Young composers share first prize

20 February 2023

Sheffield University students Mason Birch and James Thomas are joint winners of the Stella Jockel Young Composer Competition organised by Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus with Classical Sheffield. Mason and James share the £2,500 while Robin Morton wins £1,000. Rachel Fright and Reuben Tozer-Loft are runners-up.

James Thomas
Mason Birch

Mason (26), Robin (33) and Reuben (22) were born and raised in Sheffield, and all three went to King Edward VII School. Rachel (34) works in Sheffield and James (24) studied music at the University of Sheffield, where Mason studied engineering.

“It was splendid to see the commitment shown by the fourteen local young composers who submitted their work for the competition” said George Nicholson, Emeritus Professor of Composition at the University of Sheffield, who headed the four-strong panel of judges, “Mason’s piece shows an impressive sense of harmonic movement, while James employed a very convincing and effective structure. Though different, we all agreed they were equally fine, and we were pleased to award first prize to two worthy winners.’

Robin Morton

Candidates had to compose a short choral work for a mixed choir to sing unaccompanied in at least four parts. The text was commissioned from award-winning poet Katharine Towers, who sings in the alto section of the Chorus. Kathy won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for her first collection The Floating Man and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize for The Remedies. The competition is funded by a generous legacy left to Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus by ex-member Stella Jockel, a Sheffield teacher and vicar’s wife who died in 2020.

The two winning works will be sung for the first time by the Chorus and Hallam Choral Society, at the Classical Sheffield Weekend Festival finale on Sunday 19 March 2023 in the City Hall, at a ceremony introduced by BBC’s Trisha Cooper, with prizes presented by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Sioned-Mair Richards. Needless to say, all five winners will be there with their families.

Rachel Fright
Reuben Tozer-Loft

The premiere will be followed by a performance of Mahler’s magnificent 2nd symphony by the combined forces of Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallam Sinfonia, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and Hallam Choral Society. Conducted by George Morton and featuring acclaimed singers Anna Harvey and Ella Taylor, both from Sheffield, this will bring the 10th anniversary festival to a spectacular close. 

To hear the winning pieces – and the wonderful Mahler symphony – buy tickets from Sheffield City Hall or online at  

Tickets for the three-day festival vary in price, many are free or just £5. See

Read more about the winners, and the competition, at Stella Jockel Young Composer Competition

Previous News Items

27 January 2023 Chorus announces competition shortlist

10 November 2022 CLASSICAL MUSIC: Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus Launches Competition

01 November 2022 CLASSICAL SHEFFIELD: Exciting Competition for Young Composers

31 October 2022 RMCMEDIA: Local Choir Launches New Competition For Young Composers

28 Oct 2022 Chorus launches new competition for young composers

11 June 2022 Belshazzar’s Feast a tremendous wall of sound – Review

22 April 2022 Chorus hosts French and German singers

20 April SHEFFIELD STAR: World famous Black Dyke Band and Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus to perform brass arrangement of Handel’s Messiah at City Hall

16 April 2022 BRITISH BANDSMAN: Black Dyke set for choral collaboration

02 April 4BARSREST: European links for Messiah

29 March 2022 Chorus welcome French and German visitors

14 March 2022 Chorus collect almost £2,000 for Ukraine Appeal

05 March 2022 Russian concert in aid of Ukraine

Tuesday 15 December 2020 ‘Tis the season…..

20 October 2020 Chorus CD tops the charts!

21 July 2020 Music Director gives on-line recital for Yorkshire Day

21 July 2020 SHEFFIELD TELEGRAPH: Lockdown performance of Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus music director’s new arrangement for Handel’s Messiah

6 July 2020 Music Director’s beautiful Messiah arrangement

28 June 2020 Chorus starts on-line rehearsals

18 June 2020 Music Director joins choral greats in highlighting challenges faced by choirs

16 June 2020 The Guardian – Covid-19 has silenced choirs

18 May 2020 Chorus supports its locked-down musicians

23 March 2020 Concerts postponed and rehearsals cancelled

2 February 2020 Chorus to sing Messiah with French and German visitors


17 December 2019 REVIEW: Sheffield’s Christmas concert tradition

16 December 2019 Carol wins Classic FM competition

15 December 2019 Sheffield Telegraph – Chorus in finals of national carol competition

14 November 2019 REVIEW – ‘Beautifully and intricately rendered by the choir’

8 November 2019 Bring a Man Night

2 November 2019 Chorus to present Bochum gift to Lord Mayor

22 October 2019 Chorus feature on Black Dyke Band CD

28 September 2019 Chorus kicks off BBC Music Day

23 Sept 2019 Chorus kick off BBC Music Day on Fargate

12 June 2019 REVIEW Holy Face Sheffield Telegraph


07 April 2019 Bach’s compendium; SPC /Royal Northern Sinfonia, City Hall

14 March 2019 Women centre stage – Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus /Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall

5 Feb 2019 Press release from Bochum, Germany: Mayor Erika Stahl receives Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus

