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(See bottom of page for acknowledgements)

About the piece

This Place (20 minutes, composed April 2021-July 2021), is a site-specific work for St John’s chapel, eight solo voices, and electronics. The ensemble consists of three quartets: two with live singers, and one of pre-recorded voices. My aims and processes for this piece may be surmised as ‘activating the space’: making the chapel (re)sound, sonically animating it, and making it resonate (in multiple senses of the word). The piece is entirely derived from the chapel, from the poetic to the harmonic content, attention to tempi and reverberation to the positioning of the singers and the direction of the sound. I engage with the resonance of the walls, but also the resonance of association — exploring the relationship of architecture and acoustics through what types of sound excite this space.


When you hear sound in this chapel, it is sound that has interacted with the architecture significantly before it reaches you. My work was not solely performed in the chapel, but performed by the chapel. Through a long period of experimentation in the space, I considered musical processes that would illuminate certain architectural features — the dome, the niches, the acoustic shadows created by the columns, the lateral reflections in the pews, the early reflections facing the back wall of the apse, and the late reflections singing up into the tower. 

I strove to compose within the space as much as possible. Sometimes this involved taking room tone acoustic measurements, calculating reverberation time in and from multiple parts of the chapel, and analysing impulse response recordings. Predominantly, this took the form of an intuitive, embodied approach, and my own investigative practice as a performer: improvising in the space vocally, taking recordings within the space, and relying on finely-tuned listening. There was an acute sense of call and response between me and the building; I treated the space like an instrument, an extension of my voice.


The process of composition also involved thinking about a different kind of echo: those through time as well as space, the sonic associations and cultural revenants present in the architecture, ceremonies and services and voices sounding over hundreds of years. I engage with these resonances through the poetic content of the work. I wrote my own poetry inspired by my experience within the chapel and combined these with texts drawn from the chapel. The duality of these two sources of text was distilled by the live and electronic voices. Whilst the poems sought to excite the space in the moment, the electronics infused the building with memories and reflections, imprints of the past: the chapel answering back poetically as well as acoustically.

“In nomine

Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, 

Hujus Sacelli 

fundamenta posita sunt 

A.D pridie Nonas Maias, 


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, this chapel foundations are laid on the sixth day of May A.Ş. 1864

Foundation stone that was laid during the consecration of the chapel, commemorative inscription (heard in I: THIS STONE)


This side
speaks soft
the walls are singing.

'I: THIS STONE' - Lara Weaver

As the air
there is light
in the dome
sun-shatter sound 
in glass.

'II: THIS AIR' - Lara Weaver


“Auctoritate mihi commissa, admitto te(,) in Scholarem, huius Collegii, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”


By the authority entrusted in me, I admit you as a scholar in our college, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Master replies in the Latin formula of Admission

(heard in VI: THIS PLACE)

A sound
never dies,
only moves.
The world is vibrating.

'V: THIS TIME' - Lara Weaver


Taking further the idea of repopulating the site through voices over time with setting site-specific texts, I also used archive recordings of past services to create spoken voice montages (recordings used with kind permission of St John’s College). These are ghosts: incorporeal, disembodied voices emerging from the chapel.

The piece begins with a polyphonic counterpoint of spoken and sung voices broadcast from the loudspeakers — mixing radio broadcasts with spoken prayers, sung responses, scholars’ oaths (the ceremony for which has been held in the chapel for hundreds of years), and snippets of interviews with chaplains and directors of music. There is friction between these different discursive elements, an overlapping of many different spaces, identities and voices, histories, architectural forms, stories of the past and visions for the future all layered together until the coherence of each individual voice is lost.

After this, every movement of the piece distills one element of that montage as its focus. THIS AIR uses the ‘drop down ye heavens’ plainchant as its core motif; THIS DARK takes the monotone responses and prayers; THIS LIGHT takes the collect refrain ‘lighten our darkness’ as a springboard; THIS TIME uses the college prayer; and THIS PLACE uses the scholar’s oath recited by students when they become members of the foundation of the college. Where the piece began with the latin text engraved upon the foundation stone of the college, the piece now comes to an end with the latin text as spoken by the Master to formally induct students into the foundation of the college as made up of its members. The work concludes with the invitation:

“Close your eyes and hear:
This Place sings.”



Soprano: Jessica Kinney, Carys Brown, Jessica Chan

Counter-tenor: Francis Bamford, Alasdair Austin

Tenor: James Gant, Joseph Hancock

Bass: Alex Hopkins, Greg Bannan

Performance directed, conducted, recorded and produced by Lara Weaver

Thanks must be expressed to St John’s College and to the St John’s College COVID Silver Committee, for granting me permission to do this project; to Andrew Nethsingha, for supporting my musical endeavours; to Stephen Stokes, for facilitating my use of the chapel; to Caroline Marks, for helping oversee my risk assessment proposals; to Master Heather Hancock, providing me with the text of the St John’s Scholar’s Ceremony; to all the staff at St John’s College Library, for helping source archival documents pertaining to the chapel’s construction and consecration; to Myles Eastwood and the CMS, for lending me the equipment and providing advice; to my supervisor Richard Causton, for all of your help, support and enthusiasm; to those speaking on the archive recordings, for granting me permission to use them in this work; and to my performers, for dedicating your time, responding so enthusiastically to the music, and for performing this work so stunningly well.

All photos are © 2021 Lara Weaver

All text (unless otherwise credited) is © 2021 Lara Weaver. (Liturgical texts taken from the St John's College Prayer, the Book of Common Prayer, and the service for the consecration of St John's Chapel.)

All recordings not listed below are © 2021 Lara Weaver

Archive recordings used in OPENING:

Choral Evensong St John’s College Cambridge 1975 (John Scott) -

Advent Carol Service St John’s College Cambridge 1982 (George Guest) -

Advent Carol Service St John’s College Cambridge 1983 (George Guest) -

Choral Evensong St John’s College Cambridge 1986 (George Guest) -

Choral Evensong St John’s College Cambridge 1991 (George Guest) -

Choral Evensong St John’s College Cambridge 1994 (Christopher Robinson) -

There was no monetary gain in any part of this project.


Any enquiries for scores or commissions can be addressed by contacting Lara directly via the contact form below.


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