'Marvel' music director brings 'energising excitement' to Ipswich choir

The choir rehearsing at St Mary-le-Tower with Benedict conducting

Benedict Collins Rice has been directing the Chamber Choir for a few years with an aim to make Ipswich the home of one of the country's top chamber choruses - Credit: Archant

Members of Ipswich Chamber Choir have bucked a trend, using the pandemic to keep singing and find new members and audiences despite so many struggles among other choruses and musicians.

Benedict Collins Rice, music director at the choir, joined a few years ago with the aim of creating a nationally recognised chamber chorus - something that Ipswich doesn't have. 

But when the pandemic hit and so many professional musicians and choirs lost work overnight, the members of this group were determined to make things still happen. 

Mr Rice said: "Not only did we meet on Zoom and kept the community spirit alive, we also learned new music and, every time there was a slight relaxation in the regulations, put on socially-distanced or live-streamed concerts. 

"It is something I don't really know of happening quite to this level anywhere else in the country."

Ipswich Chamber Choir rehearse at St Mary-le-Tower

Many members described it as the best choir they'd been part of, with friendly faces and high standards - Credit: Archant

This he has on good authority, having used the pandemic as an opportunity to go and study with prestigious chorus master Simon Halsey, gaining the highest mark ever awarded on the course for conducting. 

Chair Carol Scotland called the music director a "walking marvel", adding that she thought his influence had attracted younger members to their ranks for the first time in a long time. 

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She said: "I'd stopped thinking we would attract young people to the choir; I don't think they're as exposed to choral music and hymns. 

"But over the past few months we have had a wave of new members and it is a lovely way to celebrate emerging from an awful last few years."

Ipswich Chamber Choir rehearsing at St Mary-le-Tower

Younger members have joined the Chamber Choir since the restrictions were eased - Credit: Archant

Mr Rice agreed, adding: "I think there has been a real energising excitement from both singers, audiences and also from the wider community.  

"Quality is going up, membership is going up, audience numbers are going up, excitement is going up. It's the dream." 

The singers meet on Tuesday evenings at St Mary-le-Tower Church, all full of praise for the high standards of the music alongside the friendly nature of everyone involved - their exacting director included. 

He said: "We are a really fun bunch of people working hard on something we love and doing it really well.  

"I know from personal experience that young people have got so many stresses and pulls on their time that giving up a few evenings extra always seems a big ask.  

"I wonder if the changing patterns of work post-pandemic and normalising flexi-time and working from home means that we will continue to see that younger demographic swelling the ranks of our choir."

Ipswich Chamber Choir launches its JS Bach Passion Cycle with a performance of St Mark Passion on April 2 at St Mary-le-Tower.