As I start my new ministry as Assistant Curate here at St Mary’s I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a little of my journey of faith…
For as long as I can remember I have attended church services with my family. When I was about six years old, I joined our church choir, and so began my love of music, particularly religious choral music. Over the years music has become an integral part of my faith, wherever we lived I always joined the church choir, only stopping after my ordination in 2020.
As I got older church remained central to my life and faith, and I knew early on that I was being called to ordination. However, it wasn’t until I was at university, studying maths, that I started to explore the idea of ordination more seriously. Ultimately, I decided the timing wasn’t right and that I needed more life experience first.
When Macharia Kelvin Njoroge auditioned for a choral scholarship in January 2023, he wowed us with his glorious baritone voice. Now in his final year as a music student at the University of Nottingham, he has been offered scholarships at both the Royal College and Royal Academy of Music. Macharia, as we all know him, sat down with Will Burn to talk about his remarkable story and his exciting plans for the future.
Macharia, you came to Nottingham from Kenya. Would you tell us a little about your upbringing and where your love of music came from?
I was the sixth child in a family of seven. I’ve been interested in singing for as long as I can remember: my mother says I sang before I could speak. She’s very musical, and she taught me to sing hymns when I was little. I would sing everything I heard on the radio, songs in Kikuyu, a widely spoken vernacular language around Nakuru county, where I grew up. When I was born, one of my legs was shorter than the other due to a congenital condition.
When I was around 13, I had a chronic foot ulcer, and my leg had to be amputated. I ended up dropping out of school. I was in a wheelchair, but I still had my interest in music. I started learning piano, and I used to carry a keyboard in my wheelchair from my church elder’s home to church for practice. Then, one day, on my way to church, I met a stranger who took interest in me. This woman was a teacher at Joytown Primary School, a school for learners with physical disabilities, and she voluntarily sponsored me to go there, where I could access teaching and support. I also sang in the school choir.
After finishing my studies at Joytown, I won a scholarship to the M-PESA Foundation Academy, where I met a teacher called Nathaniel Nyagol, a very talented music teacher who had trained in the USA. After my choir experience at Joytown, I knew I wanted to do music professionally, but Mr Nyagol saw my passion for music, and he inspired me to dream even bigger. I wanted to go to America like him!
How did you come to study in Nottingham?
There was a teacher at my school whose wife had studied at Nottingham. She advised me to come and study here, and after doing an online preparatory course, I moved to Nottingham in January 2021.
You became a choral scholar two years later, in January 2023. How have you enjoyed your time as a member of the choir of St Mary’s?
I would start by saying that our church traditions are quite different. In Kenya, my church music experience was a lot of congregational singing, and choral singing was mainly a combination of elements of Western music and tunes from Kenya, harmonising the two worlds. It’s very rhythmic with lots of drums as well. Here, it was clear the standard of the choral singing was very high. It’s a professional choir where you learn a lot of challenging music, but you have very little time to learn it. I would say that’s the main difference.
As a musician, I took on a choral scholarship to challenge myself to improve my sight-reading skills, and that is one area that has improved a lot in a short time. The pace is fast, and there was quite a learning curve for me initially, but it has gotten easier with time. Overall, it has been a great experience. It’s challenging, which is important for you to grow, but it’s also a very supportive environment, and the more experienced singers have been very helpful.
For me, though, the Choral Scholars’ Concert sums up my experience of St Mary’s, collaborating with my fellow singers and introducing something different, a piece written by my teacher Nathaniel Nyagol. People were really open to that, and the scholars really appreciated it. That sums it up for me: I’m learning a lot of different music, but I can also share the music of my own country, which I’m very proud of.
Now you’re coming to the end of your studies at the University of Nottingham and have been offered scholarships to study at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. What was that experience like?
Studying at Nottingham has been successful in a lot of ways. I have been studying singing with Richard Haworth, and during my studies, I have twice won the Department of Music Prize for best music student. Last year, I was awarded the Madelena Casulana Prize for the best performance of a work by a female composer.
Thanks to this experience, my confidence has grown, and I came to believe it was realistic to consider a career as a professional singer, so I decided to apply to the two colleges. It was quite a challenge as you do not know what the outcome will be, and they are both very competitive. Nevertheless I truly enjoyed auditioning for them, partly because I was well prepared and partly because it was a nice environment to perform in. Getting to sing in the recital hall at the Royal College was like another dream coming true for me. I haven’t made up my mind yet about where I want to study, and there are still some challenges to overcome before I can accept one of the offers.
