I love all beauteous things

I was reminded that it’s been 10 years since I was involved in the recording of an album of works by Herbert Howells while I was a member of the choir of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin.

The album, called I love all beauteous things, was recorded in February 2008. The choral pieces were recorded in the church of St Bart’s Ballsbridge rather than in Christ Church Cathedral itself – as the cathedral is situated right in the middle of the city, and there’s much too much traffic and other noise that would disturb a recording session.

I have very fond memories of doing the recording. I had only been in the choir for just less than a year myself, but had already made some really good friends – lifelong friends – that helped relieve the pressure of the hard work with a few laughs along the way.

The excitement in the room is evident!

Some of the organ music was pre-recorded in Christ Church using the cathedral organ, but they had to record in the middle of the night and hope that no ambulances went by at the wrong moment!

The choir recording took three days and finished on what would have been my 36th birthday.

Anyway, I was listening to the album for the first time in a very long time on Friday, and was blown away about the beauty of the music. I can’t even remember most of it, and wouldn’t have a hope’s chance of being able to sing the pieces today – but I’m very proud to have been involved in it.

If you fancy a listen, here’s the link on Spotify:

For a special bonus prize see if you can hear my tiny solo in one of the tracks!

Singing with the Tallis Scholars

I'm very excited about the opportunity to perform with the Tallis Scholars later this week.

I'm one of 30 singers recruited from around Dublin to join the choir in the performance of the 40-part piece Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis.

I've only sung Spem in Alium once in the past, as part of a scratch performance put together for my 40th birthday. Because, what else would you do for a 40th birthday, but get together all of your singer friends and sing a 40-part anthem? It wasn't the most technically accurate performance in the world (I, for one, was making tons of mistakes), but it was a heck of a lot of fun – and if you fancy watching the video, stay for the amazing rendition of Happy Birthday at the end!

The prospect of singing such a piece with the Tallis Scholars, in contrast, is a pretty intimidating. They are one of the best professional choirs out there, and tour all over the world to sell out audiences. And I've volunteered to sing – one to a part – so there's no hiding at the back!

I'm sure it'll go very well. The rehearsal last week was sounding really good, and I came out of that really excited.

The concert takes place on Thursday, 5th October 2017 at 8.00pm in the National Concert Hall, Dublin. There are some tickets left – although not many – from the NCH website: https://www.nch.ie/Online/The-Tallis-Scholars-05Oct17

Foreign currency transfers

Changing money between different currencies can be expensive.

Traditional banks buy and sell foreign currencies from/to their customers at rates vastly different from the exchange rates you might see on the news. And while they may claim they don’t change fees, they do earn quite a bit of money by adding a mark-up to the exchange rate being offered.

There are, however, a number of disruptive financial companies emerging that can save you money. Companies like TransferWise, Revolut, and others.

For example:

  • a Bank of Ireland transfer of €1,000 to a UK bank will get you £887.80.
  • Using TransferWise to move the same €1,000 will get you £909.45. That’s a difference of £21.65 – or 2.5%!
  • Using Revolut to transfer the €1,000 will get you £914.00. That’s a difference of £26.20 – or 3%

And as the numbers get bigger, the difference will start to matter a lot more. Move €5,000 and the difference between Bank of Ireland and Revolut is £131, so it’s definitely worth shopping around.

And if you want some cash in a foreign currency, the one thing to remember is to never ever change money at the airport. That’s where you’ll get the very worst rates. The same €1,000 converted to pounds at ICE in Dublin airport would get you just £861.

The best thing is to wait until you arrive at your destination, and then use the Revolut card to withdraw cash from an ATM. The first €200 ATM withdrawal per month doesn’t incur any fees – after that there is a 2% fee – but it’s still better value.

 

Hifi Downsizing

My interest – and for a while, obsession – with hifi music began when I was still in school.  

Marantz Receiver

Marantz Receiver

I had been given a second-hand Marantz receiver (combined radio and amplifier), which looked very impressive, with lots of buttons and dials – but I quickly realised it didn’t really do anything on its own.

I would need to get some speakers, in order to actually hear some music. And if I wanted to listen to anything other than the radio, then I would need some other components – or separates.

So, at a time when most people were buying an all-in-one music centres or ghetto blaster, I was being indoctrinated into the world of hifi separates. The idea espoused by audiophiles was that a single-box solution was a compromise in terms of audio quality. The only way to chase the dream of true high fidelity music was to buy separate components, often from different specialist manufacturers.

And so it was, over time that I added more separates into my collection – a tape deck and a CD player – and I also replaced the second-hand receiver with a separate amplifier and tuner. However my quest for incremental improvements in audio quality wasn’t yet satisfied. To try and eke out the last drop of sound quality I would end up buying a separate DAC (digital to analogue converter) to try and improve the sound from the CD player. I would also upgrade all the interconnect cables, connect all the power sockets to a surge protector, and isolate each component from vibration on its own glass shelf.

hifiathome

Before the end of my 20s I had acquired a very impressive set up, which sounded amazing. And every time I moved house since them, over the last 15+ years or so, each separate was packed away in its original box, transported to the new location, and then faithfully reconnected at the other side. It was a labour of love to set up my hifi in each new living room, but in recent years I realised it was also a wasted effort.

With the advent of streaming services like Spotify, I had stopped buying and listening to CDs, and I didn’t even own any cassette tapes any more. Indeed for the last 2 or 3 years I had only ever used my hifi for playing back music on my phone or tablet. All my CDs had been ripped to MP3s, or the music was available on Spotify. And so everything except the amplifier and speakers fell into disuse.

Hifi Downsizing

It was earlier this year, as we were having a clear-out prior to moving out of our apartment, that I finally cut the cord (metaphorically) and got rid of the stuff I didn’t need. Gone was the tape deck for which I had no tapes. Gone was the CD player that didn’t really work properly. Gone was the DAC that never really added anything. And gone was big glass stand that it all sat upon.

I’ve kept the amplifier and speakers, as they’ll still be used – but for now they’re in storage while we live in temporary accommodation and hunt for our new house. And in the mean time, I’m making do with an old pair of shelf-mounted speakers powered by a tiny little amp called the Gemtune SA-36A. The amplifier is simplicity itself – on the front it only has an on/off switch and volume control, and on the back are sockets for speakers and a single music source – and it works perfectly with the Spotify playlists on my phone.

It’s not a true audiophile system, but for the amount of music I actually listen to at home (as opposed to the amount I imagine I will listen to), it’s good enough – and it also doesn’t take up half the room!

Gemtune SA-36A Amplifier

Gemtune SA-36A Amplifier

An Ex Lay Vicar Choral

Yesterday saw me hang up my choir robes for the last time, as I “retired” from the choir of Christ Church Cathedral.

I first joined the choir in 2007, and in the intervening 8 years I’ve had the privilege to be involved in very exciting things: TV and radio broadcasts, tours, ordinations, consecrations, enthronements, presidential visits, ecumenical services, concerts, and carol services.  I’ve sung in more services than I can count, with some amazing singers and talented musicians.

It’s been a great experience which will leave me with treasured memories and lifelong friendships.

However, all good things must come to an end. A while ago I came to the decision that I wanted to lessen my commitments. The choir takes up Thursday evening, and all day on Sunday – which is quite a lot of time, on top of a full-time job. I’m also concious that being in the choir restricts what we can plan to do as a couple on weekends and special occasions such as Christmas.

So, I’m taking a break from singing. It might be for a short time. It might be for a long time.  I don’t know how I’ll feel in 6 or 12 months time, but for now I’m looking forward to enjoying the extra free time.

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