The International Staff Songsters (Songster Leader Dorothy Nancekievill) visited Regent Hall Corps on the weekend of 5 – 6 April 2014, with a vocal workshop and festival on Saturday, and worship and and afternoon festival on Sunday.
The weekend started on Saturday afternoon with over 200 people accepting Songster Leader Nancekievill’s invitation to join the Staff Songsters for a two-hour vocal workshop. This was followed by various rehearsals for the evening festival.
Preliminary music for the Saturday night festival was provided by the Central London Youth Choir, led by Nicholas Hampton and Alan Williams. This was an impressive debut for this newly-formed choir, with members aged 13 – 25.
The festival, which had been sold out for weeks beforehand (unsurprising given the caliber of the participants), was attended by General André Cox. In addition to the International Staff Songsters, there were two guest vocal soloists: renowned opera baritone Nicholas Lester and musical theater star Lee Mead.
The concert began with the International Staff Songsters demonstrating their versatility with Introit: Psalm 24, moving on to the joyful Let All Things Praise and the thought-provoking Everywhere, which reminded everyone present that the love of God is everywhere. Deputy Staff Songster Leader Kerry Sampson (who is married to Nicholas Lester) reached improbably high notes in the solo All Rise, accompanied by the Staff Songsters.
The Rink is a slightly different West End stage for Lee Mead, but his relaxed singing style and easy-going manner were an instant hit with the audience, as he revealed that his great-grandmother had been a regular attendee at the Salvation Army. For one of his sets, he was joined by the young people, including his three-year-old daughter Betsy, in a performance of Any Dream Will Do from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Nick Lester strode down from the balcony to the platform for his opening aria, from Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). No costume was necessary; he captivated the audience as his powerful voice resonated throughout the hall. Later, Lester was accompanied by the Staff Songsters in a compelling version of I’ll Walk with God.
Just before the interval, the attendees from the afternoon workshop had an opportunity to show what they had learned, which they did in style. The sight and sound of a 260-member massed chorus, crowded on the platform and in the gallery, singing Worthy Is the Lamb and the “Amen Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah was awesome. At the conclusion of the evening, the massed chorus sang the lovely benediction The Lord Bless You and Keep You (John Rutter).
A collection taken during the festival raised £4,000 for the Salvation Army’s work in Brazil.
On Sunday, the Staff Songsters proved that they were up to the challenge of maintaining the momentum from the Saturday evening concert. The Sunday afternoon program consisted of the classic Jesus Himself Drew Near with more modern Salvation Army compositions. Rachel Gray gave a beautiful rendition of Handel’s aria Lascia ch’io pianga (Let Me Weep).
Throughout the day, the International Staff Songsters were supported by senior and junior sections from Regent Hall. Regent Hall Deputy Songster Leader Mark Walton conducted the combined International and Regent Hall Songsters in Sing for Joy. Regent Hall Band played Daniel, which usually features members of the band moving to different parts of the hall. Since the logistics of the crowded hall did not permit this, percussionists Glen Little and Chris House provided an extended ad lib drum display, to the delight and amazement of everyone present.
Regent Hall Band web site, original report by Jan Ambrose