Tag Archives: robert prizeman

A Church Year with Libera (20)

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, the final Sunday on the liturgical calendar. A day to celebrate that God has put all of creation under the dominion of his Son who freed us from sin through His death on the cross. He who died on Calvary now lives and reigns in Heaven. Does this mean He is far from us? No, because all of creation is touched and transformed by His love, a love that is stronger than any other power on earth and in heaven – even stronger than death. It is this vision of faith, for now and the future, that can fill our hearts with joyful obedience to the word of God, spoken in full in His Son, Jesus Christ. To this cause, the boys of Libera raise their voices to praise Him and ask for strength and courage. May this also be the blessing for each one of us as we close this church year and we look forward to the new year, starting again with Advent.

Thank you to all who have watched this series. May the joy of faith and singing be always with you!


Libera concert in London

After an intense period in my personal life, my boyfriend and I decided it would be a good idea after all to go to London for the Libera concert in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark on Friday November 16. And so it happened! 🙂 With thanks to viabuona and Yorkie from Libera Dreams for help with the tickets (yay!).

We checked into our hostel across from St. Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday. When we went for a walk to Buckingham Palace, the first thing that caught our eye were the many wreaths and poppies left behind from Remembrance Sunday. Everytime we would see them we would stop and it was a moving sight.

At Buckingham Palace we enjoyed clicking away with our cameras like the tourists we were 🙂 We enjoyed the sculptures of the Victoria Memorial and the smithwork of the Canada Gate, to the right of the palace. We also saw a very nice horse carriage pass between all the busy cabs, and guards marching in front of St. James’ Palace.

In St. James’ Park, next to the famous Mall, we marveled at the lovely autumn colours and gorgeous design of the plants and trees. After a short stroll along the water with many beautiful swans and geese, we relaxed on a bench and I even got to feed a squirrel 🙂

Ofcourse, no trip to London is complete without a choral evensong somewhere, and we ended up going to Westminster Abbey again. Always a treat, and an extra special one this time because there was also the admission of an honorary steward (a person who helps to welcome and direct the congregation, maintains order during worship and receives and offers alms). A short and very British ceremony – the medal for the honorary steward being presented on a cushion and everything 🙂 I even thought I recognised the lady in question from a previous visit. As for the choir, we were seated just a few seats away, on the decani side, and heard the cantoris side mostly. There were twelve boys on that side, they only just fit in the stalls! And five probationers as well. The singing was excellent as always and there was one ‘Amen’ in particular that really stood out in musicality. The anthem was Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, which was also sung at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. (I know because I bought a souvenir CD/DVD with music from that service and a tour of the Abbey in the Abbey Shop ;))
I also met a man from Oregon whose wife sings professionally with the Oregon Repertory Singers. Ofcourse, when asked, I told him the reason of my visit to London and made sure I did as much promotion for Libera and the concert as I could 🙂

We concluded the day with a decent dinner and going to see the Christmas lights at Regent Street which were a bit disappointing (we expected all kinds of figures and such but it was just a row of reindeer antlers), but we did run into a lovely little Japanese shop.

Exploring the city was also great the next morning, when we went to the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. On our way, we went into some bookstores, a Twinings tea shop, a church and even found our way through a street that reminded us of our previous trip to the UK 😉

At Somerset House, we already got a bit Christmassy, watching people skate next to a huge Christmas tree.

In the Courtauld Gallery, a modest but very nice gallery of art from medieval times to the 20th century, we marveled at the gorgeous staircase and many beautiful paintings and sculptures.

Having feasted our eyes and our mouths (they serve great lunch too), it was time to head for the place to be: St. George’s Cathedral. As we crossed Waterloo bridge we had a perfect moody, foggy view of Westminster with Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.

When we arrived at the cathedral, I was impressed by the crucifix outside and we saw a small poster advertising the concert.

At that time, just after 4pm, it was still possible to go inside, where the Kinetic String Quartet and Tom Cully were rehearsing with the sound people, including Sam Coates. There was also a photographer walking around the stage area, so maybe there were pictures taken that night.

We shook hands with fans from all over the world and I even received two very nice choral CD’s from Yorkie and viabuona. It was nice to be able to sit in this relaxed and warm atmosphere, hear parts of Libera songs and get excited about the concert.

At one point I spotted Robert Prizeman talking to Sam Coates and since we had exchanged e-mails before I ventured to the front to introduce myself. Poor Robert, he was in such a hurry he had no time to remember who I was, but said “Lovely to have met you, sorry, gotta run, maybe I’ll see you later.” That didn’t happen, but oh well 😉

Ofcourse, we couldn’t stay in the back of the church forever and a friendly gentleman allowed us to sit in the adjacent building, where it was warm and there were tables, chairs and three banners promoting Libera and telling their story in words and pictures. Very nice to see!

