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The Messiah XI

Eleanor Oldroyd’s recent BBC Radio 4 programme – Perfect Pitch (From Choir Stalls to Cricket Balls) – was a fascinating exploration of links between singing and the great game of cricket. Guests including cricketers Alastair Cook, Clive Lloyd, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Graham Fowler told of how their choral training and experiences had served them well in their sporting life, and choir conductor Andrew Nethsingha related how he believes high-pressure challenges in singing can be likened to those that exist in top-level professional cricket.

From my professional choral experience, I can confirm that many singers are engaged, enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable cricket fans; even if the schedules and demands of being a musician make it almost impossible to play in matches, following the game can often almost reach the point of obsession. Indeed, when the quartet of which I am a member has a rehearsal in the summer that coincides with a Test match, our morning, lunchtime and afternoon breaks will often be carefully timed so they don’t overlap with the lunch and tea intervals in the game – that way we can at least watch some of the live action on television while consuming our coffee, soup and tea.

When rehearsing with larger groups, however, such finessing of the schedule is not an option for the cricket-loving members of choirs. Instead, updates on the scores might be surreptitiously passed along the ranks of singers by someone who will be taking sly looks at their mobile phone every now and again. Should you know who that person is, it is often possible to gauge when a significant event has happened merely by looking at their body language, leading to tense moments until word reaches you that a century has been reached or a crucial wicket taken.

I will also confess to enjoying a brain-exercise undertaken during concerts on a lengthy tour of Messiah performances in Europe many years ago. Now this is not to say that the choir were anything less than fully committed to delivering the choruses but, after the third or fourth evening, the sheer number and length of the arias would just occasionally lead to some wandering minds when seated for such extended periods.

So in order to counter any danger of drifting off, a ‘Messiah Cricket XI’ challenge was issued! Our task was to identify the surnames of international cricketers secreted within the text of the oratorio. A little bit of licence was allowed: plural nouns in Messiah could be made single, and homophones (either in relation to a whole word or, in one case, the individual syllables of a single word) were considered to be of special merit.

Suddenly, choir members could be seen studying their Messiah scores with uncommon zeal throughout the concerts, and by the end of the tour a complete Test team consisting of players from across the world and from across the ages had been assembled. And with the tour list having been updated since it was created 15 or 20 years ago, there are now even a few players in reserve.

Angus Smith, Stainer & Bell


We were absolutely thrilled to receive Eleanor’s seal of approval 🙂

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