When Peterborough Cathedral has its Christmas concert on 21 December there will be a new face conducting the choir. Tansy Castledine, who arrived in September, is the first ever female Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral, and one of only three women holding similar roles in music departments at English cathedrals. The Moment talked to her as she was preparing for the Cathedral’s busiest time of year.
First of all, congratulations! How did you feel when you found out you had the post?
Really excited! I’ve had a career that has always involved music, but has also involved education, leadership and teamwork over the years, but having the opportunity to do all of those together in one place and make a difference in a cathedral environment is something I’ve always dreamed of. There was a day when I was about 17 when I thought ‘Hmmm, I’d quite like to go into cathedral music!’ I love the choral scene and singing, and was an organist at that stage, and then life took over and lots of wonderful opportunities came after university, working in schools. But when I saw the opportunity come up here I thought ‘Time to have a go…’
What do your duties at the Cathedral actually involve?
The primary duty every day is providing music for the daily liturgy. Choral evensong is five days a week at 5.30 and I prepare the music for that choral service with the children and the adults, then we do a full set of services on a Sunday. So, the children get through quite a lot of music within a week and there’s a lot of singing, which for me means lots of music teaching, choral directing and playing for rehearsals. Although I am an organist and play for some things, my primary focus is conducting. Then there are opportunities to give concerts, so for example we have a big Remembrance concert in November as part of the Peterborough 900 events, as well as the Christmas concert. There are carol services and carol singing to do, so the children will go out to Peterborough football ground and sing carols there. I also go to the school each morning and teach the choristers there, along with the organist and our organ scholars. The children will also have the opportunity to go on tour, travelling to different cathedrals here and abroad. So, there’s whole host of dimensions, but very much focused on the education of the children.
Is this basically your dream job..?
So far it feels like it! Those first couple of weeks I couldn’t stop thinking ‘This is cool…’ Also it’s lovely being in a community – part of a very culturally aware Cathedral, living and working in one place and meeting lots of new people. It’s really fun and means you can be really involved in everything.
There are a lot of women in music, but why so few in positions such as yours?
It’s an interesting question, but you have to see it in the light of the last 20-25 years, during which girl choristers started coming through our cathedrals. Before that it was a very male-dominated world in which the odd female organ scholar might make a breakthrough. There’s also been a bit of an explosion of women composers, but for some of those things it’s going to take another generation or two to really bear fruit. I wonder if girls need more opportunities to be able to conduct and get up in front of the choir – and, actually, whether you’re a boy or a girl it’s quite difficult to get that air-time, so one of the schemes I’m going to put in place is for the Year 8 choristers to have an opportunity to conduct the whole choir before they leave. That means they’re seeing what the whole remit of choral and church music can be – and that experience really is thrilling.
Who inspired you when you were starting out?
I had a wonderful organ teacher and choir director, who was really inspirational in terms of opening my eyes to new repertoire, and also in terms of having really high aspirations for me and believing I’d be able to reach those targets. Just the language that he used was so incredibly positive that I just wanted to be like him! Role models are so, so important.
How is Peterborough and its music regarded outside of the city?
It has a thriving reputation. A new director of music brings a new direction of travel, to some degree, and I know that that has shaken things up a little bit in the organist world with regard to what’s going to happen in Peterborough now. We have a new female precentor as well – that’s the head of the music department who looks after the liturgy in the Cathedral – and I think the perception out there is very positive. We’ve had Soyuz here, we’ve had a visit by the Moon, and the open-arms feel that the Cathedral maintains creates a very positive image. Certainly musical colleagues know that Peterborough is on the map!
Is the musical education provided by the Cathedral an important part of that?
It’s vital – and it’s much more than music. It’s a spiritual education, it’s about resilience and leadership and the ways you support each other in a community. Of course a lot of that comes through the music making, because we demand high standards from the children and they are working at a very high level, but that’s also true of the levels behaviour and respect that they need to have when in the building, and they have to understand the texts they are singing too, so the education of a chorister is a very well-rounded one. But it’s important that they run around as well! But when you look at people who have had music as a constant in their lives – even if that isn’t what they’ve gone on to do in their career – they are well-rounded, well-tempered people who can carry themselves in public, and be dignified and can articulate their thoughts and feelings and work with others – but also lead. It is a multi-faceted education.
What are you most looking forward to now?
I’m really looking forward to Advent here, getting ready for Christmas, getting to know the new community and seeing the joy on the children’s faces as they make their way through that transition to Christmas. I would also love to do some outreach projects and take our choristers out into the community – to take our mission beyond the Norman arch, as it were – and also to have the opportunity to welcome young singers and community choirs back into the Cathedral, and that’s something I’d like to look into next year, to really get community singing going here.
I feel very humbled and privileged to be working with these children and singers every day – and to have this as my office! That’s a pretty good day job…
Peterborough Cathedral Christmas Concert
A memorable evening of festive cheer is offered at Peterborough Cathedral’s traditional Christmas concert, on Friday 21 December, at 7.30pm.
Peterborough Cathedral Choir, Youth Choir and Festival Chorus will present a programme which includes Britten Ceremony Carols, accompanied on the harp and performed by candlelight, as well as other well-known seasonal favourites, and familiar carols for the audience to join in with too. The concert will be conducted by Tansy Castledine, the Cathedral’s Director of Music.