Music at its finest: The Hertfordshire Chorus

As cliché as this sounds, music has always been a big part of my life. My family have been greatly involved with music and I was brought up to appreciate a variety of genres. I started learning how to play the flute when I was eight years old and before joining my local church choir when I was ten, I sang in the choir at primary school.

Throughout my education, I have always joined clubs and societies that are music orientated, extra-curricular activities and music groups outside of school/college.  At one point, I was a member of three choirs and two orchestras, which all had rehearsals on a weekly basis and concerts every term. I still wonder to this day how I managed to do all of that alongside my GCSEs and A levels!

It is through music that I have received amazing opportunities, such as performing in prestigious venues (the Sage Gateshead in Newcastle, De Montfort Hall in Leicester and the NEC in Birmingham), participating in competitions and, best of all, meeting new people.

When I ventured down to Hertfordshire to study for three years, I was looking for music groups to join. There was the de Havilland Philharmonic orchestra, but I was no way at the standard they were looking for, but the Chamber Orchestra was set up during my second year at university. I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences with this society at university.

In the New Year of my first year, I heard about the Hertfordshire Chorus– I couldn’t believe it! I looked into the choir and it was just my cup of tea. I went to an open rehearsal where anyone is welcome to come along and have a go. I still remember that night when the choir sang Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42, Op.42; it’s been on my choral/classical playlist since then.

After a few rehearsals, I auditioned and was pleasantly surprised when I was offered to join as a first soprano! Never before had I auditioned for a choir, and the Hertfordshire Chorus is a prestigious one. I felt honoured to become a member and eagerly looked forward to what was in store for the next 2 ½ years.

It was great to be part of a choir that was outside of the university. The singers are friendly and talented individuals from all over Hertfordshire, some even from London! It was with this choir that I’ve had some of my most memorable music experiences, such as going on tour (something I had always wanted to do!) In April 2013, the choir went on tour in Prague, where we sang in three lovely churches and got to do plenty of sight-seeing. For the first time ever for an indoor concert, the choir members and I wore coats because it was so cold inside the church- the audience gasped when the conductor took his coat off, which he put back on after a while!

Another exciting opportunity I got to do was sing in a world premiere, which is currently on my CV as an achievement! In the summer of 2013, it was announced that a composer called James McCarthy had commissioned a piece called Codebreaker for the Hertfordshire Chorus. Codebreaker is a fifty-five minute piece of music, split into fourteen sections, which uses poetry and other literary texts to commemorate the life of Alan Turing (1912-1954). Turing was a British codebreaker of the Second World War who managed to crack the Enigma codes used by the Germans, which significantly helped with the war effort.


The commissioning of Codebreaker was exciting news for everyone in the choir, and to promote the music, a small bunch of us went to Bletchley Park for the day in September 2013 to make a promotional film to advertise it. It was at Bletchley Park where Turing worked alongside other codebreakers, a place which was kept a top secret during the war. Even after the war, everyone who worked at Bletchley Park was not allowed to reveal anything about the work that they did!

Filming at Bletchley Park! (St Albans Review) [You can just see me at the back]
After three months of rehearsals, the Hertfordshire Chorus performed Codebreaker for the first time on Saturday 26th April 2014 at the Barbican in London. My mum and her friend, some of my university friends and members of the Chamber Orchestra came along with hundreds of other people to witness this emotionally moving music by McCarthy.

Another member of the audience was Benedict Cumberbatch! He tried to make himself discreet, but he looked like Sherlock Holmes! It was absolutely amazing to see the actor there, since he played the role of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game (2014).

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH Character(s): Alan Turing Film 'THE IMITATION GAME' (2014) Directed By MORTEN TYLDUM 29 August 2014 SAM46084 Allstar Collection/BLACK BEAR PICTURES **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of BLACK BEAR PICTURES  and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To BLACK BEAR PICTURES is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company. 1111z@yx
Allstar/Black Bear Pictures/Sportsphoto Ltd

Codebreaker is so emotional because it musically travels through Turing’s life, his love interest for Christopher Morcom who died of tuberculosis at eighteen years of age, and when he was persecuted for being a homosexual (it was illegal to identify as one in Turing’s time). In 1952, he was offered a choice of sentence: prison or chemical castration. Turing chose latter, and suffered from the effects of this for the next two years.

Despite his hard work and dedication during the Second World War, Turing was heavily penalised for choosing to be a homosexual and sadly, in 1954, he committed suicide by eating an apple which contained cyanide.

It was a privilege to perform McCarthy’s Codebreaker, which pays homage to such a significant man, aka ‘the father of computer science’. I was crying towards the end of the piece when I performed it just over a year ago. It wasn’t emotional just for the audience, but for the performers as well.

I left the Hertfordshire Chorus in July last year when I returned back home to Leicester. I greatly enjoyed my time with the choir, singing fantastic pieces of music and getting to know people of varying ages. When I found out that the choir was performing Codebreaker again, I had to go!

So yesterday, along with my friend Cloud Mercury, who I went to university with and who watched the first performance of Codebreaker, we went to the Barbican to see the Hertfordshire Chorus perform McCarthy’s Codebreaker again, and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

It was certainly a different experience, sitting in the audience, but I enjoyed it. I got to hear Codebreaker from an audience member’s perspective, and it was truly magical. And Orff’s musical masterpiece was mind-blowing! I could see all performers enjoying themselves.

It was nice to see familiar faces and new ones in the Hertfordshire Chorus, and some of the members saw me and waved. It makes me feel proud to know that I was once part of such a fantastic choir, that continues to thrive and perform all over the country, and amaze all of its audiences!


Happy reading and blogging!


Many thanks,

Clare Bear





7 thoughts on “Music at its finest: The Hertfordshire Chorus

  1. Music is one of the most powerful activities for keeping people healthy and happy. This winter I will start teaching it to people suffering from Alzheimer, dementia and depression because I’ve concluded that it’s an ideal activity for keeping such diseases at bay. Keep singing! In Italy we say: “Canta che ti passa.” which means: “Sing and all your troubles will disappear.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] 3. Benedict Cumberbatch attended the world premiere of Codebreaker in April 2014 at the Barbican in London, a piece of music which explores the life of Alan Turing, which I sang in! It was commissioned for the Hertfordshire Chorus, a choir I was proud to be a part of for two years while I was studying as an undergraduate. More details about this are in one of my previous blogs. […]


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