venice - home of the renaissance ensemble

"Unsung Heroes" Cello Ensemble Course

Join us to play and study some of the most evocative choral music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras


As of this yer [2019] all repertoire will be announced via email, Twitter, Facebook (catherine.black39) and on Instagram. In 2019 there will be lots of new & stunning music coming as well as some returns. We will be returning to Messiaen for the short Summer Course in Cambridge and the Extreme Cello Orchestra there will be Verdi again. New pieces include a vibrant Venetian Canzona by Gabrieli, rich beauty from Stanford and Pearsall, and Monteverdi to name a few. So, stay tuned as I also tend to link pieces to develop certain musical and technical ideas across the year.

About the 2019 easter course [April 9-11th], summer schools [July 28th-August 2rd] & [Aug 13th-15th] and Extreme Cello weekend [Oct 25th & 26th] and

The venues are booked, highlight the weekends or week in your diary, start saving your pennies. NB you can now purchase gift vouchers on all lessons, workshops and courses - for the cellist in your life!

PS any of the easter course, extreme weekend or summer school would make a fabulous present for the cellist in your life - as would any of the workshops!

Privacy Policy

I hold your email address and sometimes, your mobile numbers. I do not give these out to anyone including third parties. Sometimes, a cellist will ask ME to forward an email from them, to members of a group they have played with. You can then choose whether to make contact or not.

Introduction to the summer school:

'Imagination creates reality'

Our repertoire is to be announced in the near future

Find yourself challenged and thrilled!


The repertoire for Unsung Heroes is designed to develop your musical understanding and technical skills so that you are prepared as you find your way about your musical world.

Also always, we end the week with a concert to which friends and relations are welcome.

We study style and technique throughout as well as the historical context of each piece. There are some Baroque bows for you to borrow too.

Our music is stunning and will challenge and excite you. I have found this repertoire evolves your playing like no other. It ranges over many centuries and styles.

All the arrangements (except one) are mine, and you will receive a set of music (in July) ahead of the course on receipt of your application.

Whatever age you are, come and experience some of the most sublime music.

'Unsung Heroes' - The Book

'Unsung Heroes', my ensemble workshop has really hit the right note for cellists of all levels. I'm therefore moving into in-house publication and am very happy to announce that the first volume of Unsung Heroes was published in May 2009.

The collection contains ten varied scores by Byrd, Tallis and Dowland and others. The majority are for four parts, but there are also scores for three and five parts so your group can double some parts where necessary. There will be helpful musical and technical notes on each piece. The format is very user-friendly and the scores sit well on a music stand with a good ring binding. The cover is another stunning image by Max Carrington which may become a poster soon too.

This would make a brilliant present for a cellist friend. And, if you are looking for Renaissance & Baroque sheet music for your ensemble, then look no further!

You can see more details and order this book from this website right now!

Summer School aims

These notes - though for the 2018 course are equally true for 2019!

July 2018 will be the Twelth Summer Course for Unsung Heroes. UH has a following from all around the country and now cellists are coming from europe too. I absolutely love this week and this year it is expanding in its remit so you leave the course having exceeded your expectations as a player and musician. I also want you to have absorbed this amazing repertoire and have developed a feel and passion for its writers and their times.

Throughout the course we will be looking at and developing the following:

Each session will begin with getting ready to play: stretches to prepare the body, energy exercises to prepare the mind and body, followed by cello warm-ups.

Learning to play with others and refining our ability to listen will be on-going work. We will look at the broader picture of the musical architecture: the fore, middle and backgrounds and what this means for your place in the mix.

Though we are modern cellists, we will look in depth at playing more in style from our bow use to the role and type of vibrato we use in early music.

This is what the cellist Fiona Murphy says of this music...

I have been a member of String Theory Cello Ensemble playing the Unsung Heroes repertoire. I have had an amazing journey both technically and musically.

Studying this fantastic repertoire makes you explore every avenue of expression. A greater awareness of the life in your bow and it's releationship with your left hand is vital in achieving the huge range of both tone colour and articulation needed to put this music across to the listener.

This type of self-investigation is most rewarding as it opens up new possibilities in one's playing and in the beautiful union of cellos singing together.

As string players we often emulate the voice, but do not use it much as an integral part of our practising. Given our repertoire here, we will be using our voices to understand the phrasing and to draw the ear in.

