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Senior School news

Composer John Rutter Meets Virtually With Choristers

09 February 2021

The Choristers recently had a Zoom meeting with famous composer John Rutter during one of their Saturday morning sessions.

Choristers Charlie and Rosemary have written about their experience meeting John. 

Charlie Collier - L4P

On Saturday 30th January, the boy and girl choristers of Norwich Cathedral had the pleasure of meeting John Rutter by zoom on one of their Saturday rehearsals. John is a renowned English composer aged 75. He began writing music as a student and is still writing music to this day. He was educated at Highgate School in London where, along with another renowned composer, John Taverner, he was a member of the choir, and found that he really loved and was passionate about singing. He then went to Clare College, Cambridge where he studied music and composed his first piece, the ‘Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’, and had it published. This carol was voted for by the choristers as the best piece composed by him. The choristers also had the hour-long session to ask him questions about his life and career.

Questions included ‘Where is the most unusual place your music has been performed?’ The answer to which was in a Norwegian iron ore mine! ‘Are there any other genres of music that you wanted to compose for?’ The answer was that he really wished that he had written music for musical theatre productions. ‘How do you start to compose a score?’ He said that he is normally commissioned to write something and he needs to understand every minute detail about what the commissioner wishes for. He needs to know the place where it is to be performed, the duration, capability of the musicians and who it will be performed to.

He also had some helpful tips for the choristers. These included enjoying every moment of being a chorister because when you look back, it is only a very short period. There will always be someone better than you; do not worry about what they are doing, always perform to the best of your abilities.

It was a real privilege for the choristers and their parents to spend this time with John Rutter. Thank you to the Master of Music, Mr Grote, for arranging the session. John got in touch with him having listened to the cathedral choir’s Christmas procession.

Rosemary Zhang - M5B

‘Meeting’ the well known choral composer John Rutter with the boy and my fellow girl choristers of Norwich Cathedral was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me. As an enthusiastic lover of Rutter’s many choral works, I cannot imagine being a chorister without singing any of his beautiful and fun pieces!

Actually being able to see John speak to us was such a privilege and I found him to be a very pleasant man which is a great experience as when you sing pieces by composers you can always see the immense amount of talent and skill in their writing but it is difficult to see what they really are like themselves! In some cases, this might even help improve your playing or singing as you will be able to better interpret what the composer really wants their pieces to sound like and what impressions should be given off of them.

While I was on the zoom call with John, some choristers were able to ask him questions and I found his answers to these very interesting and intriguing. One answer that he gave was about how he started to get involved and come in contact with music which was that he just started off as a child by playing on his parent’s untouched piano. This led him to have piano lessons which eventually brought him down the path of joining a choir at his school. I found this very interesting knowing that all of these amazing opportunities started just by him playing around on a few piano keys! Another answer he gave to a question was about the processes that he would go through to write music. Most of the time, Rutter was asked by someone to write a piece to be performed at a particular service or event and so he used these opportunities to find as much about the context of the performance as he could which could inspire him to write a piece that would fit the situation as best as it could. From this, I realised that to transition from being a good composer to an excellent composer was to also take into account external contexts and not just the theme or title of the piece in order to produce something truly unique and fitting. 

Being able to listen to John has enlightened me tremendously. One of the very inspiring things I found was that John wasn’t and isn’t actually a very good pianist (according to his own words) and this surprised me because Rutter is such an outstanding composer that you would think that he must also be a very prodigious pianist. This proves to everyone that if you want to be successful, you don’t have to be perfect and you don’t need to be able to master every skill possible but rather have a passion for the things you love.

Overall, I have learnt so much and really enjoyed the session with John Rutter and I hope that others will be able to get involved in events just the same as this was really special to experience and I will always remember it.