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Blogger in Residence: Rory Johnston

Rory Wainwright Johnston is a conductor and composer from Bradford-on-Avon, based in Manchester. He joined ORA Singers as our one of our ‘Bloggers in Residence’ in 2018, eager to share his experience of choral writing, singing, directing with the next generation.

About Rory...

Rory is a composer and conductor based in the rainy city of Manchester. Having just finished his Masters in Composition, he is gradually forging a path in the professional world of music.

Growing up within the English choral tradition as a treble at Bath Abbey, Rory’s musicianship was formed by composers like Howells and Byrd. Luckily having been played plenty of Radiohead and Manic Street Preachers on cassettes in his parents’ car as a kid, his taste broadened to encompass more than just the classical sphere. Nowadays, Rory enjoys listening to Renaissance polyphony and contemporary art music alongside R&B and 90's hiphop.

Rory is passionate about encouraging people to engage with contemporary music, opening their ears to new possibilities and sound worlds. He admires the ORA Singers for their commitment to new music and is thoroughly looking forward to working with them.

New year, new music

Author:   Blogger in Residence, Rory Johnston

Author: Blogger in Residence, Rory Johnston

It’s a new academic year, and the start of September means the start of school, college, and soon, university. It also marks the beginning of most ensembles around the country’s new seasons…

So to start off your year right, I thought I’d give you some suggestions of new avenues of music to explore. I am going to give you a piece and suggested composers from each vague part of musical history so that you have a wide range of styles to listen to – enjoy!


Perotin – Viderunt Omnes


Perotin, and his contemporary Leonin, are both associated with, what we now call, the Notre Dame school of polyphony, having both worked at or near the Notre Dame cathedral between the mid-12th and mid-13th centuries. Their music is essentially ‘organum’ or music built from extruding parts out of plainchant melodies in parallel and contrary motion. Their music has inspired lots of composers, from their immediate successors like Machaut and Dufay, to Steve Reich and beyond.

Other composers to explore from around this period:

  • Leonin

  • Guillaume de Machaut

Dufay – Ave Maris Stella


Guillaume Dufay was a composer in early Renaissance and is well known for his parody masses, and motets. This piece Ave Maris Stella take the plainchant hymn of the same text and alternates between chant and three part polyphony, to beautiful effect. The parallel movement of the parts stems from the previous practice of ‘organum’ as mentioned above.

Other composers to explore from around this period:

  • Johannes Ockeghem

  • Heinrich Isaac

 Dvořák – Stabat Mater

Written by Antonin Dvořák (pronounced duh-VOR-jacques, ‘jacques’ like the French name ‘Jacques’) in 1877 - If you’ve never heard this piece, you should take an hour and a bit out of your day to listen to it, right now. It is a heartfelt setting of the text, and is even more so when you learn that Dvořák started the piece six months after his infant daughter’s death, and during the 3 year compositional process, his other two children also passed away.

L. Boulanger -  Psalm 24 "La terre appartient à l'Éternel"


Lili Boulanger was a French composer writing at the beginning of the 20th century. She unfortunately died at the young age of 24 due to illness, but her sister the noted composer and composition teacher Nadia Boulanger carried on her legacy.

Other composers to explore from around this period:

  • Francis Poulenc

  • Germaine Tailleferre

Ligeti – Nonsense Madrigals


This is the 2nd of a collection of 6 pieces written for the Kings Singers (the first four in 1988, followed by 5&6 in 1993) by Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti. Ligeti was one of the most important and innovative figures in avant-garde music in the latter part of the 20th century, and these pieces capture his love of nonsense and playing with words.

Other composers to explore from around this period:

  • Luciano Berio (especially Sinfonia)

  • Peter Maxwell Davies

Written by Rory Johnston

ORA Singers