Meet the Cambridge freshers singing to raise money for cancer charities
In memory of Katie MacRae, the incoming choral scholars have made a lockdown version of ‘Let My Love Be Heard’
What were you doing in the month before you came to Cambridge for the first time? You probably weren’t trying to organise a choir of 37 (without having met any of them!) to perform a rendition of Jake Runstead’s ‘Let My Love Be Heard‘ as well as mixing the audio, organising the rehearsal part and, and, and – and the list goes on. Each member of the choir is an incoming Cambridge choral scholar, united in these uncertain times by Zoom, music, and Katie MacRae’s tragic story.
Katie MacRae passed away a year ago after a battle with cancer; her girlfriend is an incoming Cambridge fresher and, after sharing her story with choral scholar George Ellison, he decided to do something about it. A few days after hearing about Katie, he later listened to ‘Let My Love Be Heard’ – and thus the idea of a “performance in her memory” was born. The song is about grief and loss and love; the lyrics asking the “Angels, where you soar / Up to God’s own light / Take my own lost bird / On your hearts tonight”. Harry Elliott and Jack Harris, both singers who took part, describe it as “a magical piece, with so many levels of beauty to it” and “a work so passionate and heart-aching that I was moved to tears during my first listen”. It’s impossible to disagree (watch their rendition with tissues at hand) – but the serenity of the final piece shelters an astonishing amount of work behind it.
The first task was to get faces on the Zoom call – fellow choral scholars and members of the choir, who were found through the grapevine and Instagram. George set up a choral award offer holders chat via the Cambridge 2020 Freshers Instagram page, and then put forward his proposal: “While some were not able, most jumped at the opportunity – I had a choir!”
I spoke to some of the choir members who participated in the project, recording from hundreds of miles away (and, in Angel Wong’s case, 6000 miles away in Hong Kong) but united by music and Katie’s story. Hannah Dienes-Williams told the Tab: “Music is such a powerful tool in expressing feelings which are hard to articulate in words” and Angel said that “On the surface, it seemed like a fun little passion project to help pass the time amidst the lockdown boredom; however, it turned out to be much more than that”. Every singer I spoke to highlighted the importance of the story behind the recording: raising awareness of Katie’s story, of cancer, grief and love.
A project like this needs more than singers; George also asked the King’s Organ Scholar Paul Greally to make the track for the singers to use for rehearsal , asked another music offer holder to conduct to the backing track and then made a website with details about recording, how to sing the piece and the conductor video. After this the choir went away to learn and practise – after, as Harry says, “working out the best way to keep the score out of shot while being able to watch the conductor video, and not have my music stand topple over with the weight of all the devices on it!”
Once each of the 37 singers had sent in their videos, George worked with Maths offer-holder Geno to edit the video and audio of each one. George “cleaned” the audio in a week and a half (“sometimes working until 2 or 3 AM”) – and he “removed every breath, paper noise, car passing, distortion and much more in order to make the recording sound as perfect as it possibly could”. It then took another week and a half to sync the audio tracks and mix and master the recordings – Hannah notes that “it’s harder to blend voices to create a unified sound in the whole virtual choir when you are dealing with individual tracks… George did a fantastic job piecing it all together”.
The complete video was first seen privately, with George FaceTiming Katie’s girlfriend at midnight on 13th August – what would have been Katie’s 18th birthday – to show her the finished version. He “sat with her as she watched the video for the first time” saying that “it was pretty emotional for both of us!”, and now the video has been made public.
George has set up two JustGiving pages have been set up in Katie’s memory: one for Maggie’s Centres, who provide support for people with cancer and their family and friends, and the other for Milly’s Smiles, a charity that give care bags to help make a cancer patient’s stay in hospital a little easier.
George would also “like to thank every single person who’s a part of this project – it has been so incredibly touching to see how much hard work you have all put in for this” and thank “everyone who has donated so far and encourage everyone else to donate as much as they can to support these wonderful causes.” And that’s your cue – listen, watch, maybe have a little cry, and then, if you can, please donate.
Featured image credit: George Ellison