Some thoughts on the news (Daily Telegraph and BBC Today programme) that children are experiencing puberty earlier and earlier.
The point (measured in age) when a boy's voice changes, from its piping treble to something else, has not always been the same. In fact, over the centuries it has changed dramatically. De Bacilly ('Remarques curieuses sur l'art de bien chanter', 1668) describes, among other voice types, the boy soprano. He concludes by regretting its passing between the ages of 15 to 20! Bach routinely used boy sopranos (and altos) into their late teens. The song 'Sweet Polly Oliver' (current in the 18th century, if not before) describes a girl's enlisting in the army, and passing herself off as a young man. How could that be? Not so far-fetched as you might think, since all those raw male teenage recruits would still have had their piping trebles, not a hair on their chins. At the beginning of the 20th century, trebles in the UK stopped singing the top line around the age of 16. These days it's variable: I have known boys become baritones at 11, and also continue as trebles until 15 and beyond. It always has, I think, been a moveable feast. For instance, Henry Purcell experienced voice-change at 14 (in the 1670s). At New College, in the top year of the Choir (at which point boys have their thirteenth birthday), there is generally one of the four going through voice-change, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.
The length of a New College choristership is timed to allow each boy to begin his next school before his fourteenth birthday. None in our stalls is older than thirteen, as a matter of course. So we don't feel too menaced by early voice-change. It is sufficient to have the year below hard on the heels of the top year, and also to start a whole year earlier with the probationers, thereby opening the window at the front end of the training process. Is there any age before which vocal training could not be started? I sense that at New College we can continue to aspire to excellent standards of singing and musicianship within the age-window we still have. What has obviously changed is that these trebles of 12 and 13 years are - relative to seventeen or eighteen year-olds - small in stature. Their vital capacity is less, their lung capacity less. So what they give us is going to be different. But it need not be less striking and satisfying than in the past.
At all costs, whatever the future brings, there is nothing we can do to arrest the development of boys. I had wondered for a time whether to persuade all my trebles onto a vegetarian diet, only to have the only boy already a vegetarian experience voice-change well before any of his peers! We could blame the hormone-rich dairy products, and we could certainly blame the parents (since there is a strong genetic component). It would however be tricky to audition the parent rather than the child! If the time does come when we have boys of 10 singing bass (or tenor), we will have to roll up our sleeves and give them our support. The crucial thing is to keep children singing, and singing really well.
A new 6-part series for 2012, 'Oxford in Voice', takes a look at Oxford's world-renowned choral music-making, featuring performances and footage of New College Choir. The first film of the series, which aims "to understand what it takes to sing at a world-class level", has been released this week, and includes interviews with director Edward Higginbottom, footage of the Choir, and accompanying music taken from recent Evensongs at New College. The video is embedded below, and you can read more about the new series on the Oxford Today website.
If you're thinking about joining New College Choir, you might be interested in our 6th Form Scheme
, which gives prospective Choral Scholars the chance to find out if New College Choir is right for them. Our new online application
process now makes it even easier to join the Choir for an Evensong.
Gramophone Magazine have reviewed our disc Exultent Superi - a recent disc of solo Couperin Motets by the Soloists of New College Oxford. Read on for the full review...
Higginbottom returns to his favoured French repertoire
Considering that in his three Lecons de ténèbres he produced an unsurpassed gem of Baroque vocal music, it is surprising that Couperin's petits motets for one or more solo voices and continuo (sometimes with violins as well) have never attracted greater interest.While they do not inhabit the same soul-searching territory - the nine works on this disc include hymns to the holy virgins Susannah and Cecilia, four elevation motets and a psalm - they show all the elegant perfection one would expect from this composer.
As Edward Higginbottom points out, their style is unmistakenly French while also being influenced by the formal balance and controlled harmonic logic of Corelli's trio sonatas. Lovers of Charpentier's powerful use of chromatic dissonance may thus find Couperin's motets comparatively polite at first but stronger acquaintance reveals that they are never routine, as well able to express the tenderness of the Elevation as the brave, manly tone of O Domine quia refugium. Domine salvum fac regem is set to a gently lilting ground bass, while Ad te levavi oculos meos, for solo bass, traverses several moods with effortless ease of movement. Seven soloists from New College Choir showcase this music with impressive ease. The star turns are some astoundingly assured and mature singing from treble Jonty Ward, delicious haute-contre work from Guy Cutting that ought to ensure interest from other Francophile ensembles, and a fine delivery of Ad te levavi from bass George Coltart, but in truth there are no weakness here, no allowances that have to be made except, perhaps, to wish for more strongly coloured French pronunciation.
