Friends in Leicester lockdown become a Quarantine Choir hit


choir of four peopleIf you’re not one of the 68,000 people who’ve already viewed them on YouTube, you’re missing out on Leicester’s fast-becoming-famous Quarantine Choir.

The quartet’s hilarious, and really rather beautiful, rendition of Psalm 151 ‘in a time of coronavirus’ has taken the internet by storm, making people laugh the world over and giving life to something that started as a lark between four friends.  Listen to it here.

These musical maestros are John and Roxanne Gull, Francesca Burbela, and Chris Hiam - currently living together for mutual support during lockdown at the Gulls’ home in Aylestone.

Familiar faces around the Diocese of Leicester, John is a former Musical Director of St Thomas the Apostle Church in Wigston, and until recently was organist at St Anne’s Church in Western Park. His wife, Roxanne, was a former assistant organist at St James the Greater Church, and she currently directs the Leicester University Chamber Choir and teaches organ at English Martyrs’ Catholic School.

Their friend Francesca is a music student at the University of Birmingham and sings regularly in the choir her mother conducts at St Thomas More Church in Leicester; while Chris is currently training to be an English teacher and holds a Masters degree from the University of Leicester, where he developed his love of choral singing in the Chamber Choir.

John says it all came about because they’d seen a lot of their musical friends attempting to hold online choir practices and other collaborations via the internet during the coronavirus lockdown.

“It suddenly occurred to us how lucky we were that we could just about manage a vocal quartet at home,” he explains. “Nothing quite beats the sensation of blending your sound together in real time in the same space!”

The only snag was that Chris and John are both tenors. “But with a bit of judicious upward transposition and a few tweaks of the graphic equalizer, we managed to make a fairly balanced ensemble sound,” John says.

It was then that they hit on the idea of recording a piece of choral music each week to send out to local churches.

“With churches currently closed, and congregations not able to meet, we thought a little devotional music for meditation might bring churchgoers a little breath of comfort in the dark and difficult days, weeks and months ahead,” explains alto, Roxanne.

“After he heard our first recording of William Byrd’s Ave verum corpus, one local priest (whose identity remains a closely guarded secret!) penned the Psalm 151 and emailed it to us.  We immediately loved it, sang it out on YouTube, and the rest is history!”

The Quarantine Choir are amazed at how many views they’ve had and how far their video has travelled – 59 countries and counting - in just a week.

“Who could have predicted that Psalm chants by Wesley and Walmisley would have such broad appeal around the world in 2020?! It’s quite extraordinary!” says John.

The quartet are inspired by popular recordings made in the 1960s by The Master Singers, who humorously set the weather report and the UK Shipping Forecast to Anglican chant. 

“It started off as a bit of fun, and while we thought it might bring a little comfort and laughter to a small audience of our Facebook friends, I don’t think any of us expected so many thousands of people to see it!” explains soprano, Francesca.  

“Our Psalm 151 seems to resonate with people around the world who are currently unable to attend worship. We have miraculously struck a happy balance somewhere between silly and sacred!”

The Quarantine Choir plan to release something in time for every Sunday throughout the duration of the coronavirus lockdown.
“As we are locked in here with two pianos, an organ, various other instruments and the Gulls’ collection of sheet music, I have a feeling that we might end up recording all sorts of things over the coming months!” says tenor, Chris.

“As well as the more traditional devotional music we originally planned, we have a few ideas up our sleeves for fun items. We hope to bring a few smiles and lift people’s spirits at this difficult time.”

Listen here:

Psalm 151 

Ave verum corpus 

Who are the Quarantine Choir?
They are four friends, currently living together in Aylestone, Leicester, for mutual support during self-isolation/lockdown in the coronavirus crisis. 

Soprano, Francesca Burbela, is a music student at the University of Birmingham.  She is a keen all-round musician and dancer.  Francesca is a Roman Catholic, and sings regularly in the choir her mother conducts at St Thomas More Church in Leicester.  She sings with choirs in Leicester, Birmingham, and the National Youth Choir, and hopes to pursue a career in choral music after she graduates.
 
Alto is Roxanne Gull, a conductor, organist and teacher. She directs Leicester University Chamber Choir, where she works alongside husband John, and where they both met Chris and Francesca.  Roxanne is a former organ scholar of Christ’s College, Cambridge and Lincoln Cathedral, and has worked as Assistant Organist at St James the Greater Church in Leicester.  She now teaches organ at English Martyrs’ Catholic School, and is Artistic Director of Leicester MusicFest, a new music charity promoting opportunities for amateur musicians. 
 
Tenor is Chris Hiam, currently training to be an English teacher. Chris holds a Masters degree from the University of Leicester, where he first developed his love of choral singing when he joined the University Chamber Choir, later becoming the choir’s President and running the university’s Music Association.  He is a fan of amateur dramatics, having taken leading roles in various musical theatre productions.
 
Bass, John Gull, has had a lifetime in church music, beginning life as a choirboy in his village church choir in Nottinghamshire, then as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge.  He was organ scholar at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and then sang as a tenor lay clerk at Southwell Minster and later Lincoln Cathedral, where he met Roxanne.  They moved to Leicester in 2009 after John was appointed Musical Director at St Thomas the Apostle, South Wigston.  Until recently he was organist at St Anne’s Church in Western Park.  He currently teaches singing and piano from home, and is Chairman of the Leicester MusicFest charity.  John and Roxanne were married in 2016, and were blessed with a son, Mortimer, in January 2019.  Mortimer is already showing an enthusiasm for music, making his mark on the piano and organ at home!

 

 




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