Prof. Bill Tamblyn is founder and music director of Quire, a community choir based in Colchester, Essex that offers the opportunity to have fun singing a varied and exciting programme of music from around the world.
We sing as a large choir, about 60 members, and for some there is the opportunity to perform in a small group (Towering Angels and Octavia) or sing duets or solos. Quire has performed several original themed pieces devised by it’s Musical Director.
Quire learn ‘folk’ choral music from many traditions including American Gospel, Fasola, and Shaker song, Central and Southern African Gospel and Work song, Hispanic song, British, Celtic and West Gallery song. Also included in our repertoire are Russian, German, Maori, Irish and Dutch songs, many sung in the original language. Our list is ever expanding and members are invited to bring new songs to the group which can be considered for eventual inclusion in the repertoire.
Quire performs several concerts a year in a variety of venues both indoors and outside. We sing as a large choir, about 60 members, and for some there is the opportunity to perform in a small group or sing duets or solos.
Quire performances are lively, audience-friendly, exuberant and straight from the heart. We dance, we clap, we click our fingers and stamp our feet as well as singing in four-part harmony – YES – all at the same time! We enter into the spirit of songs we sing.
We perform concerts throughout the year in a variety of venues, including theatres, churches, village halls, weddings. Quire is invited to perform at a range of events – from switching on Colchester Christmas lights to singing Carols for BBC TV at Colchester Castle.
Quire – A little bit of history from Bill Tamblyn
The beginnings – Gospelphoenix
In 2003 I was still an active professor of music at Colchester Institute. I subsequently left to pursue other musical interests after 30 years in ‘the chair’). In my last years at Colchester I was asked by a group of students to start a Gospel Choir. I refused – “there must be better guys out there somewhere!” but then relented and took up the challenge. I had been collecting Afrikan and American song for years so it was time to turn an academic interest into a practical reality.
In 2003-4 the original group from Colchester Institute became Gospelphoenix – a small a-capella choir which also drew on the talents of a keyboardist and drummer. There were invitations to give concerts in local churches – Peldon and Abberton (both sold out) and Coggeshall (a healthy 160 in the audience). In the summer of 2004 I retired from full time academic life but by this time my enthusiasm in Gospel and World music was fired up.
In July 2004 I ran a short summer school at the Adult Community College at Greyfriars, and another at New Hall in Chelmsford. I discovered that this music appealed to many adults who were otherwise disenfranchised from choirs because they could not read music, and it appealed, equally, to other experienced choral singers who wanted to do something different. In the autumn of 2004 the BBC asked me to provide Gospel and World music for a week of broadcast services for One World Week. This was an opportunity to bring together some singers from the Institute and the Summer schools with my original keyboardist and drummer and liven up the worship scene.” But also, by the autumn I had another choir in mind:
The forming of ‘Quire’
The Adult Community College at Colchester asked me to start a new group at the Wilson Marriage site – the group now called Quire . I wrote at the time: “The objective for Quire is to explore many styles of World Music. We have a repertoire of about African and African-American songs, Hispanic songs from the Latin-American repertoire, songs from the American Shape-Note tradition (called Fasola music. (Later we would add a whole new collection of European songs ).
“It is really important that we enter into the spirit of World choral music. To do this we need to shake off a few inhibitions: we will need to sing in the original languages, clap, click our fingers, stamp our feet, dance, and move when the song demands it. This may be a bit of a culture shock to church choristers, but in the parallel world of Barbershop, singers have been moving to the music for the past 70 years! “
“At its roots, singing is a physical exercise. In Quire our members have fun; nobody gets too anxious if there are some changes to the song each time we sing it. Improvisation is allowed, indeed, in some songs it is expected.”
So – how has it all developed?
Singers bring their friends to rehearsals to listen. Quire is gaining members all the time. The group began with about 13 members. By summer 2005 it had expanded to 20 regulars and by autumn 2006 there were almost 50 singers on the books. We now have between 55 and 65 members on the books, with new members welcome at any time.
Singing for the BBC
In the autumn of 2005 some members of Quire joined the original Gospelphoenix to take part in the broadcasts of world music for the BBC One World Week. They repeated the experience in 2006 with a dozen members of Quire joining the group for the broadcasts and in 2008 Quire presented The Morning Service on Radio 4 from Birmingham Cathedral.
The small groups
Now the group is too large to perform in the smaller country churches so recently we have formed 2 smaller groups –Octavia ( 8 ladies who sing gospel, soul and indeed draw on the many styles from the Quire repertoire) and Towering Angels – 8 singers who specialise in Eastern European song and in the haunting music of the poor whites and blacks from the American South. We also have small groups to take part in the Quire in Education programme in local schools and to provide music for Weddings and Funerals and other functions when requested.
We have achieved a lot in the first few years. I hope Quire members will continue to explore new avenues as well as hone their skills in those aspects of World Music which they have made their own. To this end I have invited specialists to give workshops or record with Quire: Larry Gordon from Northern Harmony, Julian Raphael –folklorist from New Zealand; Siya Twani – African music and dance specialist, Miko Giedroyc –pianist and arranger from the 606 Gospel Club.
Bill Tamblyn ( Professor)