You will end the course with a concert to which we invite friends and family.

Summer School extras & preparation

For those who have only been on summer schools before 2012, there are some interesting & useful improvements:

  • The course is six days long.
  • There will be daily sessions in technique which address specific issues thrown up for us by the music.
  • Each day will end with a performance which we will record. This will enable you have a clearer and more objective overview of what is and isn't happening.

Reading list. This is for those of you who want to make this as broad an experience as possible. These popular and easily available books will help you develop a stronger understanding of music and culture in the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

  • 'Man and His Music'. Alec Harman and Wilfred Mellers. Barrie and Rockliff
  • 'The Cambridge Music Guide'. Stanley Sadie and Alison Latham. CUP
  • 'A History of Western Music'. Christopher Headington. Paladin
  • 'Big Bangs' (in particular see chapters 1 and 5). Howard Goodall. Chatto & Windus
  • 'The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians'
  • 'A History of Western Music'. Donald J. Grout. W.W.Norton & Co.
  • 'The Rough Guide to Classical Music'.
  • 'A social history of music' by Henry Raynor. Look particularly at chapters 7 & 8
  • 'The Cello Suites' by Eric Siblin
  • 'A concise history of western music' by Paul Griffiths published by CUP
  • 'Monteverdi Companion' Published by CUP
  • 'Monteverdi' by Denis Arnold - Master Musicians Series Pub Dent
  • 'The New Monteverdi Companion' Pub Faber
  • 'The Story of Music' by Howard Goodall - Vintage Paperback

Listening. Your local library will have a wide selection of choral music by Byrd, Tallis, Weelkes, Morales, Palestrina, Gibbons and others.

Check out secular music too (opera, chansons and madrigals) by Monteverdi, Morley, Purcell, Lassus and Josquin.

Vocal groups to hear include The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars (Gimell Label), The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM Label), The Monteverdi Choir, Stile Antico,The King's Singers (EMI),various artists on the Harmonia Mundi Label, Handel Opera Seria on naïve Label. Numerous cathedral choirs.

Unsung Heroes : What students say

Amelia - on the 2014 course, writes:

"I can't begin to describe what a week that're an amazing teacher, an amazing musician...thank you so much for giving us all such an incredible experience. I'm still letting it sink in here and feeling a bit emotional about it."

Addi from Amsterdam writes:

"Thank you for the most magical week. The music is still lingering in my head. I appear to have gotten addicted to it"

Paul writes:

"Unsung Heroes was a treat- an opportunity to play gorgeous music with like-minded people in lovely surroundings. I felt my playing and sight-reading improved by being placed in what was an intensive environment, and the chance to play with others really made one think about timing and awareness of other musicians."

"The final public performance gave one a sense of achievement and was a valuable experience of doing a real-life show as well as being memorable and fun."

"All in all, a very enjoyable course with an excellent teacher which I highly recommend. Oh, and the lunches were delicious too!"

Anne from Leicester said:

I really enjoyed my week in Lewes, playing beautiful arrangements of music with your help and guidance. Everything was perfect including the delightful company of the other participants, the venue, the amazing lunches and your expert teaching. Also the length of the course was just right leaving me time in the afternoon to explore the area. I managed to visit Brighton Pavillion, go to an opera at Glyndebourne and enjoy a country walk on the Sussex Downs as well as pottering around Lewes, which I have completely fallen in love with.

The culmination of the week was participating in the concert in the lovely little church. I was quite inspired by this and very proud to be performing in front of my daughter who managed to pop down from London for the evening.

Heather writes:

The strength of my reaction after the Summer Course had finished took me by surprise. I had loved every day and now missed the music, the playing and the people more than I could have predicted. My playing had really developed and to find myself playing the most beautiful and inspiring scores at my level of experience blew my mind!

I learnt techniques of how to play in an ensemble and how to let go of my fears and enjoy my own playing.

Hazel writes, after the autumn 2007 workshop:

What a super weekend, Thank you and Fiona very much for your enthusiasm and guidance. I had a great time and found my confidence increased no end in such a short period.

Trish from Wales, writes:

Thank you for your patience and dedication to getting the best out of us.

Stephanie from Lincolnshire, writes:

Thank you for making me feel so welcome. I had great fun and thoroughly enjoyed the day. Your and Fionas enthusiasm is infectious and now I can't wait for the August course.

