Introducing Wassail!

British choral composer and arranger Alexander L’Estrange has become best known for his large-scale community choral works and in doing so, bringing together schools and the wider community through song. His passionate dedication to music education has brought about collaborations with education organisation United Learning and he has led thousands of children in performances of his music at venues such as London’s Lyceum Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall.

Wassail! Carols of Comfort and Joy is the next in line of an already well-established selection of community works by L’Estrange, with his first – Zimbe! Sing the Songs of Africa – having received over 200 performances worldwide. His other large-scale choral works are Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose, Song Cycle: vive la velorution! And Zadok Rules – Hallelujah! L’Estrange explained the reasons behind why he is driven to write these works: “I believe it’s crucial for young children to see other people (older kids and adults) singing; it helps them to realise that singing isn’t just something you do at school on a Thursday lunchtime ‘because you’re told to’, but something you can enjoy and share with others for the rest of your life.” He goes on to say, “one of the great joys of writing and then being involved in performances of Zimbe!, Ahoy! Etc. has been to see choral societies, schools and choirs of all ages fostering links with other community groups in their area and growing their concert audiences. I am also so happy for the tens of thousands of primary school children who have had the chance to sing joyful music in large, exciting venues that they might otherwise never have visited, let alone performed in to sell-out audiences!”

Testimonials of these works include Hampshire Music Service who found that Zimbe! was “the ideal vehicle to bring a variety of vocal forces together in a vibrant and lively project. It provided material for a series of workshops in schools at Key Stage 2, gave us the opportunity to support the formation of a new adult community choir and gave our more experienced choral singers in both children and young adult choirs ample scope to participate fully in the semi-chorus work. Zimbe! provides a flexibility that would suit a wide range of settings, especially those where partnership work is a focus.” Composer and Director for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, Ben Parry, praised nautical work Ahoy!, describing it as “engaging and accessible”, adding that “choirs of all ages will love performing it”, while Andrew Jackson, musical director of the Castle Primary School Choir, Portsmouth said “Singing Ahoy! Has had a huge impact on our children. They feel part of a musical community.” Participants have praised not only L’Estrange’s music but also his “infectious enthusiasm”. “Alexander has a rare and charismatic rapport with young performers,” said Howard Goodall CBE, composer and presenter.

Wassail!, which has been commissioned by United Learning, is a sequence of 12 uplifting folk-inspired Christmas songs exploring the sacred and secular aspects of the festive season and has been written with the purpose of bringing schools and communities together at Christmas. It includes traditional festive songs such as the The Sussex Carol, Gaudete and The holly and the ivy. Catherine Barker of United Learning said of the project: “At United Learning we are committed to providing young people and their teachers with a joyful schooling where our school and communities can enjoy opportunities that build on, and go beyond, their school experiences. Working with Alexander L’Estrange is a great ‘fit’; his music brings people together to celebrate the very best of the British choral tradition. As the first stage of the project, the students at Kettering Buccleuch Academy have been inspired by the opportunity to work on a professional commission, working closely with Alexander as they begin their creative process. It’s a great example of how we can engage even more young people in a large scale music project, that will have a great legacy for them and the piece in the future.”