Now the waiting could really begin. At one point, Steven Philipp came in and explained that premium ticket holders would be allowed in first through the door of that waiting room, and then the people with general tickets would be allowed in from outside. This caused some confusion whether or not general ticket holders who were also in the waiting room, because they were so early (like us), would also be allowed to ‘queue’ inside. Luckily, a lady working for Libera later confirmed that yes, this was the case. Yay 🙂 I got a bit nervous while it was still unclear but I appreciate Libera’s effort to improve how they manage the whole queueing business.

Queueing is mostly waiting but sometimes very nice things happen. For instance, there was a lady from (I think) Japan who went to the lady selling tickets, asking if there were any left. Apparently she had come all this way to London to see Libera, even without a ticket. Her courage paid off: a fan offered his spare ticket to her. The joy and surprise on her face were priceless.
A very different moment occurred when suddenly Sammy Moriarty appeared in the waiting room in his normal outfit and carrying a sports bag, not sure what the exact entrance to the church was 😉 He was then kindly directed to where he should go 😉

Then finally at 7pm the door swung open and we could find our seats! For some reason, our tickets were never checked but in the slight confusion caused by this, we still managed to find a seat on the third row from where the general admission seats started.

We sat next to a boy who is a friend of Libera newbie Alex Montoro and we got the impression there were indeed many choir parents in the church that night. Behind us were parents with their kids who knew the people next to us and on the last row of the VIP seats in front of us was a young boy engrossed in his colouring books who looked terribly familiar, like Ciaran but different.

I’ll run through the setlist now and share my thoughts on the songs. In general I can say it was a splendid night, it was great to see and hear a full choir again (not as in Arundel, when the bigger boys and therefore the lower voices were absent). With 34 choristers on stage (five newbies, three of them singing only part of the concert) it sure looked crowded! All in all I found this concert the best of the four I’ve been to, comparable to the first time I saw them (Dublin 2009, front row ;)). By the way, check out other blogs and forums for precise details about soloists, I didn’t remember all of them, since there was often more than one soloist (a new trend perhaps?).

Dies irae/Gloria
Great opening, directly catches your attention, very lively. I liked the transition from Dies irae to Gloria, very smoothly done. I was touched when I saw Ralph and Stefan in the back row, with the bigger boys like Daniel and Tiarnán. It was like they earned their place in this ‘hall of fame’. Although it’s a bittersweet joy, as they both don’t sing solo anymore. With every loss there is a gain, and vice versa.

Eternal Light
Jude struggled with a cough in the beginning but he stood his ground which always wins me over. When a singer, especially this young, has to be brave like this and something gets in the way, it always makes me sympathetic for him. In this case I have to admire his confidence and the way he delivered his solo with full conviction to the end, including the long ending notes. Also hats off to the rest of the choir for backing him like they did. It was touching to see Josh stand behind him, who must know what Jude was going through at that moment and who was providing both vocal and moral support. So, not a musically perfect performance but still precious.

Voca Me
The first true highlight of the evening. It was so exciting to hear this song that was never sung live before until the concerts in Northern Ireland earlier this month. I thought the arrangement of the new voices worked great – it’s risky to hear a song that you’re only used to in one version in a new one but in this case it was fresh and exciting. Combined with the dramatic lighting it was a pretty adventurous experience. The climax left me breathless. What a vocal force. Absolutely amazing.

A song to settle back comfortably and just revel in the lovely harmonies. For some reason I could distinguish more parts than usual which was nice and refreshing.

I Vow to Thee My Country
Once again sung by Matthew Jansen on solo and once again he delivered formidably. This is now ‘his’ song as fas as I’m concerned. He sings it with such sincerity and with a very gentle voice and he tackles the jumps between high and low notes with great artistry. Very moving, and he seems to be the kind of modest star that Libera has a history of.

Salva Me
Same as in Arundel, with Matthew Rangel-Alvares shining on the high Salva’s.

Be Still My Soul
Another breathtaking song. They started out a cappella which truly showcased their vocal strength and ability. Just stunning. The strings came on almost unnoticed, bringing the song gently to more depth and feeling. It really touched my heart.