Heather writes:

The most amazing course I have ever been on - don't want to miss this one !!

Six day course - Lewes

Cello Summer flyer

When? SUNDAY July 26th - FRIDAY 31st July 2020. The final performance [see below] will be on the Friday.

Where? At the All Saints Centre, Friars Walk Lewes, East Sussex.

Repertoire? : The repertoire for 2020 will be announced in the new year

The scores will be available from May and can be forwarded to you on receipt of your application.

Standard? It is in the nature of the writing that the parts are varied, so the range is from around Grade 2 upwards.

Daily times? Sunday: 10.00am to 3.30pm. Monday - Thursday: 9.30am to 3.30pm. Please arrive 15 minutes beforehand to setup. Snacks and drinks are provided daily and there will be water available in your rehearsals.

... and on Friday [concert day] we start at 9.30am and do our private concert to and for ourselves at 12noon following with a celebration and end of course lunch at approx 1pm.

Afterwards if you'd like to go out for a drink and/or meal together I will book a restaurant.

Cost? £690 for the week's course - great value!!

Ages? 16 to infinity

This year we will have meals provided by Delish of Lewes. Any special diets are easily catered for so just make your needs clear on the application form. Course fees are payable by cheque, or for overseas students, by bankers order.

Cancellation policy for summer school

Included in the fee is a £100 Deposit. If you cancel the course, for whatever reason, up to eight weeks before it starts, I will return the full amount you paid minus £100 deposit. If you cancel between eight and four weeks before the date the course begins, I will reimburse half the fee minus the deposit of £100. If you cancel, during the four weeks leading up to the course or, on the course, the fee is payable in full.

Accomodation? Please ask for help if you need to find a B&B [accomodation].

Travel? Lewes railway and bus stations are very close and there are direct trains from Gatwick and London. If coming from overeas bear in mind that Gatwick Airport is in West Sussex, and so is quite near. If you travel to Gatwick you can catch a train direct to Lewes and it takes about 30 minutes. If you do arrive at Heathrow, catch the tube into London and then go to Victoria station where you can get trains for Lewes which will take 65 minutes. The trains are usually marked to Eastbourne or Hastings.

What about my cello? If you are not buying a seat for your cello, tell the airline that you will be carrying a cello that you would like walked onto and off the plane. There are compartments in the hold into which your cello can be strapped upright. When I have taken my cello in planes, I have been met at the gate and someone then carries the instrument on and if you remind them to walk it off and not to put it with the baggage things will be fine.

If you are travelling by plane and would rather hire a cello at a reasonable rate in the UK, I can organise this for you. Please get in touch in good time though!

Alternatively I do have a couple of cellos that can be borrowed by any overseas student, check with me first and then you will only need to bring your bow. But bows are available too and I also have a collection of Baroque bows.

Accommodation? You may live locally and be travelling here daily but if not, Lewes has several small hotels and some excellent Bed & Breakfasts. Here are some useful websites:

Being here:

Lewes is an ancient market town nestling in the beautiful South Downs National Park. It is a very friendly, quirky place to be. When I first arrived here, I thought I was being confused with someone else; it is normal for people you've never met, to say "Hello" (a lot) and to grin at you!

So you will feel at home here. It is easy to walk around and a nice place to browse lots of independent shops as well as nip into Tesco and Waitrose. We have some wonderful Elizabethan gardens at The Grange in Southover where you can sit in the Knot Garden or lie down on the lawns and relax. This was the childhood home of the diarist, John Evelyn.

Though you will probably feel well fed by the delicious lunches on the course, you may like to wander out in the evening to a pub or restaurant. I go to the Snowdrop pub at the end of South Street, in the Cliffe area, and up to The Lewes Arms. There is also The Swan in Southover and The Pelham Arms to name just a few.

Restaurant - wise, we have some lovely choices: The original Bill's Restaurant serves a wonderful variety of meals and snacks. It is open from early till late. Café Nero and Costa too. Le Patisserie in Market Street also very good.

There is a Pizza Express in the High Street, Ask and Prezzo too. Some lovely Thai places are Lemongrass and Pailin. Chaula's is a south Indian café next to Waitrose, The Spice Merchant is a regular with course members. We have a new Premier Inn, a stones throw from All Saints Centre, and there is a new restaurant there, Aqua which does the most wonderful risotto. Bus Club Pizza is a pizza place opposite Waitrose in the old bus station and is also loved. We have a Cote coming soon too.