An extra treat is that Higginbottom has skilfully reconstructed the missing violin parts of the otherwise unperformable Resonent organa, Ornate aras and Exultent superi, thus releasing these works to modern ears for the first time. Like the performers, they certainly merit the exposure.
Gramophone July 2012
Recording for Exultent Superi, March 2011
Following BBC Radio 3's selection of our most recent release 'Exultent Superi
' as their 'CD of the Week' in November 2011, New College soloists have received another outstanding review for this collection of François Couperin motets – some of which are recorded for the first time. An extract from the five star review, which appears in the March edition of BBC Music Magazine is included below:'The performance is astonishing. Two New College trebles, aged 11 and 13, sing with a musical maturity and technical focus which I have never heard bettered. Intonation is spot on, with none of that instability (for some winsome, for others unnerving) which often characterises unbroken boys' voices. In the duet 'Lauda Sion Salvatorem' their individually distinctive voices are beautifully matched. No less exceptional is the haute-contre (light high tenor) of Guy Cutting[...] With excellent strings and sympathetic recording this is a real revelation.'
***** Performance; **** Recording George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine
The album can be viewed here
. Update 24/02/12: Exultent Superi
wins more critical acclaim from MusicWeb International, who have named the release their 'Recording of the Month'. They say:'The crystal clear and superbly balanced sound quality is as pleasing as I have heard in a church acoustic. It would be hard to imagine a more gratifying recording of these scores. In all respects this Novum release is quite stunning!'
Read the review here
Francois Couperin recording
as 'CD of the week'. This is welcome recognition of the delight the recording will give to many who had never thought of themselves as afficionados of French baroque music. Couperin's style is extremely accessible, and genial. It will make excellent Christmas listening when you have tired of carols. The CD also contains works never before recorded, and which are now performable through the reconstructions made by Edward Higginbottom, an expert in the field of French baroque music. There are additional pluses to this release: the focus in the digipack on illustrations of College art treasures, and the musical focus on the young soloists of the choir, who sing this music with no less precision and style than seasoned professionals.
This week the BBC features our new
In this week's New CD Show
on Classic FM, presenter David Mellor has chosen our latest release on the Novum label - Mozart's Requiem - as his 'Connoisseur's Choice'. He notes that the album appears on our new own-label, as well as featuring all male soloists taken from the Choir, including treble soloist Jonty Ward, who appeared in this year's Proms.
You can listen to the album's appearance on Classic FM's listen again player
from about 42 minutes in. The Requiem disc is available in our online shop
Tune in to BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 28 August at 7pm for a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah, with Paul McCreesh directing massed choirs and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. In the cameo part of the Angel is Jonty Ward, who has just completed his last year as head chorister in the New College choir. If you miss the live performance, you can read more about the Gabrieli Elijah recording in which Ward also takes part: http://www.gabrieli.com/support-us
Ward also sings the soprano solos in New College Choir's recently released recording of Mozart's Requiem
as well as a number of upcoming discs on the Novum label
A couple of very positive reviews from the Guardian and The Arts Desk describe New College treble Jonty Ward's 'effortless' solos as 'perfectly voiced' winning 'the most admirers'. You can read the reviews in their entirety here:http://bit.ly/owQu5B
(The Arts Desk)
In this month's Gramophone Podcast, Martin Cullingford talks to director Edward Higginbottom about our new label Novum
! It includes a short extract from our new disc, Mozart's Requiem
, and you can skip straight to the interview with Professor Higginbottom by going to 15:45 in the player window.
You can listen to it here: http://gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/download-the-latest-gramophone-podcast-1
Read Andrew Mellor's Gramophone article
article on the chapels and churches which stream their services.