How Shall I Sing that Majesty
I liked how the lights were on the crucifix statue way up high above the altar. A song like this really comes to life in a setting like St. George’s Cathedral. Eoghan sang all the solo parts by himself and proved that he could pull it off. His voice has gained richness and strength, wonderful to hear when compared to his first appearance as a soloist in March 2011. Again the full choir finale to this was just wow. Big, strong, filling the space with vocal sounds.

Time to stretch our legs and get refreshments. Who can refuse a glass of red wine on a night like this? I also tried to get people on the Libera team to arrange for signatures on a T-shirt I brought. Last year I won a bet with LennesSL from Libera Dreams that I wouldn’t listen to the Christmas album until Christmas Eve. In return she got me a fanmade T-shirt that I designed, which I brought to the concert. Unfortunately the Libera staff people didn’t manage to get it signed for me. Oh well, maybe next time.

(This is me in the T-shirt. It says Faithful Heart in pink at the bottom :))

In the back of the church I saw a young boy trying to sing like Libera to one of his parents. So if he’s the next star soloist in a couple of years, I was there when it all started, hehe. I also saw several people praying and lighting candles in front of a statue of Christ on the cross and a pietà. It was very moving to see that despite all the busy excitement on a night like this, a Libera concert also generates prayer.

On a more secular note: I noticed that besides Song of Life (advertised as a ‘brand new album’, even though it’s a greatest hits collection), The Christmas album and Libera car stickers there was nothing else on sale. None of the other albums were there. And the copies that were, were sold as ‘the last ones in stock’. Does EMI not supply them properly? Nor did Steven Philipp come up like he did in Arundel to promote the merchandise and encourage people to spread the word about Libera. I wonder why.

There wasn’t much time to muse on these matters though, as the second part of the concert would soon start. When we were seated again, I suddenly noticed Jude and five of his ‘colleagues’ (I think Michael Menezes and Thomas Delgado-Little were among them) being directed to the pew directly behind Sam Coates’ mixing desk. I couldn’t resist grabbing a snapshot of this moment that was exclusively reserved for general ticket holders 😉

These six boys filed in procession to the stage as Mysterium started, while the rest of Libera entered stage from the right.

A great dramatic, mysterious opening that immediately captivated the audience.

I loved how this dark mood changed into the light and bouncy temperament of Orinoco Flow. That’s what I call working creatively with your well-known material! It put a smile on my face and I was moving in my seat ’cause it’s such a happy song 😉

Far Away
Isaac sang the solo again and he really makes this a new song, very light.

The Fountain
A song that has a special significance and feeling for me since the first time I heard it. This would be the first time without Ralph as soloist. I was pretty anxious to hear how it would sound and was pleased that Matthew Jansen stepped up to take Ralph’s place. I could hear the same silvery, smooth elegance and serious tone in his voice that Ralph has, and which makes The Fountain such a haunting song. He didn’t project the same strength that Ralph has though, but his sound is very beautiful. I have to say that through my binoculars I looked at Ralph mostly. I wondered how it must feel for him to sing this song now. Ofcourse he had to learn a whole new part and let someone else take over his solo. Somehow, I don’t know why, in his case and with this song, this process gets to me more than in any other case. All in all it was an emotional experience.
What added to this was the short piano introduction by Josh, playing the motif of the Prelude by Chopin that The Fountain is based on. Talk about growth and letting go. Josh has seen so much come and go in the choir. And this Prelude, written for and played on the piano, added a lot of extra depth and meaning to me. In February I lost my grandmother on my mother’s side. At her funeral, one of my aunts played this Chopin Prelude. In October I lost my mother. She used to play piano and encouraged me to play it as well. All of this ran through my mind as I heard Josh play those notes. So much came together in so little time. There’s just something about this song that no matter how sad it makes me feel, the words of the song ring true through it all: ‘to wash all sorrow in waves of peace and love…’

Grateful Heart
A lovely little duet. I still wonder when we’ll get to see a recorded version of it. Thomas Delgado-Little and Michael Ustynovych-Repa shared this song and I have to say Thomas made a very strong impression. His clear and powerful voice makes me think he’s a promise for the future. Paired with Michael’s softer tone this was a nice little gem.

Ave Verum
Another highlight, again because of emotional depth. At the climax, the famous V formation was formed and Tiarnán stood in front, with Ralph on his left hand side. Modest, steadfast Tiarnán, shining with a big smile, singing this almost anthemic song, and Ralph, whose position on stage added emotional impact to the experience, also beaming. Just made me feel warm and proud inside. Plus it’s just a great piece of music that works everytime.

