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Friends of Sidholme Music Room

ISCA VOICES on Sunday 4th November 2018

By Rachel Bennett Friends of Sidholme Music Room

Wednesday, 7 November 2018


Friends of Sidholme Music Room Contributor




This Sunday afternoon’s concert was given by “Isca Voices”, directed by Stephen Tanner. The girl chorister section of Exeter Cathedral Choir was founded by Stephen Tanner in 1994.  In 2008, Stephen decided to create an opportunity for former girl choristers to continue to sing together; “Isca Voices” was born.  Since 2016, former boy choristers have been welcomed to the group not only to sing the lower vocal parts, but also as “The Isca Band” to add a light-hearted instrumental dimension to some of the group’s concerts.  After four or five years as cathedral choristers, these young people are already very experienced performing musicians, both vocally and instrumentally.  That experience and training shone through in the concert on Sunday afternoon, as these young people (the majority of whom were aged only 14-17) gave a poised and professional performance of 18 items from Renaissance Polyphony to “Pop”, managing to successfully adapt their “style” to a large range of genre at a standard way beyond their years.

The concert began with a group of four songs from the singers’ “traditional cathedral chorister” roots, sung by all SATB voices.  The balance was surprisingly good, considering that, not only, were the boys outnumbered by the girls, but their average age was younger (all five being 14-16 years old) and their tenor and bass voices still very young.  A highlight had to be hearing a beautifully resonant bass low C (C2) from 15 year old Theo Collins on the final chord of Bruckner’s “Locus Iste”.

The girls sang the next group of songs which were largely of an “easy listening” genre.  They particularly shone in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Wishing you were somehow here again”, where the audience was also treated to the warm lower range of 15 year old soloist Stephanie Seedhouse’s voice.  The girls sang with passion and conviction.

The next group of songs was sung by the combined forces and consisted of two Traditional Spirituals arranged by Stephen Tanner, and two Traditional African songs arranged by Henri Otsomotsi for Soweto Gospel Choir.  From the tapping of the audience’s feet and the rapturous applause at the end, this was a particularly popular section of the concert, and “Mbube” was a clear audience favourite.  The piece featured a stylistic, confident and polished solo by Lauren Benson, whilst “By the Rivers of Babylon” treated us to an audience-commanding solo by Hannah Deasy.  The spirituals arranged by Stephen Tanner also provided the lower voices of the boys with an opportunity to shine through the texture and show their “character”.  In all of these pieces, the boys and girls worked together and presented the pieces with commitment to the style, and enthusiasm.

The girls sang the next three items, which were from the “popular” genre, and included a “Coldplay” item (“Everglow”), as do most of Isca’s concerts in honour of the close link between the two groups; Stephen Tanner taught Coldplay’s Chris Martin music (including composition) at Exeter Cathedral School, as he did all the boys and girls of Isca Voices.  We heard a musically sensitive solo from Lizzie Coldrick at the end of this piece.

The final two programmed songs– “Stand by Me” (Lieber/Stoller/King) and “Little Eyes” (Trad Cornish) – both arranged by Stephen Tanner - were sung by all the performers, with passion and enthusiasm, and once again set the audience’s feet tapping, rounding off a feast of a musical journey from a talented group of teen-aged and young adult musicians who first had their musicianship nurtured and grown as part of their training as choristers in Exeter Cathedral Choir and School.

As an “encore”, Isca Voices sang a rhythmically rousing arrangement of the Traditional Spiritual “Down by the Riverside”, with the words, “I aint gonna study war no more” coming through clearly.

Whilst the reputation of Isca Voices as an upper-voices group of former girl choristers is already firmly established, it is relatively “early days” for the expanded group including the young adult voices of the former boy choristers.  However, if Sunday afternoon’s concert is anything to go by, the future of Isca Voices is going to be very exciting.  With the boys also providing instrumental items as “Isca Band” in a jazz/improvisational style in some concerts, and the addition of adult singers linked with Exeter Cathedral Choir to enable foreign tours (Paris 2017, Rome 2018), this group is definitely one to follow.  As a member of the audience said to me after the concert, “Someone please tell these kids never to give up singing; the future of music in Devon is safe in their hands”.

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Sidholme Music Room, Elysian Fields, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8UJ


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