This is just a handful of ideas, so do let me know what you experience.

We do go out for a group meal during the week as well as meeting up at a pub.


For those of you wanting to go to Glyndebourne, check out last minute tickets. You can catch the bus there from the station and leave your cello with me for safe-keeping. Brighton is a 10 minute train ride away and we are close to Rodmell where Virginia Woolf lived, Charleston Farmhouse, and down the road, the seaside. I often go and sit on the beach at Seaford where Glyndebourne chorus get their fish and chips during the interval.

Walking after playing is the perfect antidote! Pop up Chapel Hill and onto the Downs for some wonderful views there and listen to the larks, or drive out to Firle and up the Beacon. I frequently go to walk at Seaford Head and Hope Gap and you can see the Oxbow Lakes from above. This is the country of Eric Ravillious and much of his work can be seen at The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. There are some lovely villages to explore close-by: Alfriston, Littlington, Firle, Selmeston, Berwick & its gorgeous church, and Alciston just for starters!

If you are commuting in, we are 3 minutes from the station where there is parking that most of us use as it's 24 hours and is very close to All Saints.

You will need: A spare set of strings and a black-hole or other floor protector. Bring layers to rehearsals and pack something glamorous to wear for the concert bearing in mind that glamour and churches sometimes don't add up in an obvious way! But, you need to look good for the concert.

I will provide music stands so don't add to your shoulder strain!

Closing date: the nominal closing date for the Summer course is July 26th. If you have just found this page and the closing date has past, please call or email me to book a place and so I can let our caterer know.

Click here for Application form

Summer School 'Through Coloured Glass' - Lewes - August 2020

Cello Summer II flyer advanced

Our very first time - designed for advanced and professional cellists A wonderful week for the really experienced cellist

When? Mon 17th to Fri 21st August 2020.

Repertoire? A stunning programme of Renaissance, Baroque and Romantic music. We will perform publically using lighting and other media.

Where? St Thomas's Church Hall, Cliffe High Street, Lewes BN7 2AH - free parking at hall

From? 10.00am to 3.30pm, then 9.30am to 3.30pm

Ages? advanced and professional cellists

Cost? £590 per person, includes lunch & refreshment. Fees are payable by cheque, or for overseas students, by bankers order.

Cellists will receive the musici in advance to learn before rehersal and develipment start

Click here for application form ...

Three day Easter course - Cambridge - April

Cello Easter flyer

Passion Music - sublime & emotionally powerful music - our fourth year

Our repertoire is sublime & emotionally powerful music written specially for this central moment in the sacred year. This is going to be a wonderful 3 days working and exploring such great music together - do join us!

When? TUESDAY April 9th - THURSDAY 11th 2019.

Repertoire? To be announced in the new year

Where? Church of St John the Evangelist, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 8RN

From? 9.30am-3.30pm

Ages? 14 to infinity

Cost? £375 per person to include lovely lunches and refreshments, payable by cheque, or for overseas students, by bankers order.

Your scores will be sent on receipt of your application & payment and are yours to keep. Free parking available at the church. We are close to the station for commuters.

Click here for Easter Music Application form ...

Summer Short Course - Cambridge - August

Cello Icons flyer

New! For those who can't make the longer course, and also for players wanting to combine an ensemble course with sight seeing in the beautiful city of Cambridge, this may fill the gap. We meet and rehearse on Tuesday and end with a performance for ourselves, and any friends, on Thursday.

Clue: Have a few weeks revisiting your chromatic scales!

When? Tue 13th Aug to Thur 15th Aug 2019.

Repertoire? Our repertoire is riveting music by Monteverdi, Gibbons & Messiaen

Where? Church of St John the Evangelist, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 8RN

From? 9.30am-3.30pm

Ages? 14 - infinity

Cost? £375 per person, includes lunch & refreshment. Fees are payable by cheque, or for overseas students, by bankers order.

Click here for application form ...

