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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Gabrielle Liandu

Introducing Gabriella Liandu, Our Soprano Soloist For Mass In Blue – Oct 2022

Gabriella Liandu

At our December concert, we’re delighted to be joined by mezzo-soprano soloist, Gabriella Liandu.

Gabriella is a Zambian-Scottish singer and creative who was raised in the Middle East but now firmly has Birmingham as her home. Gabriella completed her Vocal and Operatic Studies at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, graduating with a first class Honours in Music followed by a Master with distinction in Jazz. She won the Jazzlines THSH Final Year Prize for Overall Excellence in Performance and Leadership and the award of Leverhulme Arts Scholar.

Gabriella’s strong cultural upbringing and eclectic background is reflected through her artistry and style as a writer and performer. Her experience covers a wide range of genres with repertoire expanding from Early Classical to Choral, Modern Jazz and more.
The connection with notorious is through Clare and Ex Cathedra, the acclaimed chamber choir that Clare sings with, where Gabriella was originally appointed Student Scholar and is now Graduate

Clare tells us more about why Gabriella is the perfect fit for notorious: “I chose Gabriella as I’ve sung with her and produced a concert where she was a soloist. I was so impressed with both Gabriella’s gorgeous voice and her friendly and approachable attitude off-stage.

As notorious is all about combining good music in an accessible and friendly way, she fit the bill as the perfect soloist for us. Plus her jazz background means she is really comfortable with improvisation – I admire anyone who can do that as I struggle!
But seriously, she’s a lovely person who has that perfect mix of classical and jazz style singing which I think is essential for Mass in Blue.”

You can check out Gabriella’s beautiful tone and versatility as an artist, including her own
compositions, via her YouTube channel:


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Robin Valk

Farewell To Our Mega-Bass Extraordinaire, Robin Valk - Nov 2022

It was with huge sadness and heavy hearts that we said goodbye to our friend and extraordinary bass talent, Robin Valk, who sadly passed away this summer.

Though you will be familiar with seeing Robin singing in notorious and hearing his dulcet low tones, you may not be as familiar with the huge part Robin played in the Birmingham music scene and beyond as a staunch supporter and promoter of local music talent through a whole host of radio shows and podcasts.

On the day of Robin’s funeral in August, when many choir members gathered to bid farewell, our Musical Director Clare Edwards shared her own tribute to Robin via our Facebook channel, alongside memories from choir members, which we wanted to share with our notorious Friends.

The first section of our December concert at CBSO Centre will be dedicated to Robin, featuring poignant and reflective music including John Tavener’s O, Do Not Move, Will Todd’s arrangement of Amazing Grace, and a different piece from notorious’ commissioned composer, Eriks Esenvalds,
Stars (look out for the wine glasses…).

A message from our MD, Clare Edwards – 12 August 2022
On behalf of everyone in Notorious and very much personally from me – I want today to pay tribute to Robin Valk, a friend, a bass in Notorious, and a legend. Robin was a professional enthusiast. A champion of music of all genres and a fierce defender of local radio and the power of radio to support local musicians. I met Robin around the tables of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 2005 at a Birmingham Music Network meeting and we instantly hit it off.
Over the years we worked on numerous projects together and one day he asked if he was too old to join Notorious! As a bass in the choir, he became a beloved part of the family and didn’t just sing but helped the choir with promotions and painstakingly recorded every rehearsal for people who missed them or wanted to listen back each week.
My favourite quote of his is that he was conducted by two people in his lifetime. Me and Igor Stravinsky… that will always make me smile. As for what he meant to Notorious members: I’ll leave that to a few of the many choir members who
have sent us their memories…

Messages from the choir:
I’ve got very fond memories of Robin. Firstly of his beautiful silky radio voice. I remember him championing local artists on BRMB back in the day, and more recently in his podcasts. So to stand next to him in Notorious was initially a bit daunting, singing with a legend! But then I discovered the humble Robin who wanted to develop a skill. And he applied his beautiful silky voice to singing bass lines! I will always value my memories of the stories he told, his humour and warmth. Lovely man, he will be sorely missed. (Richard Salt)

I’m very sorry to hear this, it is sad news. Robin was certainly a stalwart of the men’s section and it was lovely to often see his face during the Zoom rehearsals during the pandemic and to hear how proud he was to become a grandad. My condolences to his family. (Laura Breakwell)

Two things come to mind. Firstly, I saw that his family said that choir meant a lot to Robin. I immediately thought that Robin meant a lot to a lot of choir members as well. Very much one of the “family”.

The other thing that I think of is that Robin took care and interest to be sensitively supportive of me and Lucinda around her illness and the knock-on effect on us all. It was noticed and really appreciated. A really good guy. (Luke Turnbull)

I’m so very sorry to hear that Robin has passed away. From the first time I met him, at his first rehearsal with Notorious choir, his enthusiasm for music, for people and for life shone through. When he got ill, I know he was determined to do everything in his power to keep going and to really enjoy life for as long as he possibly could. And he was such a kind man, always checking in if someone looked a little down and doing what he could to help whoever needed it. He really was a true gent and I shall miss him. (Julia Rosenbaum)

I’m so sorry to hear of Robin’s passing, I shall really miss him. We had a shared love of music and websites and I loved our chats. He always started conversations with “So what’s new?”; and always had such a passion for life. As a second Alto we also loved Robin’s low notes projecting over our shoulders! Rest in peace dear friend, and sending love to Vic and your family. (Josie Hobbs)

Here is a lovely post Robin wrote about performing in Notorious in 2017:

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David austin grey

Introducing Pianist David Austin Grey And His Quartet – Nov 2022

David Austin Grey pianist

We are really excited to be joined by the David Austin Grey quartet for Will Todd’s Mass in Blue next week.

David Austin Grey is a UK-based pianist, composer and educator working across multiple musical disciplines.

David has worked throughout the UK and performed internationally, including residencies and collaborations in Brazil, the United States and South Asia. His most long-standing group, Hansu-Tori, has received national press and radio play (BBC Radio 3, Jazzwise Magazine, Jazz FM, BBC Introducing, The Observer, BBC WM and BBC Radio Scotland.

A graduate of the University of Birmingham and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, David has worked with well-respected artists and institutions such as Birmingham Royal Ballet, the British Council, Courtney Pine, Eliza Shaddad, Freya Roy, Soweto Kinch, Xhosa Cole, Michael League, and Black Voices. He has also supporting Grammy-winning artists Marcus Miller, Terri-Lyne Carrington and Snarky Puppy.

Music Director Clare Edwards tells us more about her connection with David:

“I’ve known David for many years having worked with him at the Flyover Show in Hockley and more recently at Symphony Hall. I’ve always loved his jazz piano playing and found him to be an engaging performer. I really wanted to put a complete jazz group together to work on Mass in Blue, rather than a random selection of performers, and I knew that David had his band and could bring the magic of an energetic jazz quartet to our concert.”

You can hear more from Clare in this video about why she wanted to work with David again.


David’s quartet is completed with three of the UK’s finest young improvising musicians – Chris Young (alto sax), James Owston (double bass) and Nathan Jones (drums) – all graduates of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and impressive writers, performers and composers in their own right.

The quartet will perform their own set at the concert before we all come together in the second half for a Latin mass like no other.

To hear examples of David’s work, check out the media area of his website here:


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