Bradford Cathedral will be welcoming York’s Caelestis as a visiting choir in August. We spoke to Joel Starkie, Conductor of Caelestis, earlier in the year – on the eve of them singing at Hampton Court Palace – to find out more about them. We began by asking for a brief introduction.
Caelestis started during my first year at the University of York. I used to sing at Hereford Cathedral with a sixth form choir, which is how I got into choral music. When I came to University, unless you were at York Minster, there wasn’t really a lot in terms of being able to carry on singing Evensongs, which I missed.
I was invited by one of the churches locally to go and sing Evensong there, but it was literally just two men and a dog, so I ended up inviting some of my friends to sing and it snowballed into being quite an established choir at that church, and then we decided to go further afield onto Cathedral visits.
2019 was our first visit outside of York. We went to Ripon Cathedral and we’ve continued with the same model, with students who have a connection to Yorkshire, and those who used to be students who have continued in the choir. Essentially the choir is now made up of a lot of friends! It’s good fun.
Do you think having that platform for singers to perform is important?
I think the opportunity when we were at York was so unique. I felt like it was a market that wasn’t being utilised and therefore that opportunity can be quite shut off. I think that it’s an issue in York generally, having the opportunity to sing church music to standards that those like the Minster would expect.
Even for students at the University, it was a great opportunity and I think, even though the model is not just students anymore, it’s clearly helped so many people develop their sight reading, develop their ability to sing unfamiliar repertoire, and go into cathedrals and venues that they’ve never been to before. So, yes, it has been really beneficial.
This weekend you sing at Hampton Court Palace, that must be an exciting place to sing?
It’s one of those things that you can’t quite believe has come onto your lap! We’re really excited about it, and the preparations are going really well. I’ve never been to that area personally so I’m really looking forward to having a good wander around, walking along the river, and seeing if there are any good canal boats going.
There should be lots of opportunities there for singing music that’s very apt for the occasion. We’re going to try some music that either previous composers, or those who’ve been involved in the Chapel Royal in some way, have composed.
Caelestis means ‘heavenly’. How did you end up choosing that name for your choir?
When you’re a student you end up thinking about what kind of cheesy Latin names for a choir you can come up with, and I thought this fitted the bill perfectly!
We’d tried lots of different things. I think when you’re singing Mass, especially if you sing in Latin, you have ‘heavenly king’ – ‘Rex Caelestis’ – and some words have such power or a punch. Maybe that’s a pseudo-subconscious thing that we do: we try to give a bit of power into what we sing!
We would love a really warm welcome from the congregation! It will give us the opportunity to really enjoy Bradford as a city, so, essentially, we need you. That’s what we want: for you to come and help us enjoy the place and music!
Caelestis will be singing at Choral Evensong on Saturday 26th August at 5:30pm and on Sunday 27th August at our 10:30am Choral Eucharist and 3:30pm Evensong. You can find out more about this on our website, and you can discover more about Caelestis at facebook.com/CaelestisUK/ or on Instagam: @caelestischoiruk.