What are they?
I was offered partial merit scholarships at both institutions which cover quite a considerable amount of my tuition fee, but funding remains a big challenge for me. I’m working hard on that at the moment, but the practicalities of finding sponsorship will decide where I can study. My current scholarship ends when I complete my degree in Nottingham, so after that, I will have to find a new source of funding.
You’ve been invited to give a recital in Southwell Minster on 5 April. What will you be performing there?
I want to focus on spirituals as an art form. I performed some at high school, but I took them more seriously at university. I was particularly inspired by the five spirituals from Michael Tippett’s A Child of our Time. I have been studying their history, and I find them so rewarding, not only in their music but also in their religious and philosophical dimensions. This is a chance for me to share my interpretation of the art form.
Your Christian faith is very important to you. How what role does it play in your life today?
I would say my Christian faith underpins everything I do in my life. It gives me hope and a moral compass. It forms the basis of how I see the world. I came from a very Christian home, and I grew up singing hymns with my family. I see God in every challenge I have overcome in my life so far, and that’s why I have a very strong faith in Him.
Looking ahead, what would be your dream role in opera and which singers have particularly inspired you?
Rossini’s Barber of Seville, no doubt. He’s such an interesting character, so energetic and out there. In terms of singers, I was really inspired by Michael Spyres, who calls himself a “baritenor”. He has an amazing voice, and he overcame many challenges in his career. His interpretation of Rossini’s Figaro is so interesting. I also really admire Miriam Makeba, a singer from South Africa who sang South African music around the world. She was deeply political, and she was able to bring that music to a considerable level of respectability on the global stage.
Another thing which is very important to me is working with singers in Kenya and giving something back to them, particularly singers with disabilities. I think they’re often forgotten in the arts, so I am very passionate about addressing accessibility to music for people with disabilities. That’s what my dissertation focuses on, and whenever I go back to Kenya, I go back to Joytown School to teach music, conduct the choir and coach other young singers.
Thank you, Macharia. It’s been a joy to sing with you in the choir at St Mary’s and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.
Macharia will perform a programme of spirituals at Southwell Minster on Friday 5 April at 1.30 – 2.15 pm.
On Sunday 26th November we launched our 2023 Stewardship Campaign. Amidst the context of escalating cost of living for many people, we recognise that times are difficult for many people. We live in challenging times and the cost of living is increasing. You may not be able to increase your giving at this time and we pray that those in financial hardship may find a way through. Nevertheless, we are asking everyone to consider whether they can support St Mary’s by increasing their current regular giving.
We are currently spending more money than we have coming in. This year we are expecting a shortfall of £50,000, rising to £125,000 by 2025. This is not sustainable.
On Sunday 5th November, Operations Director Nick Turner gave a brief update over coffee of some of the workings of the church that may not be seen by the congregation.
He began by giving a brief overview of the duties of some of the permanent staff, particularly Tess (administrator), Duncan (verger/caretaker/events), Andy (finance), and Amber (graphic design), and thanked them for easing his transition into his new role over the past ten weeks.
He then outlined three key issues for the church which he has identified through his work.
The first of these is finding the right vicar. Having advertised and interviewed candidates three times without a successful appointment, the churchwardens and PCC are adding some additional lines to the Parish Profile and are working with the Diocese to get the post re-advertised again in due course.
The second issue is the church finances. Ed, in collaboration with Emma, Nick, Margaret, Jean, Amber, and Andy, is working on building a stewardship campaign, in part to address our projected deficit of around £60,000. They are also working to lay the foundations of a major fundraising campaign in aid of fabric repairs in 2024.
You are welcome to join us at the nextNottingham Workplace Chaplaincy INSIGHT Meeting
These meetings have the objective of informing people about different aspects of the day-to-day workings of the city. Key people join us to give an ‘INSIGHT’ into their areas of responsibility and interest.
Wednesday 21st June
Nottingham Business School equips individuals and businesses to challenge established practices and break new ground. Now in its fifth decade of being and a part Nottingham Trent University, the Business School is internationally renowned as one of the best in the UK and has an unrivalled level of engagement with business, public and voluntary organisations.
