Sound of music at museum

A mixed voice choir that rehearses in a grand room on Wisbech’s South Brink is helping to marry together the names of the town’s most famous son and daughter.

The 40-strong performing group, the Clarkson Singers, which takes its name from the Wisbech-born anti-slavery campaigner, Thomas Clarkson, holds its weekly practice in the Long Room of Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House, the first home of the celebrated social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust.

Passers by approaching the museum at 7 South Brink on Tuesday evenings are likely to catch strains of the latest additions to the choir’s repertoire wafting from the Georgian windows.   They may be treated to a mix of sacred and secular music – and anything from madrigals to songs from the shows.

The choir’s press officer, Lynda Robinson, who shares a birthday with Octavia Hill and all her values, said:  “I just think it’s an appropriate coupling and Octavia would have thoroughly approved and joined in.   The legend that is Octavia Hill should really be celebrated at every opportunity.   She did so much to improve people’s lives.”

The story of the Clarkson Singers began in the early 90s when Bruce Wegg, organist at the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, informally incorporated the remaining members of the Wisbech Male Voice Choir, on its closure, into the Wisbech Choral Society, of which he was the director of music.

Rehearsals were first held at the Clarkson Infants School and then at other venues, including the United Reformed Church and the Salvation Army Citadel, before the choir took up the offer of using the Long Room at the Birthplace House.

In 2012 Loc-Mai Yuen-Brooker, who studied French and music at Westminster College, in Oxford, and later qualified as a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music, was appointed musical director – and it was in homage to the choir’s first practice space that the name, the Clarkson Singers, was coined.

A boudoir grand piano takes pride of place in the museum’s Long Room and it was owing to Loc-Mai’s expertise and organizational flair that the instrument was restored.   A fund-raising playathon, two all-day charity concerts and a piano recital by Loc-Mai and two of her advanced students were staged to swell the piano fund, providing enough cash to repair the cracked soundboard, restring the piano, fit new dampers, re-level the keys and generally regulate the instrument.

The choir, ably supported by accompanist and voice coach Angela Bishop, travels far across the Fens and surrounding areas, performing at church weddings and funerals and playing a part in services.

One recent highlight was a wedding at Ely Cathedral and then came an invitation to appear at a care home in Cambridge.   Members have also been involved in film appearances and topical forums.   Each year the choir provides music for the Octavia Hill commemoration day service at St Peter’s Church, which this year is on Sunday, December 1 at 2pm, and the singers enjoy an annual dinner.

Mr Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, said:  “When we reunified the Birthplace House in 2008 and recreated the Long Room, which for 150 years had been three separate rooms, the building seemed to come alive again when the Clarkson Singers began to rehearse there.   This has been one of the key community activities since then.”

New members of the choir are always welcome and sight reading ability is unnecessary. Anyone interested should contact Loc-Mai by emailing or by telephoning 07976 140 398.   Rehearsals start at 7pm sharp and run to 9.15pm.