October 2023

Rahel Schweizer

Q&A with harpist Rahel Schweizer

Our December concert features Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, for choir and harp. We’re delighted to be showcasing a soloist from within our notorious ranks, alto Rahel Schweizer. We caught up with Rahel to find out more about her background, when she joined notorious and how it came to light that Rahel played the harp.

Where are you from and what drew you to live in Birmingham?

I grew up in Zurich, Switzerland and moved to the UK four years ago. I wanted to move out of Switzerland and moved to Bristol to do teacher training. After that, I moved to Birmingham to be closer to my partner who works for the Uni.

What do you do as your day job?

I’m a primary teacher, currently teaching in Year 5.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I have lots of messy hobbies! I love gardening and growing vegetables. I also go to pottery classes and regularly take over our kitchen and living room with various sewing and other craft projects.

When did you join notorious and how did you hear about us?

I joined notorious two years ago. I really wanted to join a choir so I just googled ‘choirs in Kings Heath’ and I think notorious was the first one that came up!

What has been your favourite concert or piece to sing so far?

I think it has to be last year’s anniversary concert! Will Todd’s Mass in Blue is a great piece and it felt really special to be part of this big anniversary.

How did you and Clare get talking about the fact that you play the harp?

I brought my harp to Clare’s neighbourhood Christmas carolling event last year to accompany the singers and, probably after a few mulled wines, the idea came up to do something for choir and harp.

How old were you when you started playing the harp?

I was seven years old. 

What led you to playing the harp?

I can’t really remember! According to my parents, I’d been saying I wanted to play the harp for a long time and they tried to ignore it. They made me play the piano for a year since we already had a piano at home but I wouldn’t stop going on about the harp. They eventually gave in and I have been playing ever since.

Do you have a particular favourite piece for the harp?

I think Benjamin Britten’s ‘Suite for harp’ is my favourite piece written for the harp. There’s a lot of ‘twinkly/harpy’ pieces in the harp repertoire but Britten’s music feels so much more substantial and deep. And it is extremely well written for the harp.

How is your practice going for Britten’s Ceremony of Carols?

Good! It has definitely taken some time to get back into shape since I haven’t been practicing that much anymore in the past few years. I’ve really enjoyed having a reason and motivation again to play more often!

Have you played the piece before?

I’ve never played the whole ceremony before, I’ve only played some songs. I played three of them with an ensemble that my mum sang in when I was about 13 years old.


Do you have a favourite section or a particularly tricky section?

The harp interlude is absolutely beautiful but also very tricky to play with a lot of techniques and parts you have to memorise. ‘Deo Gracia’ is also very fun (and fast!).


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Clare gets an unexpected guest

Clare gets an unexpected guest!

When our Music Director Clare Edwards isn’t conducting notorious, she is Director of Learning and Events for Young Voices.

Young Voices is the largest children’s choir in the world.

At a Young Voices concert, the stars of the show are the massed children’s choir drawn together from literally thousands of primary schools, performing with famous artists and the Young Voices band.

Their choirs range from 4,500 to 8,500 children per concert, all performing at the same time to capacity audiences of friends and family in arenas across the country.

In September and October each year, Clare runs workshops for the teachers, where they get the opportunity to learn the music that they will be teaching their own school choirs, plus top tips on how to get the most from their young singers.

But last month, Clare got quite a surprise when world-famous tenor Alfie Boe dropped in!

Clare tells us what happened:

“I was running a teacher workshop at Sheffield City Hall and Alfie Boe was playing the main room that night.

He was walking past our event on his way to Boots and our CEO said hello and invited him to say hello to the teachers. I was on stage at the time doing my presentation and suddenly I was upstaged as Alfie came in.

The teachers were not allowing him to get away with just saying hello and asked him to sing.

Our Musical Director took to the keyboard and offered to play and it was agreed that Les Mis was the way to go. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he sang a perfect rendition of Bring Him Home. Amazing.

We wondered if we’d bullied Alfie into it but later in the afternoon when the teachers were singing through a Young Voices song he popped his head round the door and congratulated the teachers on their singing. 300 very happy teachers!”

Have a look at the video below!

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