EX CATHEDRA | Martha McLorinan - alto

From our ‘Bach, St John Passion’ programme, March 2016

Martha was born in Shrewsbury and grew up in Weston-super-Mare.  She started singing by accident aged thirteen, when a family friend suggested that she auditioned for the National Youth Training Choir, “because she played the violin”. Although she didn’t see much logic in this suggestion, she found herself auditioning, and then found herself on a ten-day-long residential course at the opposite end of the country, where she joined the Soprano 1 section and fell in love with choral music. She realised she was one of the weakest singers in the choir, so started having singing lessons when she returned home.

Martha spent her teenage years playing (and sometimes singing) with Weston Youth Orchestra, singing with Welsh National Youth Opera, working her way up through the National Youth Choirs (and down through the sections – ending up in the alto 2s!), and working plenty of part time jobs at the weekends and during school holidays so that she could travel the world with them. Despite her teachers telling her that “her brain would rot” if she went to music college, she applied, and studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama for four years.  

Martha is now a professional singer based in London. She enjoys a varied career of consort singing, opera, oratorio and teaching.  

1. How long have you been a member of Ex Cathedra and why did you join?

I auditioned for Ex Cathedra in the autumn of 2008, a couple of months after I’d graduated from music college and moved to London. I very nearly cancelled my audition! I used to travel from south London to Hertfordshire to teach once a week. It was a silly commute, and involved leaving my flat just after 5am (no singer’s favourite time of day- we tend to be more nocturnal creatures!). The audition slot I was offered was in the early evening after a full day of school. On the day, I very nearly called to say I was ill! I was absolutely exhausted, and didn’t think I had a hope of singing well. But I had various singer friends who had told me Ex Cathedra was a great group to work with, and I had listened to their South American discs and was excited by the idea of exploring that sort of repertoire. So I got on the train back to London, and managed to resist the temptation to cross town and go home, and instead, dragged myself up to Birmingham. I’m very glad that I did! Alice greeted me with a very warm welcome, and Jeffrey made me feel at ease in the audition (fiendish sight-singing aside!). I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Ex Cathedra family ever since, and have become very familiar with the M40!

2. What does a typical day look like for you?

There’s no such thing! And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s absolutely fine! It means I never get bored. Travel is one of the perks of the job. I have plenty of early starts and have spent numerous days hanging around in airports or travelling by coach (it’s often not very glamorous at all!), but then I’m often rewarded with incredible scenery to take in on the journey or amazing architecture or a lovely acoustic when you reach the concert venue. I have a list of places that I’ve been to with work that I want to go back to explore properly! Some days involve rehearsals, others recording sessions or concerts or workshops. Sometimes I’m a consort singer, sometimes I’m an opera singer, sometimes I’m a soloist, sometimes I’m a teacher. Sometimes I stay in London for weeks, other times I feel like I’m living in my car. Days off tend to involve lots of admin or score memorising – there’s always something I should be doing.

3. If you could choose to perform again any piece you have performed before with Ex Cathedra, what would it be, and & why?

I think it has to be Durufle’s Requiem at Birmingham Symphony Hall in May 2014. I’ve always adored the piece, and already knew it very well. This particular concert was unusual, though, because Ex Cathedra was working with a Canadian dance company. We didn’t just stand and sing- we were part of the movement. The dancers we were working with were absolutely breath-taking. The piece is incredible on its own, but what they did somehow seemed to add another layer of meaning to the piece for me. They had me in tears in the rehearsal, and I only just managed to hold it together in the performance. It was stunningly beautiful. Isabelle (the lead dancer) gave me one of her ballet shoes with a message written on it. It’s a lovely memento of a very special gig.

4. What’s your musical “guilty secret”?

When I’m making music professionally, it’s my job to try to make it sound good. So my ‘guilty secret’ has to be that in my spare time, I sometimes take great pleasure in butchering what should be beautiful music! A few years ago, I sang in a ballet at Covent Garden. There were four vocal parts written into the score. There were various movements that didn’t involve us, so during rehearsals, we spent a fair bit of time chatting over coffee and realised that between us, we had a string quartet. We set a date to get together and play through some Purcell and Mozart, having not really played properly since our school days! I brushed the dust off my viola case, and off I went! Unsurprisingly, it turns out that after fifteen years of failing to do any practice, I’m not very good anymore! I sounded dreadful. I tried to sing in the bits that I couldn’t quite manage to play, but even as an alto that’s challenging down on the C string! We had a few glasses of prosecco, and that made it sound much better! We still have these ‘rehearsals’ every now and then, but I’m ashamed to say that I’m still relying on prosecco rather than practice to make it sound better!