Pitchcraft is hugely saddened to share the news that our Founder and Musical Director, Andrew Russel, died at home in the early hours of Saturday 12 June 2021. Louise, his friend and chair of Pitchcraft's board has written a moving and fitting tribute that encompasses so many of our thoughts and feelings at this time.
“Light up, light up, as if you have a choice, even if you cannot hear my voice, I’ll be right beside you dear.” – Run, Snow Patrol.
On 13th October 2015, Andrew Russel auditioned a new choir. He knew what he wanted, and he knew how to go about it. It was a fresh start, a blank sheet of paper. Taking all the lessons of his previous choirs, Andrew founded Pitchcraft.
It’s a small word but it packs a punch.
What else is it when you become part of something that draws out the very best of you? When someone leads your team with expertise, with empathy, with a relentless pursuit of quality? With absolute belief in you? When you feel that surge of achievement in your belly as you finally ‘get’ that medley, because you are part of a team that makes your heart soar?
‘You’re better than that, we need to sort that entry.’
‘That pitch is off, ok let’s fix it.’
‘Not bad! Not bad at all! Quarter tone out at the end! It’s really small!’
‘Ok. Once more. Last time, I promise. Once more. Ok, once more, I lied. And again…’
And then, our ultimate prize: ‘I’m so proud of you.’
One of the tricks of the Pitchcraft chorister’s trade is to hit record on your phone at rehearsal so you remember the cues, the corrections and the direction. I’ve spent hours listening to those recordings tonight, which go back as far as March 2016. Every one of them has laughter in it. His, ours, the bass section. (Always the bass section.)
That’s what it’s like to be in Andrew Russel’s Pitchcraft.
In September 2019, Andrew was diagnosed with cancer. True to form, it was extreme. The worst sort of cancer, in the worst place it could be, with the worst sort of prognosis. Undeterred, he conducted his last concert from a wheelchair, with the music that coursed through his body meaning that an eyebrow raise or the flick of a finger communicated to his choir that perhaps all was not being sung quite as it should be.
It was, as arranged months before, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and raised around £4,000 for them. A fraction of the hundreds of thousands of pounds his choirs raised for charity over the last thirteen years. This recording of Fly Me to Blue Moon River was Andrew’s favourite on the night.
I’ve always thought that ‘fighting’ cancer was a misguided description. Because I feared it implied that those who died were weak or had been beaten. And that’s just not true. And it’s not a fair representation of what Andrew went through.
My God, though, he fought. But Andrew also bore his illness with a strength and a grace I didn't know he had. Powerless, and smiling and accepting. Still funny. Still irreverent. That cocked head, those raised eyebrows. Pulling faces. That question ‘and have you eaten?’ Still checking in on others. To the last.
Andrew died on Saturday, 12th June.
He gave not just Pitchcraft, but his previous choirs, InChorus, Lothian and Borders Police Choir, Tayside Police Choir and Strathclyde Police Choir a foundation and an introduction that set a standard to which all continue to aspire. He set the stage for friendships across more than 500 people, and for whom their social network will never again be the same. He gave us something in common. He provided the field in which we found our tribe.
He gave us something to be proud of.
He gave us soaring crescendos. He gave singing for Bloodwise at Christmas, and for sell out audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe, every time. He gave us standing ovations. He gave us real life and in person John Rutter. He gave us two hours away from the feral kids, he gave us two hours just for us. He gave us a rejuvenated retirement and a connected student life. He gave us roots. He gave us an earful for not paying attention to that correction. He gave us slow, deliberate diminuendos that left echoing silence.
He made us giggle.
We at Pitchcraft feel short changed in many ways. We had so much left to do with Andrew. We were so up for it. We were on the train when cancer so spectacularly derailed it. But we also feel grateful that we had a ticket for the train at all. That we had a shot with this most talented, driven person.
For his family, his friends and his collaborators, his loss leaves a gaping, breathless gulf of grief.
For everyone who has been in an Andrew Russel choir, he leaves a far reaching legacy. A landscape of friendships, of smiles, of strops, of memories, of unfortunate mishaps that made us cry laughing. Of Celia trapped in a closed shop in New York. Of Watty lost in Pitt Street., or a chorister being accidentally locked in a stable block at Hopetoun House, due to an ill-timed wee as everyone left. Of Janice declaring to security at the airport that of course she hadn’t packed her bag, her husband did that for her. Of laughter, and of joy.
To his family: thank you for giving him the time and support that enabled him to mean so much to so many people. Thank you for your generosity.
We are just gutted. For you, and with you.
Andrew, you were, are, so loved. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
You wrote us a manual. We’ll try our best to stick to it. Pitchcraft will go on.
PS. Andrew, I hope you see this from heaven, I mean, surely there’s a good wifi signal. I know the heavenly chorus is probably a bit stuffy and old fashioned, and that Agnes at the back cannae carry a tune in a bucket, but has an ‘in’ with the Big Man and probably got in before any auditions - but I’m confident that if you start with some carols, and then move on to Pie Jesu and maybe even Dormi Jesu, you’ll have them Footloose and singing Classical Medley in no time. You have a head start on me, so I hope you’ll have them whipped into shape by the time I check in. I’ll see you on the other side. You’ll probably need someone to organise events n’ that. I can help. x