The St Paul Choral Society Newsletter
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The St Paul Choral Society Newsletter

January 2017


Can you imagine a world without music? As one anonymous blogger said,  “No songs, no tunes, no rock, no roll, no jazz, no hymns … no symphonies, no singing in the shower…. And when those birthdays roll round we would all have to recite together, ‘Happy Birthday to you’… “   To many of us, music is valuable as a source of pleasure and one imagines that everyone feels the emotions music inspires in us.  

“Not necessarily,” says Joseph Marco-Pallerés, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Barcelona and lead author of a study that explores why some people feel indifferent to music. "Music isn't rewarding for them, even though other kinds of rewards, like money, are," he says. "It just doesn't affect them.,,, They don’t shiver if a singer hits a high note, and their heart rate doesn’t increase with each crescendo.”

We choristers consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have the gift of appreciating music and to form part of a choir which is approaching its third decade and where we can indulge in this love we have for this emotive art.

In this newsletter you can read of one unusual function and value of music in the article about the pianist who plays for elephants to heal their past.  

Also our choirmaster, Hugo Agius Muscat sets the tone for 2017 and gives a resumé of various aspects of the choir in the past and upcoming events this year – the start of a new year for the choir is always an exciting anticipation of singing events to come.

A happy new year to you all.
Anna Stivala

Two choir events 2016 in pictures  -  Mozart Requiem Concert at St John's Co-Cathedral and  Celebrating Mercy Concert at Divine Mercy Sanctuary


Forthcoming Events
A look at the year ahead by the choirmaster…
A Call for Choristers

Vytautas Miškinis: Cantate Domino (Sing to the Lord: Psalm 97)
Music for elephants: How Paul Barton is apologizing to blind elephants for crimes of humanity
Chorister News:
Trinity College Diploma in Singing for Stephen Mangion
Meet the Chorister:  Nicolette Miller - Miriam Briffa - Daniela Briffa
Birthday Greetings
Forthcoming Events 2017

Wednesday 11th January 7.00pm
Rehearsals resume at Divine Mercy Sanctuary, Naxxar

Sunday 12th February 11.00am             
Sung Eucharist at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral 
Early September                           
Plans for a tour abroad
Saturday 9th December 4.00pm                                    
Wedding Mass at St Aloysius Church, B'kara
Sunday 17th December                 
Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Valletta
Monday 18th December
Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols at Trinity Church, Sliema

A look at the year ahead by the choirmaster…
2017 promises to be another busy and fulfilling year for the St Paul Choral Society.  Rehearsals will resume on Wednesday 11th January, and the choir will start preparing straight away for its first commitment of the year: it will lead the music during the Sung Eucharist at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral on 12th February, on the occasion of the Patronal Feast of St Paul Shipwrecked.

During the months of March, April and May, the choir is unlikely to take on any public performances, for three reasons: the choir will be focussing on learning a number of new and challenging repertoire pieces; time will be devoted to the on-boarding of new members, as the choir takes forward its present wave of rejuvenation; and last but not least the choirmaster will need a break from event organisation while working on professional duties related to Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The choir has been asked to sing in two liturgical services in July and August; these will be good opportunities for the choir to start bringing its new repertoire to the public.  They will lead to what promises to be the highlight of the year: another tour abroad, early in September.  The previous tours in 2011, 2013 and 2015 took the choir to elite venues in London, Austria and Paris; likewise, the tour planned for 2017 aims for the choir to perform in three prestigious Cathedrals.  More details on this exciting prospect will be published in the near future.

The St Paul Choral Society has always been a choir that plans well ahead.  In fact the programme for December 2017 is already firming up.  On 9th December the choir will sing during the wedding mass of soprano Stephanie Abela, and the Anglican Church has already invited the SPCS to once again lead the singing during the Festivals of Nine Lessons & Carols held in Advent.  

As you can see, during 2017 the choir will once again be busy performance-wise, both in Malta and abroad.  The choir’s greatest challenge, however, will be to continue to recruit and train the new talent that is already giving it a new lease of life as it approaches its third decade, and helping it consolidate its position as one of the leading polyphonic choirs in Malta.

Hugo Agius Muscat
January 2017
A Call for Choristers

(...especially Tenors! Singing tenor is a special talent, someone mooted,  because the tenor voice is high and smooth, because of a greater number of vibrations per second that hit the ear. Think Joseph Calleja, Andrea Bocelli, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Mario Lanza, Il Volo .…  Are we missing your name?)

Do you enjoy choral music?  Or did you study a musical instrument in the past but had to stop playing for a while?  You might be just the type of person the St Paul Choral Society (SPCS) is looking for!  Our choir is now in its nineteenth year.  During 2016 we presented 12 musical events.  Our repertoire spans five centuries; we choose music that is a pleasure for us to sing and for our audiences to hear.  Recently we held a concert with orchestra at St John’s Co-Cathedral where we sang music by Mozart, including his Requiem and Misericordias Domini.
In 2017  the choir is planning to go on tour abroad.  Work on this is in progress.
We presently have space for young sopranos, tenors and basses.