At our next meeting the Business School’s Employability Managers, Sunny Jones and Peter Sewell, will give us an INSIGHT into how Nottingham Business School, combines academic rigour with beneficial impact on students, social, economic and societal welfare.
We will meet at noon and be finished by 1.30 pm at the latest.
Please note that this meeting is being hosted by Nottingham Business School in the Nottingham Trent University’s Newton Building on GOLDSMITH STREET (NG1 4BU)
We are seeking to appoint a Vicar to St Mary’s who will lead this cathedral-like, city-centre church into a new season of significant spiritual and numerical growth, building on the foundations already laid. The successful applicant will have exceptional relational and teaching gifts to strengthen and equip the current worshipping community. Our new vicar will inspire us to connect with those across Nottingham City centre and beyond who would welcome the opportunity to worship and serve in an Anglican church community founded on traditional liturgy, excellence in music and inspiring teaching.
We can offer a modern four-bedroom vicarage in a quiet residential area near the centre of Nottingham, with good local schools, hospitals, shops, recreational facilities and the amenities of a large city centre.
Former Nottingham Conductor and Composer returns for UK PREMIERE of his Stabat Mater with the Choir of St. Mary’s and Orchestra of the Restoration.
Richard Prior will conduct the renowned Choir of St. Mary’s and the Orchestra of the Restoration in a performance of his acclaimed Stabat Mater for soprano soloist, choir and orchestra. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony will also be featured on the programme.
Prior was a postgraduate student at Nottingham University from 1988-1991 where he distinguished himself as the conductor of the University Philharmonia, the founding conductor of the University Chamber Choir, and composer of several well-received works including his first two symphonies.
Originally from Kent, he has had a successful and varied career, including teaching and conducting at a number of colleges and universities in the United States and now focuses exclusively on composing and professional conducting opportunities. Prior has led orchestras across the US (including in Atlanta, Chicago and New York) and internationally (including with the National Symphony of Ukraine and the Cairo National Symphony).
His award-winning Stabat Mater has had over a dozen performances in the US and was one of the first HD broadcasts on US National Public Television.
I am delighted to be returning to Nottingham and to have this opportunity to work with the Choir and Orchestra at St. Mary’s. They represent the finest of musical institutions and were a significant part of my time whilst a postgraduate student at the University. I think of the Stabat Mater as one of the pillars of my compositional output and am thrilled to present the UK premiere in a place that was so influential in my career, and to a city of patrons who recognize the cultural value of Music and live performance. Richard Prior
The performance is on Saturday, February 25th at 7:30pm
St Mary’s bells have been silent for over 7 months. The reason is that is serious instability has been identified in one of the gable end walls of the south transept.
The cost of the work is likely to be close to £200,000. Whilst we are applying to grant making bodies, we need the many good people of Nottingham to feel moved to contribute. Lots of them with a few making wonderfully generous donations. The work could start very soon – we just need the funds. Let the bells be rung for the new King in May!
On the morning of 31st May we received the following email from the Bellringers: During our bellringing practice last evening it was noticed that the external wall on the south end of the south transept was moving quite visibly in a N/S direction. The attached video which Emma took shows this. We were concerned that this not a normal movement because the join where the lead flashing is mortared into the wall had opened and was coming out. In view of this we stopped our practice and I would contact you this morning.
A structural engineer inspected and advised there needed to be further investigation. He warned that ‘appropriate remedial works may be quite comprehensive’. In early August there was a close up inspection and Peter Rogan our architect reported: ‘the late Victorian phase of repairs are weathering very badly with the stone extensively failing within the grain of the bed.. deterioration of the stonework may well have exacerbated the movement, but the actual cause of the swaying of the gable appears to be linked to the motion of the transept roof… but because the two are not tied together, the gable then develops its own harmonic which can amplified depending on subsequent movement of the roof. The fact that the south window is huge, the parapet not aligned/tied to the corner pinnacles, means that the gable is effectively hinged at the level of the springing of the window and flapping around’.
Peter puts it poetically, but there’s no disguising the seriousness. Thanks to the bell-ringers for alerting us. Tender documents have been prepared and it’s going to cost £165,000 plus professional fees etc, meaning that the total cost is likely to be close to £200,000.