It was time for a speech again (I forgot who made the other ones but they were basically the same as always: about Moose, the robes and so on). Daniel, or should I say: deep-voiced Daniel ;), explained how exciting and surprising it can be when your voice changes and you have to learn how to use your new voice – ‘though it can make some unexpected noises at first’. It struck me when he said that some boys on stage were singing the lower harmonies for the first time. Ofcourse he also meant Stefan and Ralph. And once again I felt that little pang of loss. Especially when he announced the next song, which Ralph also used to sing the solo of for a while:

Solo now very beautifully sung by Eoghan. Moving to see them all kneeled, as usual. Again the space and architecture of the church added to this experience.

Stay With Me
Another classic that always goes down well. I find that Cassius makes this song much breezier than when Daniel sang it, like he´s happily flying in the sky 🙂

Glory to Thee
Another absolute highlight of Eoghan as soloist. His voice is simply maturing into gold. I didn’t hear the lower voices as much as I hoped in the canon but the concluding ‘Amen’ was just perfect. The whole song truly felt like an evening prayer to me.

Already it was the last song of the evening but we went out with a blast. All the colours of the rainbow shone across the church and I saw a mother dancing with her baby carried on her chest. Thomas sang his solo a bit nervous but his voice was really suited to this happy and powerful song, as was Steven’s recorder. A great finale.

Followed ofcourse by a standing ovation and tonight’s encore: the one and only signature song Libera.
Eoghan once again shone in this and Josh showed his legendary smile. Another standing ovation, bows were taken and we clapped and clapped as the boys finally waved goodbye.

Had it all really happened? I think so. It must be.
It was strange to be on the underground again so soon and back in the hostel. But the next morning my memories were still there. Thank you Libera, Robert Prizeman, all the musicians, sound people, organisers, fans, church people and last but not least all the parents who help make this all possible. It was a great night that truly lifted my spirit.

A Church Year with Libera (19)

Today is All Souls’ Day. We remember and honour our loved ones who have died and pray that they may live in the glory of God.
I dedicate this video to my mother who passed away on 22 October 2012.

A Church Year with Libera (18)

Today is All Saints’ Day. In the history of Christianity, countless men and women have dedicated their lives to God’s love in many different ways. They have become known as saints, people whose lives testify of their belief in a richness of life beyond mortal misery. Saints can inspire and help us on our own journey to live in that faith. This journey can be one of great struggle. It is in this struggle we can depend on our connection to all those faithful people then and now, saints known and unknown.

A Church Year with Libera (17)

Tomorrow, 29 September, is the feast of All Angels. Angels are messengers of God and sing His praise. The Bible regularly tells of angels visiting earth. For instance when Jacob sees a ladder in the desert with angels going up and down, or when angels appear to shepherds in the fields announcing the birth of Christ, proclaiming: fear not!
Many people believe in guardian angels who protect them and watch over them. Often this belief in angels has given great comfort and strength. As humans, we can feel close to angels, even though they are such supernatural divine beings. It is something of this wonderful mystery we hear the boys of Libera sing in Latin. They urge the angels on to praise God. May we too feel as if angels walk among us in our own lives.

Robert Prizeman interview from 2006

Doing a Google image search can lead to some nice surprises. Yesterday I was looking around for pictures of the interior of St. Philip’s church in Norbury, to freshen my happy memories of visiting there. As I was doing so, I found a link to an article by Bryan Harris from the monthly Anglican newspaper The Bridge from May 2006, with a profile of the St. Philip’s parish AND a rare interview with Robert Prizeman!

The interview features some nice insights about the origin of Libera, the way their style developed, the role they play in the parish and Robert’s keen ear for finding talented newbies. The full article can be found here. This is part of the interview, with some comments inbetween by yours truly ;):

The origins of Libera stem from Robert’s arrival at St Philip’s Norbury as Choir Director 20-plus years ago. There was already an established choir but with Robert came a new focus.
“We began to do more outside concerts and started to develop our own style of singing – less and less a conventional church choir”.
When Robert was asked to create a piece of music for a TV programme, the boys sang it – and Libera (Latin for ‘free’) was born!

(I assume this is the piece of music the author refers to:)

About the importance and the challenges of Libera’s church roots:

“Libera is a group of people – but it’s also a style – spiritual but accessible with words that are not off putting” said Robert.
At first they tried to keep it under wraps that Libera was a church choir. “Of course we want church people to enjoy it but we also wanted to make music for everyone.
We recruit from a wide range of backgrounds, mostly from years 3 and 4 in local schools. But it’s very difficult these days. We don’t always realise how separate our church culture is from the rest of the community. Few people outside a church know what a choir is and most boys don’t know how to sing.
When I go to a school to ‘listen’ I usually take one of the older boys with me – when he sings most of the pupils are amazed at the sound. We look for potential rather than ability – sometimes we come across a really talented boy who has never sung before. A couple of verses of ‘Away in a manger’ which is all many can manage and an aural test and I can usually tell whether a boy will make it.”

