Last weekend I was in the Midlands. My primary objective whilst there was to play the organ for a weekend of services at the Cathedral, which were being sung by Quorum, a fantastic chamber choir from Milton Keynes.  In addition I had agreed with their Musical Director, Chris Williams, that I would record the choir during their rehearsal prior to Evensong on the Saturday afternoon. Permission to do so was granted by the Cathedral authorities and so I duly turned up with a briefcase full of organ music and a car load of recording equipment.

Immediately there was a problem. It turned out that when the Normans built the original church of St Martin’s, some 900 years ago, they forgot to make space for a car park.  Fortunately, the Cathedral have some sort of arrangement with a nearby NCP, whereupon official visitors are permitted to pay just £4 for parking rather than the Million pounds per day which is usually charged.  I made my way to said car park and then set out to find the Cathedral.  Luckily the Victorians came along and added a big pointy thing so that everyone who had parked in the NCP could locate the Cathedral.  Whilst it was only a few minutes walk and I was easily able to transport myself and my organ music to the Cathedral, I didn’t really fancy several treks across Leicester in the rain to move the recording gear from the car to the Cathedral.

Upon arriving, a verger was sought out and hasty arrangements were made to temporarily re-park in a loading bay, conveniently located just under a sign which said no loading.  And so payment of £3 for daring to park in the NCP for 10 minutes was made, the car was relocated to the Cathedral and finally various items of recording paraphanalia were hurried into the building before anyone noticed.

In contrast to the usual furnishing arrangement one finds in Cathedrals, at Leicester the choir are positioned towards the West End (the back of the building) just below the organ.  It seems this is a fairly new arrangement which came about in September 2012, after a bunch of archaologists from Leicester University also had issues with car parks.   Apparently they got so cross with the lack of parking in Leicester that a large hole was dug, presumably to make space for more space.  By doing so they came across some bones and overnight Leicester had a new tourist attraction – King Richard III.

This discovery caused much fuss and it was decided the bones of Richard III should be re-buried in the Cathedral in a ‘place of honour’.  Of course this is entirely reasonable, but it turned out the chosen place of honour was currently being inhabited by the choir and clergy.  In order to make space for the King the clergy were relocated onto park benches, and the choir were moved completely out of the way to the opposite end of the Cathedral.

richard III tomb
The tomb of Richard III

In many ways, the relocation of the choir to the West End made the process of recording much simpler.  Helpfully the Normans had also allowed for power sockets to be placed conveniently behind the choir stalls so that various electrical items could be connected.   Microphones were then positioned at various points around the choir and became a new talking point for the Cathedral visitors.

quorum recording
Quorum singing in Leicester Cathedral

Once set up, the recording proceeded well.  Due to the lack of time, the entire rehearsal was recorded in order to pick out the useful takes back in the studio.  Once the rehearsal was finished there was just enough time to get a cup of tea before returning to the Cathedral for evensong.    Not wishing to disturb congregation arriving for evensong the microphones were left in place and it was agreed to remove them once the service had finished.

This caused a dilemma.  On the Cathedral service sheet it clearly stated that no audio or video recording was permitted during worship.   However, we did technically have permission to record and no one had objected to the many microphones erected around the choir stalls. And so just prior to starting the voluntary before evensong I slipped downstairs and pressed record.

One of the pieces Quorum sang has, to my knowledge, never been previously recorded.  So here, for you to enjoy, is Quorum singing Levavi Oculos Maos by Nicolas Gombert.


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