Extreme Cello Orchestra Weekend - Lewes - May 2020

Cello Icons flyer

This is new and exciting for Lewes! We meet & rehearse on Friday to kick off our exciting weekend. We can then go to a pub for supper, or if commuting, there's time to catch the train home. On Saturday we combine the music with looking at the techniques & musical ideas we need to focus and develop. On sunday we finish at 1pm, so you can get home easily. This is a great opportunity to put yourself on the spot. Why not join us & explore this challenging (in the right way) and thrilling music? !

Clue: Have a few weeks revisiting your chromatic scales!

When? Fri 29th May to Sun 31st May 2019.

Repertoire? We are playing a seriously chromatic and dramatic late choral piece by Verdi - Ave Maria written in 1898

Where?All Saints Centre, Friars Walk, Lewes BN7 2LE

From? 4am-7pm, 10am-4pm, 10am-1pm

Ages? 14 - infinity

Cost? £260 per person, includes lunch & refreshment. Fees are payable by cheque, or for overseas students, by bankers order.

Click here for application form ...

One day workshops - Lewes & Cambridge

The one day 'Unsung Heroes' Workshop are intended for secondary school students and adults of all abilities, from relative beginners right through to the very experienced. The workshop will be an exciting day of ensemble playing.

Students from earlier Summer schools have returned again and again, as none of us could get enough of the whole experience!

Catherine is an inspiring teacher and player. My lessons are such a treat, a time for me where I can feel both nurtured and challenged in just the right measure. The one-day course was a revelation and definitely helped me relax about my playing and learn to enjoy it more, which is something that is all too easy to forget when you're trying to get it right! The music was beautiful too. It's a great feeling to be playing alongside other cellists [Marta]

You are both excellent teachers who stimulate and encourage one to feel that playing the cello is not only a delightful thing to do, but possible! [Jane, France]

I'm a trainer myself and I was particularly impressed by the fluidity that the course progressed with and the range of aspects of playing covered...I thought your teaching was superb and the setting and length just right. [Rob, Hampshire]

You've clearly put a huge amount of thought into how to explain the techniques required to play the cello well and it made the course very worthwhile [from the October 2008 workshop]

I really appreciated your teaching and the attention to detail and am thinking about issues I hadn't thought about before. [Rosie, London]

..a great day of instruction and inspiration last Saturday. It always makes me think harder about "how to" [Lisa]

One day workshops & courses flyer Students are now being sent scores and practice notes in advance of the workshop. Do let me know in good time so you can have your scores.

In 2018 all except one of the 1-day ensemble workshops will feature just one score so we will be able to explore both technical issues and musicianship in greater detail.

NB We start earlier, at 9.30am, so you get even more time working on these wonderfull pieces!

So, come and join me for the one day workshops. Book now!


When in Winter I 2019? Saturday February 23rd 2019: [Lewes]

When in Winter II? Saturday March 9th 2019: [Cambridge]

When in Spring I? Saturday March 30th 2019: [Lewes]

When in Spring II? Saturday May 25th 2019: [Lewes]

When in Summer? Saturday June 8th 2019: [Cambridge]

When in Summer? Saturday July 7th 2019: [Lewes] part of the new Baroquefest - Event Cancelled!

When in Winter III? Saturday November 23rd 2019: [Lewes [Winter Light]

When in Winter IV? Saturday December 14th 2019: [Cambridge [Winter Light]

Where in Lewes? Unless noted above the one day workshops are in the church hall of St Thomas, Cliffe High Street, Lewes. NB Please park in the Phoenix car park which is an all-day car park. After you turn into Malling Street, turn right into Harvey's Way which takes you into the park.You will see the church spire from here and the hall is just behind the church.

Where in Cambridge? Unless noted above the Cambridge workshops are in the Wilkinson room of St John the Evangelist Church, Hills Road, CB2 8RN

From? 10.00am-3.30pm

Cost? £80 per person includes refreshments but please supply your own lunch. There are several restaurants and cafes very near the hall which is centrally located. Course fees are payable by cheque, or for overseas students, by bankers order.

Cancellation policy for 1 day course.

If booking a 1-day workshop included in the fee is £30 deposit. If you cancel the workshop, for what ever reason, up to six weeks before the course begins, I will reimburse the fee minus the deposit. If you cancel during the six weeks leading up to the course or on the course itself the fee is payable in full.

Click here for Application form and here for Once Day workshops & Course Flyer

Scores: if you wish to have scores before the 1-day workshop, please indicate on your application form.

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