Luckily, at almost 120 feet in length, one of the longest churches in Herefordshire, St. Mary’s, Fownhope was able easily to accommodate  the large audience for Octavo, a local (Herefordshire and Gloucestershire) eight-voice a capella group on Saturday December 3rd 2022. Its most local member is Baritone Crispin Pemberton, who many of you will know, is  the rector of the Stow Caple benefice of 7 parishes between Hereford and Ross-on-Wye.

No ordinary singers these, Octavo delighted the audience with their professional but fun singing, interspersed by four readings mainly by fairly local poets including Ledbury’s own John Masefield. The variety was very pleasing, as was the diversity of the music itself. There were early pieces and those from very recent times, sometimes both at once, with traditional items given a modern arrangement, as in the Holly and the Ivy, arranged by modern Norwegian composer, Ola Gjeilo. Sacred songs rubbed shoulders with familiar secular ones such as Winter Wonderland and Jingle Bells and extra spice was added by the multifarious languages of the works and the nationalities of the composers. There were British, of course, but also American, Estonian, Ukrainian and Catalan and languages to suit, as well as, of course, Latin. We heard Riu Riu Chiu, attributed to the C16th Catalan, Mateo Flecha. The title may refer to the call of a kingfisher or a nightingale and is about the Immaculate Conception and Christ’s Nativity. It interested Church Mouse to learn that it was once performed by The Monkees in 1967 on an episode of their Christmas Show.

Mouse sat entranced by this veritable Christmas cornucopia which displayed such talent and enthusiasm and ease of performance.  Who could these marvellous choristers be? Are they professional musicians? Do they spend their entire lives singing and rehearsing with each other? The answer is no; Octavo is a semi-professional choir. Although all have musical backgrounds, their current and previous occupations range from rector, translator of technical Russian, administration, head-hunting and working with computerised accounting systems.

If you missed the concert, do consider visiting the mediaeval church of St. Mary’s anyway, to view its many interesting details including its beautiful stone carvings, especially the nationally recognised C12th tympanum and the C14th chest carved from one single piece of oak. At 9 feet long and nearly half a tonne in weight, it was inexplicably found hidden in the church belfry. The convivial evening spent listening to such beautifully- performed music in the lovely setting of St. Mary’s Fownhope, was enhanced still further by the bar and the wonderful array of canapes provided by Gina Children and other ladies of the village. Our grateful thanks must go to them and Jeremy, Churchwarden, who helped organise the church, sell tickets and collect money, and who found candle-lit lanterns to show the way when a bulb in the lychgate broke.     

Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust