threateningly above the heads of all musicians. We daren’t look up. For now, however, the question is no longer when can we sing again, but rather how are we to use music to take account of and deal with the extraordinary shifts of the last six months? Music is, after all, a therapeutic, even cathartic means of dealing with difficult truths.

I wish I had these answers – answers are reassuring things – but I fear nobody does. All I can say is how I have endeavoured to explore these questions in my choice of programme for our first concert back (click here for the event page). The repertoire is a mix of the solemn and the celebratory, and, while we will be ‘making up for lost music’, I have chosen deliberately not to perform any of the music that we should have sung during the season-that-wasn’t – we mustn’t simply pretend that the last six months never happened.

The most intriguing piece we will sing is Ben Byram-Wigfield’s “Evolutions” edition of the Miserere Mei by Allegri. The editor has stripped this familiar favourite back to its bare bones, returning to the earliest known manuscript of the work from 1661 (which includes no high C). As the piece continues, however, he incorporates snippets from later manuscripts – 1731 and 1840 – until he reaches the entirely inauthentic but very beautiful and justly famous top C. Rather than ignoring 400 years of change in pursuit of an ‘authentic’ expression, he has imaginatively explored and integrated each stage of the piece’s evolution, to create a work of art that reflects what is to him the ‘truth’ of the piece.

Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Mr Byram-Wigfield’s book. If we’re to understand what’s happening around us, we must look back, look forward, and be honest in our art.

Peter Wagstaff, September 2020


 If you’ve missed out this time, don’t worry – we’ll be back again soon. Why not join our mailing list, to get first refusal next time?

The Fitzhardinge Consort is back with its first performance since lock-down, and we’re making up for lost music. Due to Covid-19, we were unable to sing for you a wealth of music from Lent to Easter and Ascension to Pentecost and Trinity, so we’re bringing you a concert of all our seasonal favourites compressed into 90 minutes. Repertoire will include…

The quartet rehearsal for Allegri’s Miserere was so beautiful that one of the altos sneakily caught it on camera – thanks Tim!

Miserere Mei by Gregorio Allegri (perhaps not quite as you know it)
Dum Transisset Sabbatum by John Taverner
O Clap Your Hands by Orlando Gibbons
Litany to the Holy Spirit by Peter Hurford
Lobet den Herrn by J. S. Bach

… followed by some close-harmony classics.

Director Peter Wagstaff has written about this choice of repertoire in his latest blog post – Six months of silence

Bristol Cathedral is fully compliant with government regulations and advice.

Face-coverings must be worn throughout the performance unless personal exemptions apply.

Your contact information will be retained for 21 days after the event, for the purposes of track-and-trace.

If you have any questions about how we are keeping you safe, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Date: Thursday 8th October, 2020
Time: 7:30pm
Venue: Bristol Cathedral
Tickets: £10, available from Opus13 / 0117 923 0164 / shop@opus13.co.uk
All proceeds will go to support the work of Bristol Cathedral

Sometimes I wonder why we do this. Why sing? Why go to the effort of running or singing in a choir? Millennials like me have spent our lives being told to become lawyers or software engineers. Whoever thought that this century was doomed to some hellish Groundhog Day of software engineers suing one another may be proved right in the end, but I hope not. Because I decided to sing instead. So I return to the question, why? And then, inevitably, not just why do we sing, but why do we do music at all? In short, why art?

Art is a tricky thing. Is it representational? Is it functional? What should it look like, and what should it sound like? In the 20th and 21st centuries, this has led to some pretty challenging art which not only lacks beauty, but deliberately shirks it. This is a perilous path to tread. I have no more problem with atonal modernist music than I have with Tracey Emin’s unmade bed or Marcel Duchamp’s signed urinal. The purpose of them all, to some degree, is to show us that art does not need to ‘pander’ to beauty; that beauty and art are not the same thing. While this depends on one’s definition of art, the point is well made. The question I pose is, what does art of this kind give to humanity, besides an experiment (some may say a failed experiment)? To glibly remove beauty from art – content from form – is to rob humanity of the most precious thing it has: that transporting moment when nothing else matters but the absorption you feel in something beautiful. Be it in a piece of music, a landscape, a smiling baby, or an arresting sense of the vastness of the sea, it is what C. S. Lewis calls being ‘surprised by joy’, when nothing worldly matters – only the transcendence of that moment. We never know when it’s coming, but when it does, it changes us for ever. Why? Because, for a fleeting moment, we’ve glimpsed God. And in this moment, we become a better person. In a flash, we see the world for what it really is: not a market economy or a scientific equation, but a moment in time, possessed of infinite beauty and goodness. It is the artist’s job to capture this moment. And in a world enslaved to money, crippled by acrimony and deafened by conflict, what could be more important than this? By opening our eyes and ears to the real world around us, we open our hearts to beauty and truth, and so to a better society and a happier life.

Next time I’m asked ‘why would you be a musician?’ I’ll answer – ‘what else would I want to be?’

Peter Wagstaff, January 2020

This event was sadly cancelled due to Covid-19. We will be singing this piece again in 2021, if circumstances allow, so check our Forthcoming Events page, or sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date

a trio from last year’s performance, sung by members of Fitz before a moment’s silence held for Notre Dame Cathedral, which had burned the previous night

After the huge success of last year’s performance, The Fitzhardinge Consort returns to Bristol Cathedral for another special Holy Week performance of Dieterich Buxtehude’s stunning cantata cycle, Membra Jesu Nostri, accompanied by The Fitzhardinge Players. The highlight of 2019 for the Consort, this repeat performance promises to be something very special indeed – a moving meditation on the Body of Christ, held in the extraordinary beauty and acoustic of the Cathedral’s Eastern Lady Chapel.

Date: 7 April, 2020
Time: 5:15pm
Venue: Bristol Cathedral, Eastern Lady Chapel
Tickets: FREE entry, with a retiring collection

The Fitzhardinge Consort rehearsing the opening chorale of Bach’s Jesu, Meine Freude

This event was sadly cancelled due to Covid-19. We will be singing this piece again in 2021, if circumstances allow, so check our Forthcoming Events page, or sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date

The Fitzhardinge Consort is excited to be travelling across the estuary to Newport Cathedral to perform our programme of Passiontide meditations, to include…

Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis
Requiem by Herbert Howells
Jesu, meine Freude by J. S. Bach

This dramatic, contemplative and very beautiful programme will prepare you for the story of Holy Week, just around the corner.

Date: Thursday 26 March, 2020
Time: 7:30pm
Venue: Newport Cathedral
Tickets: FREE on the door, with a retiring collection to be shared between Newport Cathedral and The Fitzhardinge Consort