1 Feb 2019 Chorus members sing Messiah in Germany


28 Dec New Year’s Honour for local choir President

13 Dec 2018 Chorus Hat trick

6 Dec 2018 Excellent programme from the Chorus

26 Oct 2018 Composer thrilled with recording

28 July 2018 Yorkshire Post celebrates publication of 1911 World Tour Book

23 July 2018 Chorus members sing in France during World Cup

20 July 2018 Tour de France for Sheffield Choir

03 July 2018 Chorus prepares to deliver French mini tour

14 June 2018 Up Close and Personal

11 June 2018 Audience thrilled by Rossini and original Mustel harmonium

31 May 2018 Chorus and harmonium in perfect harmony

11 May 2018 ‘Outstanding’ – Chorus ends Mahler tour on high note

30 April 2018  Review: Bruckner Orchester Linz, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, four stars

30 April 2018 Chorus sing a ‘blazing’ Mahler 2 in Edinburgh

29 April 2018 ‘Assertive Mahler’ Simon Thompson, Seen and Heard International

12 Feb 2018 Chorus sings with Sheffield mezzo soprano

3 Feb 2018 World premiere ‘an emotive journey’

12 Jan 2018 Chorus on journey to Paradise


11 Dec 2017 Calypso Carol on Classic FM

15 Oct 2017 Composer thrilled with premiere of his new work

3 July 2017 Chorus records new CD

6 April 2017 Stairs? No problem!

24 April 2017 Open Letter from the Chair: The relevance of classical music.

20 March 2017 It’s a fact – Singing is good for you!


16 May 2016 140th birthday celebrations

16 Feb 2016 What’s your ‘Fantasy Concert’?

18 Oct 2015 Sisters Steal Away

15 May 2015 Now on sale: ‘Awake, Arise! A Yorkshire Christmas Collection for Brass and Voices‘, our exciting CD of Christmas music

18 Feb 2013 Rachmaninov – will Chorus be reaching for the vodka?

8 Oct 2012 Free choral workshops and a welcome return for Handel’s Messiah

8 Aug 2012 Free choral workshops and a year full of singing

17 June 2012 Olympic Dreams – Will it be Singin’ in The Rain or Mr Blue Skies?

16 Apr 2012 Contemporary composers take centre stage

16 Apr 2012 New community links in Sheffield

3 April 2012 Bronte Mass ‘impressive’

12 Feb 2012 Alight: Eclectic music lines up to take centre stage as part of the Cultural Olympiad

13 Jan 2012 Scaling The Heights – Singclude Breaks Down Barriers For Disabled Singers

24 Feb 2011 Three-fold choral debut

22 Nov 2010 Songs of Praise – Chorus celebrate 75th Anniversary year with audience of over 2 million

28 Oct 2010 The Dream of Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus


Some little-known facts about the carol ‘Awake Arise’

In 2017 Robin King, from Newcastle, discovered that the title track of our CD, Awake, arise, Good Christians, which we had thought was anonymous, was actually written by the children’s writer Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888), who wrote The Spider and the Fly

Mary Botham was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire where her father was a mining engineer in the Forest of Dean coalfield.  She married William Howitt and for a time lived in Heanor, Derbyshire, but then moved to Nottingham where William’s family were in business.  William later sold his share of the business and the couple moved to London, both to write full-time.  They later spent time travelling and living in Europe. Mary died in Switzerland while on holiday. She had been living in Italy for a number of years.

Robin, who spent most of his career working in the Registrar’s Office at Newcastle University, found the poem in Mary’s book Hymns and Fireside Verses (Darton and Clark, London, 1839) in the Special Collections at Newcastle University Library – it’s the last-but-one poem in the book.  There’s also a copy at Sheffield Hallam University, and you can see a scanned copy of the book in the US Library of Congress.  You can use the link below to read Mary’s poem.

Mary Botham Howitt – Awake Arise – A Christmas Carol

The carol also appears as No 53 in “88 Favourite Carols and Hymns for Christmas” published by William Walker & Sons of Otley, West Riding.  This is undated, but since it contains reference to the publishers’ catalogue being obtained on receipt of a penny stamp, it must be no earlier than the 1840s when the Penny Post was introduced by Rowland Hill.  This ties in with the original publication of “Awake, arise, good Christians'” in 1839 and a number of other carols whose earliest known references date from the 1840s or 1850s.  Robin believes it is probably from the later 1850s or after as it contains the five verses of James Montgomery’s original 1816 version of “Angels from the Realms of Glory” where Montgomery writes of Angels, Shepherds, Sages, Saints and Sinners.  After Montgomery died (1854) the Sinners verse either was not printed or was replaced by a verse from one of Montgomery’s other hymns.

The version of Mary’s carol that is sung in the Sheffield Carolling tradition is attributed to William Mount, but three other versions were published in America, by W.F. Sherwin in 1871, Karl Reden in 1875, and Charles Lewis Hutchins in 1916.  The last two stick closely to Mrs Howitt’s words (not all verses are included), but the Sherwin version has more radical changes. 

Anthems, Hymns and Gloria for Brass Band

In 2019 the Chorus recorded John Rutter’s Gloria with Black Dyke Band – and the CD on which it is features reached the Number One spot in the Classic FM Specialist Classical Albums charts in October 2020, only two weeks after it’s release by Naxos.

The CD Anthems, Hymns and Gloria for Brass Band , was recorded in St Oswald’s Church on Bannerdale Road in Sheffield. Directed by Professor Nicholas Childs and Chorus Music Director Darius Battiwalla, the CD was featured as Album of the Week on the Classic FM radio station, and rapidly moved up the chart over the following week.

The CD features eleven tracks composed by Rutter and arranged for brass band by Belgian conductor Luc Vertommen. It includes many of the English choral composer’s most famous works, including the Pie Jesu from his 1985 Requiem, and This is the Day composed for the wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

John Rutter’s Gloria was composed in 1974 for choir, brass, percussion and organ, with an alternative version for choir and orchestra. Described as “exalted, devotional and jubilant”, it was Rutter’s first commission from the US. Structured in three movements and based on the Gloria from the Latin mass, it was always intended as a concert piece.

Buy Anthems on Black Dyke Band website

Buy Anthems via Naxos

Read more about the CD:

Chorus CD tops the charts!

Chorus feature on Black Dyke Band CD