How Betty and Mary created a delightful concert series at Norwich's Octagon Chapel
PUBLISHED: 16:24 08 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:17 09 April 2014
It was 30 years ago when Betty Rathbone had a brainwave... to realise the potential of a beautiful and inspiring centre of worship in the heart of old Norwich.
She had always thought that the elegant Georgian Octagon Chapel in Colegate could be a glorious concert venue so in 1984 she had an idea to start the Octagon Concert Series and met a music teacher called Mary Rae.
The rest, as they say is history. We have much to thank them for.
Now retired, Mary, is still the organiser of the Octagon Concert Series which is somewhat unusual in as much that no musician receives any fee or expenses, and that proceeds are donated to various charities and good causes nominated by the performers.
Over the last three decades thousands of pounds has been raised for hundreds of charities or good causes, both local and national.
For the first concert in November 1984 Mary asked her friend and colleague from Heartsease High School, Shirley Hallums, to help her get a choir and to conduct the concert. The choir enjoyed singing and decided to stay together. After a few years, it was suggested that they had a name, and as they rehearse in the Octagon, they became known as the Octagon Singers.
Mary took over from Shirley as conductor in 2000 and when she retired from teaching she started Wednesday Music at the Octagon, lunchtime events lasting 60 minutes.
But for more than 20 years the main concert of the year is on Good Friday which is on April 18 – and it will be a rare musical treat this year with a Norfolk flavour. It will be given by the Octagon Singers with An Invited Orchestra (leader Rachael Turner) conducted by Mary, with soloists Katharine Horton (soprano), Susannah Self (mezzo) and Anthony Joule (bass).
This year a new work will be performed. After last year’s Good Friday concert Susie Self, also a composer, asked if she could write for the Octagon Singers and the result is Magdalene, a powerful and moving sacred cantata.
Professional singer Susie, based in London and with a home in Norfolk, has dedicated this moving piece to her mother Penny Drinkwater and will be singing the alto solos in the work.
The daughter of poet John Drinkwater, Penny was evacuated to America during the Second World War. She returned as a young woman and married Susie’s father, barrister Michael Self QC who became a Recorder of Norwich.
The concert will start with the Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck orchestrated especially for the concert by Norfolk composer Kenneth Ian Hÿtch. The second half will be the beautiful and popular Requiem by Gabriel Fauré.