Crouch End Festival Chorus hosts a sing along to Sacred Concert

Do you know the Crouch End Festival Chorus? 

The renownedNorth London choir have been singing to the highest standard since 1984.  Led by musical director David Temple, they can be heard in numerous recordings with the BBC orchestra for television and film soundtracks and are regulars at the Proms every summer.

The Crouch End Festival Chorus is hosting a free sing along to Duke Elington's Sacred Concert, conducted by David Temple, on June 8.

I had the pleasure of hearing their performance of Sacred Choir with the Blue Planet Jazz Orchestra in 2021 at Alexander Palace and it is a beautiful and haunting piece, resplendent with beatific tones and jazz progressions.

Russel Davies wrote this for the London Jazz News on his remembrance of first hearing the piece in 1965.

Russell Davies writes: In 1965, the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco invited Duke Ellington to play a concert of sacred music in celebration of the newly-built edifice. Though Duke had no such programme ready-made, the request couldn’t have been better timed. Edward Kennedy Ellington was accustomed to an eventful career, but in the mid-sixties – the world’s and his own – events were crowding in on him oppressively. It was in 1965 that Ellington was controversially denied a Pulitzer Prize, on grounds widely assumed to be race-based, and the fact of this rebuff leaked into the press. His long-estranged but undivorced wife Edna was dying of cancer, and so was his beloved musical helpmeet, Billy Strayhorn. Mortality lurked, and Ellington was well aware that he had not lived a blameless life. Here was an opportunity to square his accounts with the deity.

But he was nothing if not a joyful sinner, so it was joy that chiefly animated his First Sacred Concert. By a huge stroke of luck, I saw this for myself, when the Duke accepted an invitation from Canon Hugh Montefiore, later Bishop of Birmingham, to stage the piece at Great St Mary’s, the Cambridge University Church, for a fee of $1000. It was a small venue by Ellington concert standards (1300 crammed-in tickets), and sitting in an aisle seat, I had the honour of seeing my foot tripped over by one of the greatest saxophonists in jazz, Johnny Hodges, on his way to the stage.

The atmosphere of that performance seemed be set by the oaken tones of Harry Carney‘s baritone sax, presaging a soloist who sang the opening four words of the Bible: “In The Beginning, God.” But those solemnities were only one component in what turned out to be – and remains, in the latter-day distillation of Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts – a potpourri of faith-based entertainments. Did the critic Gary Giddins go too far in seeing Ellington as “bringing the Cotton Club revue to the church”? Maybe, but I thank Giddins for reminding us of Ellington’s dictum, “Every man prays in his own language” – in the Duke’s case, music.

Follow this link to secure tickets to the sing along:

More on how David Temple approached Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert below.