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News > OC news > Choral work for the tercentenary

Choral work for the tercentenary

Benjamin Thiele-Long (01) tells us about the inspiration behind 'Oculi Omnium', a choral piece written for the school's tercentenary....
19 Oct 2022
OC news

When I joined Churcher’s in 1994, I didn’t imagine I’d be sitting in Southern California writing this almost 30 years later. Without doubt I’m incredibly fortunate. From starting my career as a criminal barrister, to advising some of America’s biggest retailers on financial and investor communications, at my core has always remained a deep connection to choral music. A gift that was instilled during my time at Churcher’s.

Inspired and encouraged by David Groves and Helen Purchase, it’s a passion that - alongside my professional career - has also inspired me to establish two leading chambers choirs (one each side of the Atlantic) and compose choral music that has been featured on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and numerous stations across the U.S..

So, it’s with enormous gratitude and pride that I was able to write a new setting of ‘Oculi Omnium’ for the senior choir as a gift to celebrate of the college’s tercentenary, receiving its premier performance at this year’s remembrance service. In many ways, it’s the least I can do to repay David, Helen, and the college for the musical inspiration they gave me.

The text of ‘Oculi Omnium’ is sung most often as a grace before a meal. In its sacred context, it pertains to the idea of remembrance through communion. But at its heart, a grace is also simply an expression of contemplative gratitude. This new setting brings those two ideas together in a way that is both expressive but reflective of sentiments we call to mind during a service of remembrance.

Musically, by alternating between polyphonic and homophonic lines, the setting gives the choir colour and texture that is both challenging but satisfying when chords come together throughout and at the end of phrases. For the listener, it creates a soundscape that provides an emotive and calming moment for reflection.

Throughout the music however is another deeply personal connection.

In 2013, my father passed away. He was a former Royal Marine bandsman and the first person to inspire me to take up music as a hobby. But shortly after, the world also lost an exceptional musical talent when former Churcher’s student Nicola Olle lost her battle with leukemia. Nicky was not only my best friend throughout our time at college together, but she was an incredible musician with the kindest heart. The double loss was extremely hard.

Calling them both to mind, the gloria of this new setting has building chords that soar into the upper voices and conclude with the brightest chords of the piece. This culmination is deeply symbolic of their journey – and the journey of all those we love and who have touched our lives – safely into the next world, while we hold the memory of them dearly in our hearts.

The ability to create, perform, or simply connect with music that is deeply meaningful and personal is an incredible gift. For me, ‘Oculi Omnium’ is the manifestation of that gift, given to the place and the people that brought it to fruition.

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