Hundred-strong choir to celebrate centenary of Chichester's Priory Park

Emily Barden
Emily Barden

A choir of 100 voices has been put together to sing in Chichester’s Priory Park to mark the park’s centenary and also the centenary of the armistice which ended the First World War.

Emily Barden has assembled the choir to sing in Priory Park on September 30 when a special drum head service with Chichester City Band will take place in front of the park’s mound which will be covered by a cascade of poppies made by local school children.

200 carrier pigeons will be released as the 100 sing on the 100th anniversary of the 7th Duke of Richmond and Gordon giving Priory Park to the people of Chichester for their recreation and as a perpetual memorial to the fallen of the First World War.

The event will be the culmination of a programme of Priory Park 100 activities run by the Friends of Priory Park to mark the centennial year.

Emily was delighted how easily she managed to get the 100 singers together, in fact managing 110 – perfect in case any drop out.

“I was surprised how many people came forward that I didn’t already know. I knew that people from within my own choirs would want to do it, but it was really nice to get people who were responding to the place. One woman wanted to be part of it because she had met her husband in Priory Park.

“We had a fantastic first rehearsal in the Guildhall in Priory Park in June. We have rehearsed once a month in June, July and August and then twice in September, two hours each time, ten hours in all.

“And first of all, it was just fantastic to have 100 bodies in the Guildhall. I don’t know if there is much singing in there, but it was great. I always start with a warm-up, a crazy mixture of loosening bodies and minds and call and response and funny noises just to get people making noises with their own voices, and it quickly became apparent what 100 voices sound like in there! It makes an enormous sound, a really powerful sound. Everybody was gasping. It was great.

“I was worried about the number of men, but we ended up with about 20 which is really good from a sound perspective. They make a lot of sound, and it is really lovely to hear it coming together. Instead of being two or three basses in their own choir, they are 12 basses singing together in this really big sound.

“We started tackling the most difficult piece we will do, the Ave Verum, which is totally a capella. Because it totally unaccompanied, it is really dependent on getting everybody to hold pitch.”

On the day, the singers will sing the piece as carrier pigeons are released: “And then we move on to Jerusalem with the city band joining in, and then we go into a World War One medley with the city band, which will be a great sing-along – Long Way to Tipperary, The Roses of Picardy, Over There, Keep The Home Fires Burning and Pack Up Your Troubles.

“This is a really great group of people doing quite advanced repertoire. There was no pre-requisite that they had to be singers.”

Whether it will continue, Emily doesn’t know: “But the great thing is that it has brought together 100 people and I am sure that there will be relationships among them that will carry on.”

The timetable on the day is Sunday, September 30: drum head service at 11.30am; carrier pigeon release at 12 noon – The 100 Choir conducted by Emily Barden; unveiling of restored plaque at 12.15pm; evensong and blessing of the park at 3pm at the Guildhall.

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