The English Choral Experience

Parkside, Burnthill Lane, Rugeley, Staffordshire WS15 2HX
Tel: +44(0)1889 801929
Mob: +44(0)7866 770360



1 May 2020

Dear Friends

We are in the strangest of times and as all our ECE courses have been cancelled until and including July I thought it would be a good moment to start a newsletter to keep our family of singing friends in touch.

At the beginning of March we were looking forward to a wonderful trip to France to the beautiful Chateau Rieutort for our annual French week after Easter.


As always we were especially looking forward to the amazing catering by our old friends Ken and Alison Miller. Just yesterday I had an e-mail from Alison which I thought it would be good to share with you partly for the lovely things she says about working with us, but also to show what they are having to go through like so many:

We hope this finds you all safe and well. We were so disappointed that it wasn’t possible to go ahead with the course this Spring, as we know you were as well. It’s a highlight of our year and after 8 years seeing you all is like being reunited with family. (Thanks very much for the card Sue Upton!) It is sad to think we must wait another whole year to see you. Feel free to drop us a line to let us know how you are. (

March was a rough period for our community. A friend who is very active in the English-Speaking community fell ill with the virus and sadly passed away. His wife and quite a few others who had been in contact also fell ill and most were hospitalized. One other person that we don’t really know also died. We had been with them as well but luckily did not contract Covid-19.

Of course our business has suffered with nearly all weddings and other events cancelled. We hope that 2 weddings in September can go ahead.

Since we finished our self-isolation we have focused on take away and delivery, deliveries being new for us. It is going quite well and is at least keeping the wolves from the door. Time will tell how demand will change once restaurants start opening again and the warm weather arrives.

We hope to return to the chateau next Easter and, as with all post-virus courses, to make it a real celebration musically and gastronomically.

After this, things started to go from bad to worse as quite a few members of the Birmingham Bach Choir contracted the virus we assume in the last rehearsal before the lockdown (11 March), me included. It’s a nasty beast and took me and others over four weeks to get through it, but at least I didn’t have to go hospital. The sad news was that Merryn and Mike Lloyd (many of you know them from Abbey Dore especially) contracted it and Mike already had fairly advanced Parkinson’s. He was hospitalised and died at the beginning of April. Such a lovely active man who many of you will remember observing our rehearsals in the abbey when he returned from long bike rides round the Herefordshire countryside. Merryn is now well again I’m glad to report.

As if this wasn’t enough only three days later we had the dreadful news that John Burton had also died. Many of you will know that he had that most terrible of all conditions, Motor Neurone Disease. John was deeply involved in the ECE courses and was a member of the organising committee for many years. A lovely, gentle man who, like Mike Lloyd, had so many interests including being a passionate sailor and keen singer. He was also active in helping to computer set various scores for the course for me and also privately for Tony Hemson. Both will be hugely missed and we send our love and deepest condolences to Merryn and Sandie Harwood, John’s partner – another regular Abbey Dore attender.


May2020-3 Mike Lloyd top, and far right in the photo talking to Katharine Minchin

May2020-4 John Burton and Sandie Harwood at coffee time outside Abbey Dore Village Hall

Then came our much anticipated Bach family weekend in May at the beautiful Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester. This also had to be cancelled.

May2020-5 The lovely lake in the garden of St. Cross with the church on the left

May2020-6 Lunch in the beautiful medieval Brethren’s Hall

I was seriously hopeful that by July things would have improved but it has become obvious that the Abbey Dore week also had to be cancelled. So, for the first time since we started these weeks in 2007 we are not to meet in the summer. I am sorry for everyone, not least the people of the Abbey who are losing income through all the cancellations and are trying so hard to make sure that the building is able to stay open. But, again, we look forward to having a celebratory week in 2001 which I very much hope will be full to the brim with singers and student conductors!

A real sadness is that this would have been our fabulous caterer Mary Powell’s last year with us and we won’t therefore be able to say a personal thank you to her but I would like to ask regular Abbey Dore singers to send me brief comments which I can make into a card for her.

May2020-7 The abbey in atmospheric mode just before Compline

And so we now look forward and hope that all our forthcoming courses in the autumn will take place. The first of these is our annual upper voices Camerata weekend at Orford in Suffolk on 12 and 13 September, close to Aldeburgh and Snape. St Bartholomew’s church, where we sing, is a fabulous building with a wonderfully supportive acoustic. There are still places for 1st sopranos and 2nd altos. At this stage if things are cancelled we are offering a refund of the course fee or suggesting you can leave the money in place to be put towards the same course in 2021.

The Camerata weekend in Wales at Gregynog on 17 and 18 October is booking up gradually and there are currently vacancies in all parts. Gregynog is an extraordinary house made famous by the Davies sisters who were fundamentally involved in promoting music in Wales. It is their centenary this year and our course and its concert forms part of the hall’s centenary celebrations. The programme of music reflects composers who were involved or associated in various ways including an unpublished short piece by Holst written for the hall.

May2020-8 Gregynog Hall

Finally this year we have what would have been our second visit to St. Cross in Winchester for the Schütz and Telemann Camerata weekend on 21 and 22 November and we very much hope will now at least be our first! There are still a few places available for tenors and basses for those interested. These Winchester courses are always high-achieving musical experiences as the Bach motets weekends in the past two years have demonstrated.

We are all hoping that we will be able to get together by the end of the summer (September) but we will keep closely in touch with you. Please keep spreading the word about our courses. We always need to keep expanding the number of people that know about the ECE and want to come to sing with us.

May2020-9 Paul in relaxed mode sending warmest good wishes to everyone and the sincere hope that you are all staying safe and well. We look forward with huge anticipation to the time when we can all start singing again!

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