(As testified by current choristers like Kavana, Ralph and Cassius, boys are still recruited from different local schools by the music teachers. I wonder if, six years after this article was published, Libera and their style of singing has become more known among school children in the UK.)

Most of the boys don’t come from church backgrounds but being part of Libera means being part of the St Philip’s Church Choir – and singing regularly on Sundays.
“You can only sing well if you sing regularly and Sundays are just as important as the twiceweekly rehearsals. And of course it can be ‘evangelistic’ as parents, grandparents come to church to support the boys”.

About fame:

It’s no exaggeration to say that they were treated like pop idols in the Far East – press conferences, TV interviews, screaming fans. So why are there no screaming fans chasing them down the streets of south London? Says Robert “It’s perhaps cultural preconceptions that hold them back in the UK. The music isn’t hip enough for the ‘pop’ generation and not traditional enough for the classics buffs”.

Which explains why the Libera fan community is a crazy world of its own 😉

(Robert rehearsing with Callum Payne, Michael Horncastle (?) and Tom Cully. Note the absence of sheet music! ;))

The article also features an interview with former Vicar Patrick Washington and his wife Jean, who comment with praise on the St. Philip’s Church Choir (and its crazy fans, even back then! :D):

“It’s a good noise” Jean Washington agreed “But what really matters is that it’s an inclusive noise. It would be easy for the congregation to sit back and enjoy a performance, but they join in too”.

Patrick Washington:
“Their success is due largely to Robert – he sets very high standards and gets extreme loyalty and commitment from the boys. And as a church we benefit from that. When they are here on a Sunday we see more young people in the congregation. We very often have their parents with us, we have people who come just to hear them – we had a ‘fan’ from Poland and one from the States came at Easter for example – and of course, Libera training includes training in faith, which means that a significant number stay on as adult church members”.

(Patrick Washington leading worship together with the St. Philip’s Church Choir. Who can you spot? :))

As a bonus to this post, here is the view from the choir stalls at St. Philip’s, as photographed by Matthew Reames at a Christmas Carol service from 2006. This is what the boys see on a Sunday! 🙂

And if, after all of this, you wonder how and where it once started: take a look at this, a memorial plaque on the south wall of the St. Philip’s choir stalls, showing the timeless tradition of choral worship, that honours the foundation and consecration of the St. Philip’s church, the place where all things Libera began…! 🙂 (picture by John Salmon)

Libera sheet music

EDIT: I decided to remove the first part of my original blog post about a website with Libera sheet music. This website was made by Libera fan Ellensi who posted her own transcriptions of Libera songs. Sadly, she decided to close her website, in order to support Libera and their composers. There is a possibility of Libera publishing official sheet music in the future and in that case, her website with unofficial transcriptions would be harming possible sales of the official copies. Also, some Libera songs are arrangements of existing pieces with their own copyright. Many fans are waiting for Libera sheet music to play and/or sing the songs themselves, so let’s hope Libera goes ahead with publishing and selling them! They must know there is a market for it.
In the meantime, you can still enjoy what Ellensi has to say about her experience of playing in Libera’s string quartet in Singapore.

Here’s her story, as shared on Libera Dreams and the Libera Timeline:

“We were just from our university string orchestra. We had a network with the event organiser, and they invited us to collaborate with Libera as a quartet.

We rehearsed with the boys for a very short time only, so I didn’t feel working with them in one room. We were involved more with the music and sound-engineering works. They did an excellent concert planning. Before the concert day, we got some quartet sheet music and tracks for listening. We discovered that they used such unguessable sound-engineering techniques to make the boys sing in pitch and in tempo.
During the concert, from earpieces we all listened to the pre-recorded tracks , plus “clicks” (tempo guidance). That’s why they could keep their tempo exactly the same as their tempo on CD recordings. And that’s why they could start singing a song on-pitch (e.g. “Glory To Thee”), start a song altogether (e.g. “Dies Irae”), and finish a long-note ending altogether with the accompaniments (e.g. “How Shall I Sing”).

I knew Libera just when I was invited to perform, and we only met them on the concert days.
But Libera, together with their crew, has really been an inspiration for me! :D”

I sure can believe that, Ellensi! Thank you for sharing your musical talent and inspiration with us 🙂