St Albans Abbey’s musical spectacular makes a moving tribute

Kate Clarke.

Kate Clarke. - Credit: Archant

With just under a month to go before the spectacular ‘Sounds around the Abbey’ returns to St Albans cathedral raising funds for Rennie Grove Hospice Care, Rock Choir members are getting ready for the big event, which runs from Monday July 24 to Saturday 29.

Kate Clarke with one of the nurses who looked after her father.

Kate Clarke with one of the nurses who looked after her father. - Credit: Archant

“There is huge excitement at the prospect of singing with live musicians in such a beautiful building,” said Rock Choir member, Kate Clarke. “I’m not a religious person but there is something truly special about singing in a spiritual space.” Kate took part in the inaugural Sounds around the Abbey two years ago, describing the “great experience” as “amazing”.

“The whole spirit of Rock Choir is very generous and giving,” explained Kate. “There are no auditions and you simply choose the part that you think you can sing.” The five-part harmonies of popular songs across the decades are arranged especially for Rock Choir, and audience members can look forward to original renditions of Spandau Ballet’s True and Beyonce’s Halo with Pie Jesu, Memory, Skyfall and Natural Woman among the classics performed by soloists, Kerry Ellis and Lizzie Deane.

“Whilst the whole ethos is very relaxed, our choir leader, Pippa, is extremely professional and she conveys and expects high standards from us all. She wants people – choir members and audience alike – to enjoy it and her energy and our enjoyment is infectious I think. When I joined six or seven years ago, I hadn’t sung since school and I’d forgotten how lovely it is – how joyful it can be to sing with others.”

Sounds around the Abbey audiences can expect an impressive sound from the well-practised choir who have sung at a huge range of gigs: in care homes, special needs schools, at Christmas light switch-ons and shopping centre opening ceremonies – and even as flash mobs in Covent Garden, Westfields and Kings Cross station (performing Dancing in the Street!)

Kate says many people join Rock Choir after something significant has happened in their life. For her, it was losing her mother to breast cancer in 2009 that triggered her search for an uplifting experience in a supportive environment. The short, aggressive illness was “very difficult to deal with” explained Kate, whose mum had never had a day’s illness in her life but who contracted the aggressive strain of cancer in May 2009 and died just four months later, aged 76.

“We were so lucky to have the lifeline of Rennie Grove,” she said. “It was only when we were referred to the charity’s hospice at home nurses that we felt we had some power to help and some sense of control over this terrible situation. They gave us confidence, friendship and constant reassurance. I think it’s very natural for people to be frightened about looking after a loved one at home. You worry about things you won’t be competent to do and continually ask yourself: ‘am I doing the right thing?’ But with Rennie Grove’s help we were able to ensure mum died peacefully and with dignity, surrounded by love, in our family home.

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“I know it’s a very personal thing, but if you have the support available to make this happen, then I think it’s so much better for the loss you suffer – you feel so much better about it when it hasn’t happened in hospital.”

Kate’s dad had been living with prostate cancer since 1999 and when his condition deteriorated in 2014, Kate didn’t hesitate to look after him at home. “Having had that first experience of Rennie Grove’s care, I had the confidence this time to say ‘I can do this’.

“A large proportion of members will have some connection with Rennie Grove,” said Kate, “which will give an added edge to the performances at the Abbey.”

Kate usually attends the Hemel Rock Choir but will be singing soprano with the Dunstable Rock Choir on the opening night of the week-long spectacular. For tickets, call 01727 890290, visit or pop into the cathedral.