Event review: Sine Nomine Singers perform ‘Symbols of Mystery’, Saturday 29th November

By - Monday 8th December, 2014

Catherine Pestano goes beyond the borders of Croydon to be blissed-out in Bickley

Photo by Sine Nomine Singers, used with permission.

Last Saturday, the 29th November, I attended my first Sine Nomine Singers concert, just across the border in the wilds of Bromley (sorry, it’s lovely really!). The concert was Symbols of Mystery and it was performed in the acoustically fabulous, stone-walled church of St George, Bickley.

Sine Nomine Singers are affiliated to Croydon Arts Network, and so have a strong link to our borough. Learning the history of the choir makes the reason for this clear. The choir was founded by two Croydon residents, one of whom, Stephen Davies, was music director for the church in Bickley, which became the choir’s home. Nowadays the choir is a mix of Croydon and Bromley residents, with a good balance of male and female voices, and a wide range of ages. Their music is mainly a cappella sacred, and features both older and more contemporary works. The chamber choir for the Symbols of Mystery concert comprised twenty-two singers, who produced a rich and pure sound well suited to the chosen repertoire.

The sound of rich voices was like lying back in a sun-warmed sea

I was enchanted by the story of the main piece, Frank Martin‘s Mass for Double Choir (1922). Martin composed the piece originally as his own prayer, without intending it to be heard by others. Forty years later, established as a leading composer in Switzerland, he showed it to a friend who urged him to let others hear it. First performed in the 1960s, it sounded wonderful and fresh, as it still does now, with modern yet echoing Renaissance-style harmonies and complex time signatures. The piece is a Mass and not designed to be sung straight through, so the programming interspersed it with other pieces to recreate how it would have been heard in its original form.

A member of the choir shared that this was very challenging, and yet it was so sinuous and pleasing to the ear that it almost seemed strange to remember that it is a Mass. Luscious is one way I could describe the deliciousness of the lines and harmonies. The backdrop of rich male voices was like lying back in a tranquil sun-warmed sea.

Other pieces included Randall Thompson’s ravishing Alleluia (1940), Poulenc’s Exultate Deo (1941) and Howells’s Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, written in 1964 for the funeral of J.F.Kennedy – a more challenging, though moving, piece. There was also an excerpt from Rachmaninov’s Vespers (1915). As well as the contemporary pieces, there were sixteenth century works: Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus and John Sheppard’s setting of The Lord’s Prayer.

The choir sang gloriously from start to finish but have not, as yet, recorded these pieces, so I recommend you check them out on alternative recordings. They are wonderful for relaxation and reverie!

More people need the opportunity to hear this exquisite style of music

Talking about the concert to William Petter, the thirty-two year old conductor, we agreed that more people need the opportunity to hear this exquisite style of music and William said, “I challenge people to come and hear this music and not find it interesting, moving and captivating.”

Concerts take place at term-end time, with three being performed each year at St. George’s plus others further afield on occasion. I thoroughly recommend getting on Sine Nomine’s mailing list so you won’t miss the opportunity of attending next term’s concert. You can email them .

If you would like to join the choir, they welcome all voices as they want to sing in sixteen parts, which means having a membership of thirty-two. You would attend two sessions to sing and after that have an audition. You need to be able to sight-read music and be of a high performance standard as this programme was prepared in just ten weekly sessions, some of which are self-run!

Practical notes: There is free and easy parking both on road and in the church car park. The church is close to Bickley station and is well served by buses. Full disabled access and facilities are available, and the organisers could not have been more helpful to my party in this regard.

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Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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