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 /
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

The Fitzhardinge Consort is thrilled to be working with Cancer Research UK to put on a Christmas celebration, in the beautiful space of Bristol Cathedral, to thank all the countless people in the South West who have helped the fight against cancer, and to support those affected by the disease.

Some reflections and readings will be interspersed with festive music that will take us from the mystery of Advent to the joy of Christmas. Music will include:

Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt – J. S. Bach
Veni, Veni Emmanuel – Kodaly
O Magnum Mysterium – Scarlatti
A Spotless Rose – Howells

… and much more, including some festive favourites and opportunities for the audience to chip in.

Date: Thursday 5 December, 2019
Time: 7pm
Venue: Bristol Cathedral
Tickets: FREE – please email or call 01308 423805 to book

On 29 September 2019 – Michaelmas day – Bristol Cathedral bad farewell to its Dean, David Hoyle, who leaves to become Dean of Westminster. Dr Hoyle has long been a firm friend of The Fitzhardinge Consort, and we wish him all the best for his exciting new vocation.

Happily, however, at evensong on 1 November – All Saints day – the Reverend Michael Johnson will be installed as Canon and Acting Dean of Bristol, and The Fitzhardinge Consort are delighted to have been asked to sing this service. Music selected to mark this wonderful occasion and to celebrate All Saints day includes…

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s epic Magnificat primi toni a 8 and his vivacious O Quam Gloriosum.

Date: Friday 1 November, 2019
Time: 5.15pm
Venue: Bristol Cathedral
Entry FREE

When a new singing pupil stands before me for the first time, the first question I ask, almost invariably, is ‘so what voice part are you?’ And every time I kick myself. After all, how much do I really learn from knowing which part this person sings in a choir – soprano, alto, tenor or bass? In truth, the only thing I’ve learned from asking this question of so many pupils is that an awful lot of people are singing the wrong part. The age-old case of the ‘lazy tenor’ springs to mind – the man possessed of a natural tenor voice but not the inclination to put in the work required to sing tenor properly. You’ll find him comfortably ensconced in the bass line. The number of self-proclaimed altos, who, when they don’t know what notes they’re singing, can stray well into soprano register with no discomfort whatsoever, is surprising. And let’s not forget that it can work both ways: is there anything more unpleasant than listening to the ‘soprano’ who should be sat with the altos, or the ‘tenor’ who, lazy or not, should embrace his baritone?

one of many nonsense vocal charts available online

The problem, however, is with the process of labelling voices, and this is why I kick myself every time I ask a new student ‘so what voice part are you?’ The answer, for the purposes of proper singing technique, is – or should be – irrelevant. Take Dame Emma Kirkby. She is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished sopranos of her generation, yet this hardly qualifies her to sing the role of Wagner’s Brunhilde. Her voice is her own. She is not a soprano, she is Emma Kirkby.

This is a straight-forward enough policy to adopt as a one-to-one singing teacher, but rather harder as a choral conductor. Soprano, alto, tenor and bass labels are useful for choral composers and directors – indeed, that is (or should be) their sole purpose. The unfortunate fact, however, is that we are too wedded to this system. What kind of anarchy do we fear might ensue as a result of individual voices stepping beyond the confines of the doctrinal SATB? It takes a brave conductor, when the range allows and balance requires, to bump a baritone to the tenor line or a tenor to the alto, yet how many tenor lines remain comfortably within baritone range, and how many alto lines growl away well below middle-C? The question is of course not only one of range but of tonal colour: a baritone singing the tenor line will naturally produce a different sound to his tenor comrades; one that is likely to be broader (and possibly louder), while a tenor singing the alto line may have a similar effect. But let’s not forget how much repertoire – especially early music – was not written with SATB voices in mind at all. Those gravelly alto lines were written for men, remember. The issue is a complex one, but must eventually boil down to intelligent and creative leadership from the director’s podium.

Perhaps choral conductors – myself included – should spend less time looking at their scores and more time listening to their choirs. It might just open up a whole new world of sound; one in which every voice is allowed to shine.

Peter Wagstaff, 6 May 2019