If you are aged between 13 and 65; love good music, and can dedicate two hours every Wednesday evening for our rehearsal together, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our choir director, Hugo Agius Muscat, by calling or messaging on mobile number 79705692 or sending an email to


The New SPCS Website

The St Paul Choral Society officially launched its new website on 1st October.  Please visit it at the address  The website was designed and built by George Gauci and its content is being managed by Anne-Marie Agius. 

Vytautas Miškinis: Cantate Domino (Sing to the Lord: Psalm 97)  

One of the new pieces in the choir’s repertoire for 2017 is by this contemporary composer.

The Lithuanian choral conductor, composer, and educator Vytautas Miškinis was born on June 5, 1954, in Vilnius, Lithuania. As a student in secondary school, Miškinis sang in a boys’ choir, then went on to study choral conducting at the Lithuanian State Conservatory. He has become one of the most distinguished choral conductors in Lithuania, with his choirs winning numerous international competitions. He has also composed more than 250 works for children’s choirs and soloists, more than 100 works for adult choirs, and approximately 150 large religious works, including masses, motets, and litanies. His music is performed in Lithuania and internationally. He wrote Cantate Domino in 1997, and his jaunty setting of the familiar text (adapted from Psalm 96, Sing to the Lord a new song) has proved to be one of his most popular works.
(From  Program Notes for Chicago Master Singers Spring concerts, by Francis Lynch)
Miskinis has also served as chief conductor and music director of festivals such as the Lithuanian National Song Festival and the World Lithuanian Song Festival, has written many articles on music, served on juries
 including the International Choir Festival held in Malta in 2015) and has been a professor at the Lithuanian Academy of Music Association.
Cantate Domino opens with lively syncopation followed by a tranquil, slow section in which women’s voices alternate with men’s.  The opening material returns in a new key and leads to an exuberant close.

Cantate Domino Canticum novum;
Et benedicite
nomini ejus:
mirabilia fecit.
Psallite Domino in cithara,
Et voce psalmi
Sing unto the Lord a new song
And bless his name,
For he has done
marvelous things.
Rejoice and sing praise with the harp,
and voice of a psalm

Music for elephants: How Paul Barton is apologizing to blind elephants for crimes of humanity

“If you play classical music to an elephant, … that is blind … the reaction is priceless.”

Paul Barton, a celebrated British pianist, went to Thailand where he and his wife have been working for the past two decades to rehabilitate elephants who were exploited and made to work in the teak industry,  .

Thai teak wood is considered to be the finest in the world, a fact that has served to reduce the country’s forest cover drastically. The government enacted a ban on commercial timber logging in 1989.

The worst victims of this forestland massacre were those gentle beings whose home that forest was. Stripped of their freedom, these elephants were made to carry heavy logs of wood through the jungles and abused and mistreated to no end. The twigs and branches would scratch their eyes and draw blood from all over their body.

When the ban on deforestation was enacted, these elephants were rendered ‘unemployed’.  Elephant’s World, a haven of
sanctuary, was set up to give these elephants a peaceful home. It runs entirely on donations. 

Barton, who worked with blind children and saw their reactions to music, wanted to try playing to elephants who, he says, as all animals do, like music, but elephants are the closest to human beings as they have the same
neurons in the brains as us. He describes his first experience with one elephant:  “I started to play Beethoven and she stopped eating. … That was a reaction I had never seen before. An elephant stopped eating because of music…. There is something infinitesimally wonderful in a piece of Beethoven that connects me to that elephant and that feeling is otherworldly.”
Says Barton: “The elephant has worked for humans for too long. It was used in wars, it was used to deforest its own home. What is the little thing I can do as a human to say sorry, for my species for what we have done to them?”
Watch Paul Barton playing to the elephants on youtube
Taken from an article by Rakhi Chakraborty

Trinity College Diploma in Singing for Stephen Mangion
Stephen Mangion has just received the results of the Trinity College of Music exams.  He passed and has obtained a diploma in singing (ATCL i.e. ASSOCIATE OF TRINITY COLLEGE LONDON).  Congratulations to Stephen!  Below he gives a resumé of his studies in this area over the past years

I started going to singing lessons with Gillian Zammit some years after I joined the SPCS as I wanted to improve my singing skills.  Gillian helped me develop singing techniques.  We would sometimes go over pieces that I was singing with the choir but principally she got me to sing new pieces of various genres - from Baroque to Bel Canto.  After a few years she suggested that perhaps I should sit for an exam and we agreed that I would sit for the London Trinity College Grade 6 exam.  This entailed preparing four short pieces and two technical pieces as well as sitting for an aural test and sight singing.  To my surprise I managed to pass the exam and I then followed on with grades 7 and 8 the following years.
The next step now was the Diploma exam.  I discovered that this was a whole new ball game as there was quite a quantum leap between grade 8 and the diploma, but I started preparing for it slowly.  One is expected to prepare a solo recital lasting around 38 to 40 minutes with pieces selected from a list published by the College. The selection needs to include pieces from different periods and styles and in  different languages.  Together with Gillian, I started to select the pieces a few at a time and to learn them.  I ended up choosing eleven pieces to make up the time needed: they included pieces by Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Bellini as well as more modern ones by Vaughan Williams, Debussy, Duparc and Barber and they covered four languages: Italian, French, German and English.  

