The Dowsing Sound Collective : Rousing contemporary music in Trinity Chapel
21 Feb 2014
A 120-strong choir accompanied by organ, trumpet, guitars, bongos and skin drums crammed onto the altar at Cambridge’s Trinity Chapel on Valentine’s Day, shaking its solemn confines with the vibrant vitality of their contemporary music and the roaring support of the audience.
What a sound it was. All musical arrangements for the evening from the group, The Dowsing Sound Collective, were covers from contemporary recording artists and The Divine Comedy’s Tonight we Fly was wonderful and Rufus Wainwright’s Beautiful Child came across as nothing short of brilliant. Full harmonies were joined by guest instruments, including the swell of the chapel organ in the first number and exuberant trumpet playing of James Stygall during the Elbow-inspired encore.
The founder and director of this massive motley group is Andrea Cockerton, who organised this concert for the e-Luminate Festival, now in its second year, which has seen Cambridge strangely lit up this dreary February. If you thought Gareth Malone from BBC 2’s The Choir was good - full of focus and with an uncanny ability to draw out the talents of his team, then you deserve to experience the leadership qualities of Cockerton, the woman who wins all hearts conducting The Dowsing Sound Collective.
Not quite a choir, but not a big band, it is a harmonic phenomenon bursting onto the scene like a firecracker. Cockerton is proud of the group’s uniqueness and describes it as Maverick. Many of her performers do not read music. They come from all over the county and are of all ages and levels of experience. There is no audition and some singers don’t read music at all. Her musicians are a mix - some are professionals, some semi-pro. In fact it is a choir-with-band combo. But the amazing feature is the energy and dynamism Cockerton has generated from the group.
Warmth and exuberance flowed from the concert-goers and a huge audience of parents, children, couples, singles and musical followers carefully decanted themselves into the narrow College pews. Before them was the astonishing sight of the huge choir, gathered from all over Cambridgeshire. On one side a string quartet and on the other a collection of funky looking musicians including Gav Sirisena who starred on the guitar, bongo and skin drum during the evening. In the centre sat a gleaming black Steinway grand piano, where the core of their inspiration, Andrea Cockerton, sat to play.
Cockerton is fabled for using any instrument she feels will enhance the performance, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise when the programme opened and the chapel plunged into dense darkness so as to include the swell of the chapel organ. To make this work, a second conductor had to take the reins half way down the aisle so the organist, a magnificent Julian Merson, could see her from high in his lofty perch acres away from the action. The result was a song of haunting ethereal beauty, Demons, but powered by a sonorous wall of sound. Like all the numbers for the evening, here was a cover of a contemporary album track, skillfully arranged into multiple parts to create an arresting musical layering strangely in the style of Thomas Tallis or some polyphonic ancient master from the Renaissance.
The acoustic of Trinity Chapel suddenly came wonderfully alive with a rousing, yet tender and intimate rendition of Elbow’s famous anthem. Chorusing One Day like this a Year will see me Right over and over in an outpouring of harmonic energy the Choir finished the evening in style. As the audience whooped its approval, no one could fail to agree with that simple sentiment.