Friday, 26 November 2010


Yesterday was a triumph. Believe it or not, the first time all 40 singers had performed together was during the performance at 6.30. We’d had a run at 5pm with 39 of them, but the last singer rushed rushed through the doors just as the audience was arriving! Everyone looked incredible, having dressed fabulously, yet appropriately for their style of their singing. We had early music singers in 17th Century corsets, opera singers in fabulous frocks, musical theatre performers in black tie and sequins, the Navy boys in full uniform with swords, Magdalene College chaps in university robes and folkers wearing garlands of corn in their hair. Everyone looked so wonderful and colourful and acted their way through the music beautifully. There was one moment, whilst the gospel choir were singing “we to a little house on the Bank Side and saw the fire grow” when I swear they were seeing the fire itself in a giant arc engulfing the City on the other side of the water. All the performers shone – every single one of them.

The full choirs

It was our coup de theatre that seemed to get most people excited. At the end of the second movement the choir went from standing in a clump in front of the audience to standing in a circle around them. We performed the last movement therefore in complete surround sound. This dissected the music – and gave it space, so that people could really hear the choirs working as individual units within the whole sound. It was very exciting as well for people in the audience to have at least one group of singers within touching distance.

Benjamin and the Navy Boys

It was an utterly engaging experience for the audience. When a choir dresses in black, and buries their heads in their score, the audience become passive observers and might as well be watching the performance on a television. If the choir in front of them is dressed in a riot of colours and every face is contorted with the emotion of every line, then they're dragged, kicking and screaming into the experience. Of course, this approach won’t work for everyone. Some people love to sit in an audience with their eyes closed, allowing the music to wash over them and I suspect these people might have been rather freaked out by our performance.

Katherine from the "trebles" choir

That said, most of the audience genuinely seemed to love it. So many people rushed up to me afterwards, and there's been a steady stream of emails all day today. A lady even came up to tell me she brought news from God, who's apparently been lighting fires for me for the past ten years and wanted me to know that I had a very bright future ahead. It was a lovely thing to be told, but I hope she wasn’t trying to blame me for the Great Fire of London!

After the performance, I was presented with a bottle of champagne by the church, a wonderful hat from the Navy Boys and a programme signed by everyone. All items I shall cherish forever... until I drink the champagne, that is.

Oranges and Lemons was a triumph as well, and it was fabulous that so many people came back to perform the work. We were also joined at the last moment by my very dear friend, Tash, who performed in orchestras with me when we were children.

Add to this, an audience filled with deeply loving friends and family, all of whom seemed genuinely thrilled to be sharing my happiness. My Mother said this morning how astonishingly loyal my friends are. Philippa was in floods of tears, Meriel and Roy were on their feet afterwards, cheering, as were the two Matts. Edward and Ellen sent wonderful text messages. And the choir itself, peppered with people I've known for years, and of course my brother singing in Oranges and Lemons. It was engulfing and overwhelming and I felt like the luckiest man alive.

To answer the question posted on my blog yesterday, yes, a CD IS being cut of 5 of the movements of the work, which the church is going to sell for something like £15. If you'd like a copy, email me at and I will forward the details to the necessary people. In the meantime, if you'd like to hear our recording, you can go to Pour yourself a nice cup of tea, find a pair of headphones, and allow the music to pull you in. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It’s a double bill tonight on the Pepys diary front because I was so drunk last night when I came to write my blog that I could barely remember how to sign into my account.

Sunday 25th November 1660 and Pepys was doing a tour of many of the churches in the City of London. He visited his parents and found his mother very ill and suffering from her bladder and kidney stones.

Monday 26th November 1660 and Pepys dined at home with his father; “who seems to take much pleasure to have a son that is neat in his house.” He spent the afternoon in the Navy office and then went to the pub, where he talked about poetry, returning home to discover that Sir William Batten’s wife had called in on Elizabeth, the first visit she’d ever made, which pleased Pepys very much because it was another indication that his wife was being accepted into society.


  1. A triumph, Benjamin, on so many levels. It was as if Sam and Elizabeth came alive in their finery and paraded before us in that last movement, just as they had in the London of 1669. The distance in time between us and them just melted away - it was EXTRAORDINARY!! The performers and you gave it their all.

    The readers were great and set the scene beautifully, taking us piece by piece into the world of the Diary.

    Nathan's singing was also really moving and his conducting spellbinding.

    It was wonderful to hear 'Oranges and Lemons' again: a truly remarkable and vivid piece. London has found its very own anthem, I swear!

    Such a great inauguration as well of the new lights at 'our own church'.

    Hugs - Mr WM Non-H

  2. Great stuff, Ben. It was a night we'll all remember for a long time, especially - as you say - the theatrical resonance of the magical third movement. And would we ever have found Fenchurch and St Olave's otherwise? Enjoy your short rest before the next adventure beckons. Jim X