The recital is to be given under concert conditions so the pieces have to be sung from memory and that is one of the major challenges - especially with the foreign language pieces.  Moreover, one has to prepare a printed programme with notes about each piece.  These cannot be plagiarised and thus various different sources need to be consulted and one's own notes then prepared.  The day of the exam finally came round last November and I must admit to feeling a bit nervous but my examiner was an elderly English lady who came out to talk to me in the waiting room before the exam to put me at ease.  Once one walks into the examination room, one has to act as in a performance: - no words exchanged, the pieces sung from memory and sung to an imaginary audience - in this case an audience of one - fortunately a lady in my case, as many of the pieces I was to sing were love songs of one kind or another so having a lady there (rather than a male examiner) made it so much better.                    
Meet the Chorister - Nicolette Miller - Miriam Briffa - Daniela Briffa
Nicolette Miller
 I have been immersed into music since I was a little girl. I started taking piano lessons at the age of five and practice was part of my daily routine. Eventually I started participating in concerts both as a soloist and accompanist, and also played duets with my sister. Studying Music teaching at University seemed to be the next step.

My very first interest in choirs started quite early in life and as a child I formed part of a choir for quite a number of years. Throughout my university course I joined the University Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Maestro Dion Buhagiar. I still remember the excitement before each performance. My choral singing experience stopped for a while when I started teaching. Although being a music teacher, singing was always part of my job, I was missing the feel of choral singing – the sensation of making music together. Apart from enhancing my sight-reading, the benefits of singing in a choir are tremendous. Attending concerts on a regular basis and listening to several choirs triggered me to join one of Malta’s leading polyphonic choirs, SPCS. I was particularly impressed when I attended the performance of ‘The Best of Karl Jenkins’ way back in 2012. Having joined the choir only recently I already treasure the experiences of singing Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ and the Christmas Concerts and I look forward to participating in other singing opportunities both in Malta and hopefully abroad.

Miriam Briffa

I am Miriam Briffa and I was born at home in Marsa, Malta. As long as I can remember, I have always loved to sing. I have most likely inherited the love of music from my grandfather on my father's side Joseph Delia who was a member of The Armed Forces of Malta Band. Along the years I have sung with many choirs. 

Later, after I had my youngest daughter Daniela, who has also joined SPCS, I started studying music theory and voice, leading me to Trinity College of Music theory and singing exams with success.

I met Dr. Hugo personally when he came to play the organ as a replacement at the Metropolitan Cathedral at Mdina, where I have been singing in the resident choir since 2001. Later I asked him to accompany me for the latest wedding I sang. 

That did it! I was looking for a high standard choir to sing with, so the choice was easy, Dr. Hugo's choir! What strikes me as significant in SPCS is the sense of respect among the members. I am enjoy singing with SPCS.

I think it is important to encourage talent, especially in the young by advising toward the best tuition in the subject, and attending to their performances.

Daniela Briffa

I am 18 years old and passionate about languages and music. I’m currently reading for a B.A. in English and French – definitely the most stressful period of my life so far.

Thankfully, I can turn to music when I’m stressed and need motivation, by playing the piano and guitar, singing or simply by listening to good music.

My passion for classical and church music was born when I joined the resident choir at the Mdina Metropolitan Cathedral at the age of eight. Ten years on, I also form part of St. Monica Choir, Coro Bel Canto and of course SPCS. Although it is sometimes hard to find a balance between choirs, it is all worth it on the day of the concert – the joy experienced when performing in front of an audience is indescribable!

Joining SPCS has definitely increased my love for music because of its wide range of music. I must also praise the hospitality of the choir members from the day that my mother and I joined, which has made fitting in much easier. I can’t wait for future performances with SPCS, especially since the choir also sings abroad – travelling is another of my passions.

Apart from music, I adore learning new languages. So far, I can speak Maltese and English fluently, but also understand and speak some French, Italian and German. At the moment I am learning Spanish and in the future I wish to learn some Latin since I would like to understand the church music I sing.

Birthday Wishes

Ann Galea Testaferrata =  3 January
Anna Stivala - 9 January
Maurice Tabone - 4 February
Paula Collins - 11 February
Alison O'Toole - 22 February
Annabel Mallia - 27 February
Dirk Hasselman -  5 March
Doreen Mizzi - 8 March
Stephanie Chetcuti - 17 March
Doris Spiteri - 20 March
Edgar Sammut - 21 March
Anton Cutajar -  29 March
Michael J. Turner. - 31 March

SPCS Committee 2015-2017


Chairman: Maurice Tabone
Music Director: Hugo Agius Muscat
Secretary: Cecilia Agius Muscat 
Treasurer: Stephen Mangion (Bass Section Leader)
Members: Anne-Marie Agius (Member), Joseph Farrugia (Tenor Section Leader), Josette Farrugia (Alto Section Leader), Anna Stivala (Soprano Section Leader)
For more information about the choir please go to and
If you are interested in joining the choir please write to
Copyright © 2017 SPCS, All rights reserved.

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