Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who Is That Ian Graham?

Ian Graham is one of the founders of the Schola Gregoriana of Northumbria and is now its director.

I was born in Alnwick in Northumberland, where I attended the Duke’s School, acquiring some good practical experience of choir training from Aileen Willcox, the school’s music teacher. It was more G&S than Gregorian Chant in those days! After school I won an exhibition to Christ Church Oxford. I was fortunate enough to be there at the time when Simon Preston was organist and choir master at Christ Church Cathedral and regular contact with the music making in the Cathedral awakened in me a deep and abiding interest in high quality liturgical music.

After being awarded a degree in Jurisprudence, I moved to the Middle Temple in London on a Harmsworth Exhibition and Astbury Scholarship to study for the bar. After qualifying as a barrister, I returned to the northeast and now practice as a barrister based in Newcastle, specialising in criminal work. I also sit as a recorder on the Northeastern Circuit.

My first encounter with performing Chant came at the Anglican church of Christ Church Shieldfield in Newcastle, but I never really got to grips with “Briggs and Frear” (I think that’s what it was called).

My first serious experience of Chant came with the “Durham Holy Week” in the late 1980s. This was a wonderful if highly eccentric event, in which the traditional (pre-Pius XII) ceremonies of the Easter Triduum were celebrated in the debating chamber of the Durham Union. It was here that I met Richard Hoban, from whom I learned more about Chant singing and how it works than from anyone else. Richard and I became good friends and his death at the age of 33 I still feel as a terrible loss.

Another big influence on my knowledge and understanding of Chant is Dr Mary Berry. Although I was never one of Dr Berry’s “singers” I was able to sing with her at the 1000 year celebrations of Durham Cathedral and also at a Chant weekend in Manchester organised by the Latin Mass Society. I own all her Chant recordings and am an associate of her Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge.

Away from liturgical music my other great passion is opera, particularly the great romantic operas of the nineteenth century. My musical heroes include Reginald Goodall, Joan Sutherland, Rita Hunter and Carlo Bergonzi. Of musicians still active today I have immense respect for Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, and I adore the singing of the brilliant Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez.

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