Videntes Stellam – a carol by Chelsea Haward

At our Christmas concert at Lavenham church on 14 December the Bury Bach Choir will sing a carol written by one of our own members, soprano Chelsea Haward.  Videntes Stellam (seeing the star) is an ethereally beautiful depiction of the Magi bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrhh to the baby Jesus.

Chelsea, who was born and bred in Bury St Edmunds, read music at the University of Edinburgh for four years and followed her BMus (Hons) with an MA in Applied Psychology of Music at Leeds University, focusing on background music and how it affects cognitive performance. She has been in the choir for four years, since returning to Bury to teach piano and continue composing.

‘When I’m composing music’, Chelsea says, ‘I always use the words as my inspiration – I’m fascinated by etymology and different languages and how they link together, and how you can portray their meaning in music’. She wrote her first music, a piano piece about Halloween, when she was ten, and was encouraged to write more by the music teachers at King Edward VI School. She wrote a choral piece for A Level and asked her teacher if the choir could try it out, ‘then the teacher suggested we do it in a concert, and that was the most exciting thing ever, I couldn’t believe that the people around me were singing what I’d written, it was really magical’.

Chelsea chose the course at Edinburgh because it was very traditional, focusing on harmony and composition. Students were encouraged to compose their own work, and Videntes Stellam was first performed at a carol concert at McEwan Hall. ‘I really love texts that mention nature or stars and the moon.  Texts centred around space and nature are the biggest inspiration for me and I love finding harmonies to represent their meanings.’

Although she is commissioned to write two or three pieces each year, Chelsea spends most of her time teaching piano to her students, ranging from age four upwards! She loves teaching children, ‘It’s wonderful when you’re talking about a new concept or piece and you can see that they have understood how it works and how it links to things they have already learnt’, but with all her students she tries to focus on what they want to learn and work from there. ‘People process information in different ways so even if I am working on the same pieces with different students, the approach isn’t always the same.  Everyone has their own learning style and a lovely part of being a teacher is making music accessible to all of your students.’

She is hoping to go back to university next year to do a PhD in Composition, with a focus on the relationship between words and harmony. ‘Voices are what I find most moving – the way you can layer voices, the way they blend and the sounds you can create with them, I think it’s really magical.  Choral music is particularly special to me as the music is enhanced by the meaning of words through harmonies and the words are heightened by the music’.

The choir is really enjoying rehearsing Videntes Stellam and we’re all looking forward to the concert, especially Chelsea – ‘It’s just as exciting every time it’s performed, it doesn’t get any less exciting!’

The concert, on Saturday 14 December, is at The Church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham, and starts at 7.30pm.  For full details, and for information about how to buy tickets (£15 for adults, £7.50 for under 21’s) go to Residents of Lavenham can buy tickets from Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms in the Market Place.


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