Interview with Godwine Choir

We sat down with Edward Hughes, conductor and co-founder of the Godwine Choir to hear about their upcoming Christmas concert and what it takes to build a choir from scratch.

Godwine Choir began singing together in April last year. What was it that motivated you to found the group?

Godwine came into existence over a conversation with a few friends in the pub. We’d just been singing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in the Royal Albert Hall with a choir of over 200 and we agreed that, although large-scale chorus singing can provide an amazing experience, we missed the intimate chamber choir singing which had formed such an important part of our lives at university.

Aren't there enough choirs in London already?

We wanted to sing in a young choir (roughly aged between twenty and thirty) and perform lesser known repertoire but we found that none really matched these criteria. After emailing round our contact lists we discovered that there were many other graduates living in London who felt the same way, so we took the plunge and founded Godwine!

How did it develop?

Since our first concert of English madrigals, the group has grown from around 20 to 45 singers. We’re now able to choose which 30 or so singers we’d like for each concert which is a real luxury. We felt like we’d really 'made it' when we were asked to sing the premiere of carol by Roderick Williams for the Financial Times charity concert!

How does your work with charities relate to the choir?

I think that there are two particular ways you can change people’s lives with music: one is by providing genuinely transformative experiences through your performances and the other is by raising money and giving to those in need. In the past we’ve supported Poppy Appeal and we’re now working with St George’s Church in Borough where we sing morning services. The members of the congregation come from all walks of life but its very fulfilling to see that their appreciation of the music is the same - from millionaires working in Bank to people from Elephant and Castle, worried about encroaching gentrification.

Around this time London is packed with Christmas concerts. What makes Godwine’s latest offering stick out from the crowd?

Our concert is a journey towards Christmas. The first half begins with more reflective works by Byrd and Britten and ends with the headline piece, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. While I’m sure the Fantasia will be performed elsewhere in London this Christmas, we like to think our performance will be unique in its intimacy, set as it will be in the small acoustic of St Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate, lit by candlelight.

After an interval of mulled wine and mince pies, we'll enter fully into the Christmas spirit with a variety of carols. Alongside seasoned favourites, we’ll be performing some less well-known repertoire such as Mendelssohn's Christus and Michael Muliner's In the Bleak Midwinter. I can guarantee it's the only place in London, if not the world, where you’ll hear that performed!

We end with a partner piece to the Vaughan Williams: Bob Chilcott’s On Christmas Night. One thing the Godwine choir has always tried to do is to have pieces in every concert which are completely accessible, and this sequence of eight original carols offers just that.

We noticed that you've used Encore to promote the event. How have you found using the site?

What you guys are doing is extremely important and useful. When I think back to starting choirs and orchestras at university I remembering encountering two issues which are almost impossible to solve alone: how do you fix people and how do you make sure that you are fixed. Encore provides the tools to complete these time-consuming tasks. It’s also wonderful to have a presence online where you can interact with musicians socially.

Finally, what's the story behind the name?

St. Alphege is one of the patron saints of St. George's where we rehearse. He was also given the title Godwine (originally pronounced "God winner") which we reckoned was a more memorable name than Alphege. That being said, we do rather like good wine, and audience members in the past have assumed that's where the name comes from!

Click here to reserve tickets for 'On Christmas Night'.