About the choir

The Highbury Chamber Choir was founded in 1987 as an a capella group of between twenty and twenty-five singers. We sing music from across the entire history of Western choral music, but our focus is upon works from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

While most of the repertoire we sing is unaccompanied, from time to time we perform works with organ or a small instrumental ensemble, such as Bach cantatas or Purcell verse anthems.

The choir is directed by Nicholas Spice.

Rehearsals and concerts

We meet for three eight-week terms a year:
(1) Late January to late March;
(2) Early May to early July; and
(3) Early October to early December.

At the end of each term, we give a concert.

Rehearsals take place on Tuesday evenings between 8pm and 10pm at St Thomas’s Church, N4, at the corner of Monsell Road and St Thomas’s Road. And it is at St Thomas’s that we give our concerts.

The choir and its aims

Nicholas Spice, Director of the Highbury Chamber Choir, writes:

The HCC was founded in 1987 as a local choir animated by a love for the choral music of the Western tradition. We sing music from every epoch, but our centre of gravity lies in the music of the period between the birth of Josquin and the death of Bach.

Choir conductor's headshot

We have performed wonderful works for small choir by, for example, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Bruckner and Tchaikovsky, in the 19th century, and Stravinsky, Ravel, Poulenc, Britten and Pärt, in the 20th. But the incomparable quality and sheer wealth of the music of the pre-modern period inevitably holds the centre of our attention as a choral group.

By the second half of the 18th century, the profound stylistic shift away from choral to instrumental forms meant that the greatest composers wrote relatively little for small unaccompanied vocal ensemble, and such pieces as they did write tended towards the minor and occasional genres of part song or glee. Otherwise, choral writing focussed on large scale works such as the oratorio, mass and requiem, scored for large choir and full orchestra.

The rediscovery and rehabilitation of vast swathes of the music of the mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, both sacred and secular, was one of the greatest cultural achievements of the 20th century. A repertoire which in the 19th century was considered of only marginal interest, if not indeed naïve or even ‘primitive’, came to be understood as a treasure trove of masterpieces of the highest compositional and expressive sophistication.  The supremacy of choral music in this earlier tradition had as its concomitant a profound understanding of the nature of the human voice and its expressive capacities, whether on the melodic (horizontal) axis or the harmonic (vertical). The contrapuntal procedures of the great composers of this golden age released the potentialities of the voice in ways that, after the death of Bach, were never again to be mastered.

The opportunity to explore, rehearse and perform the music of this pre-modern tradition has tended, in Britain, to be restricted to professional and semi-professional choirs. There are fewer groups specialising in this repertoire for the good amateur singer, who may be looking for interest and challenge beyond what the large choral societies can offer. It was to fill this perceived gap that the Highbury Chamber Choir was formed.

The local character of the choir has been an important part of its identity. It rehearses and performs in Highbury, bringing to this part of London great music that, in all probability has never been heard in this particular place before.