EX CATHEDRA | Robert Asher - bass

From our ‘Summer Music by Candlelight’ programme 2023

I grew up in a musical family in Birmingham and have sung all my life. Aged nine I sang one of the three treble boys in the Magic Flute, then hormones asserted themselves, two decades passed, and I sang bass Sarastro in the same opera. I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to take singing seriously alongside my ‘main’ career – a degree in engineering, teaching physics and finally the family trade of medicine. I’m now retired from doctoring, based in London, and with nothing to stop me making the most of singing.

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

I’ve sung with EC for five years. In 2018 I heard that the choir was looking for an extra bass for a programme of 40-part music. I knew the group was brilliant and jumped at it, but it was only when I started that I realised how truly special it is. There’s a lovely sense of family and a unique blend of old/ young and amateur/ professional which makes it the nicest collection of people imaginable to sing with. The pro/ am groups I sang with in London a generation earlier had all turned fully professional and it was wonderful to find this happy combination surviving in Birmingham – not to mention a sister locally able to have me to stay, plus Symphony Hall which outclasses anything in London. Musically and geographically I feel I’ve come home. Singing with Jeffrey makes the tiresome journeys from London worthwhile. He communicates so much in his conducting, and there’s little need for fiddly markings in the score – just watch!  

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

There are always several musical projects to prepare for – currently a Schubert song cycle, a summer party entertainment of silly duet songs, and Ex Cathedra’s summer programme – so I’m seated at the piano for a chunk of most days. I still do the occasional vaccination clinic or medical school teaching event, but being a retired old git allows me to go to art galleries or wine events and sometimes do nothing at all. An evening rehearsal means an afternoon train to Birmingham and the return journey late at night; if it’s a concert day I’ll often travel the day before and stay with my sister whose B+B rates are very reasonable.

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

Earthrise in 40 parts by Alec Roth, the first piece I sang with EC. With all the complexity it feels and sounds incredibly transparent and is emotionally so powerful. It wowed me five years ago and still does.

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

There are two. I’m a complete sucker for military band march music – any country, any occasion, lump in throat every time. And I love singing close harmony – not the refined clever stuff that certain well known groups sing, but barbershop and the like, with cheesy harmonies and naff words. Yum!