Borders performers take on the beautiful music of Bach

The Roxburgh Singers
The Roxburgh Singers

Two choirs representing people from across the Borders will come together next month to perform one of the most beautiful pieces of choral music ever written.

The cross-Borders choral collaboration will involve 86 choristers from Berwick Arts Choir and the Roxburgh Singers and nine musicians will also perform a new orchestration of Mass in B Minor.

Berwick Arts Choir performs at the Guildhall

Berwick Arts Choir performs at the Guildhall

The singers come from all over the Borders area including Coldingham, Lowick, Belford, Berwick, Kelso, St Boswells, Selkirk, and Hawick.

The event has been talked about for nearly three years by good friends and conductors of both choirs, Marion Dodd of Roxburgh and Catherine Fish of Berwick.

Marion, a retired minister from Kelso Old Parish Church and a former performer with the BBC Singers, said: “Both Catherine and I believe the B Minor Mass to be one of the most beautiful and most challenging choral works in the classical repertoire.

“It’s a highly-regarded work, with some of most beautiful music ever written and a work which lends itself ideally to a working partnership of this type.

“It’s also a wonderful thing for choirs to work with others and experience performing as a large group.

“Kate and I talked about it initially three years ago and now it has come to fruition.”

The cross-Borders event will see two concerts being staged on the last weekend in April.

The first performance is on April 29 in St Andrew’s in Berwick followed by a concert on April 30 in Melrose Parish Church.

Both performances will feature four soloists.

Mezzo Annabelle Ellis, tenor Richard Shaffrey and bass Jerome Knox are post-graduate students from the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow.

They will be joined by soprano Mhairi Lawson, who hails from Galashiels.

The accompanying music is a new orchestration by Tony Kime, a former sound engineer with the BBC, violinist and arranger.

His arrangement has created a chamber orchestra version for nine musicians which allows the 90 singers and orchestra room to perform comfortably at the two venues.

Marion said: “Tony put a great deal of thought into this new orchestration.

“He considered everything, including what he thought would be acceptable to Bach himself.

“The idea to do an new orchestration was originally decided to save on space, but it has turned out so well.

“The orchestra we have is a string quintet, one flute, one oboe, one clarinet and two bassoons.

“The result is absolutely wonderful and very surprising so the audience will be hearing something different for the first time.”

But putting together such a performance has not been without its problems.

Not only has it been tricky to find venues large enough to accommodate the performers but the music was also very difficult for the choirs to master.

Marion said: “My motto is that peformers should have a lot of fun with what they are doing and then everyone listening will enjoy it.

“This is a very difficult piece of music so it’s been a lot of hard work.”

Because of the distance involved, both choirs have been rehearsing independently since the start of the year.

“The intention was to be with each other’s choir on two separate occasions in April, but the best laid schemes of mice and men,” said Marion.

“Unfortunately, Catherine had an accident skiing in France in January and, as she was in a sling, she was unable to conduct.

“It was a great opportunity for me to get to know the Berwick Arts Choir as I took Catherine’s choir while she recovered.”

For a few weeks Marion travelled to Berwick every Thursday to conduct rehearsals as well as taking the usual rehearsals for The Roxburgh Singers on Mondays in Hawick.

Berwick Arts Choir member Janet Gray, who is publising the event, said: “The good news is that Kate has now recovered sufficiently to take up the baton once again to lead the Berwick rehearsals.

“I very much admire the leadership and determination of both Marion and Kate.

“We have had so many 
ups and downs but we will get there.”

Marion, who comes from a musical family, added: “I have been very fortunate with the background I have had and I am grateful for that experience.

“My hope for this event is that everyone involved will get a sense of real achievement by knowing that, despite it being difficult, we could do it.”

Both concerts begin at 7pm, and tickets are £10 which will be available from Grieve’s Stationers in Berwick, from choir members and at the door.