Conductor’s Notes

My thanks to Bernard for taking last week’s rehearsal. I received a fulsome and encouraging report of the evening and it sounds like you made much progress. He highlighted the challenge that we are discovering with the Britten and that is the ‘bitty’ nature of the music, being in short sections, with the possible exception of Serve the faith..... Compare that with the Messiah choruses, or the Rossini longer movements, in which the melodies hang around and develop, so you ‘stay in the zone’ for longer. The tactic for mastering this is to listen to the Britten so much and sing it frequently, so it becomes familiar, becomes so ‘sticky’ that it sticks.

Last week’s Messiah choruses were less secure than I had imagined so we won’t neglect or consider them an ‘afterthought’. From now on they will get equal billing with Britten in rehearsal and likewise in your practice at home, please.

This is the opportune moment to mention that we will add some Christmas music to the concert too, just a few simple pieces, to be issued later in the term.

What we will do on 20.10.21 and 27.10.21 – Conductor auditions – Starting at 6.00

Eric has written to everyone with the arrangements and explained what is required of everyone involved. Please treat them as rehearsals with a guest conductor! Your feedback is crucial and will form part of the decision-making. You might ask, how is it possible to rehearse and at the same time assess a conductor’s effectiveness and whether you could work with them regularly? It’s a tough call, particularly for something so personal and bound up with your own feelings of satisfaction, enjoyment, and pleasurable achievements. I recommend ‘considered gut instinct’.

Here’s the considered bit – keep these at the end of your antennae:

Are you engaged and enthused?

Are you set any expectations and are you helped to improve – are you learning?

Do you sense any improvement in your singing over the (short) 45 min session?

Based on this small sample, could you work with this person every week?

After each audition, don’t think too much, rely on your gut feeling at this stage and trust yourself that you have sung with enough conductors to know what’s right. I trust you – good luck, have fun.

Music extracts for the auditions:

Britten – Movements 1 and 8

Messiah – Worthy is the Lamb (p217)


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Conductor’s Notes

I am delighted with the news that Mark our Membership Secretary shared with me last night, that we have 81 singers rehearsing this term. That’s brilliant, and still they keep coming! Welcome one and all. It is very encouraging that the new times of 6.30 to 8.30 are manageable and I am pleased with the hall as a space – plenty of room for everyone, and a decent piano. I hope this is true for you too.

What we did on 06.10.21

Excellent progress in sectionals with Britten movement 5 – S/A learning their ‘solo’ sections between the ‘Amens’, then we worked on Serve the faith and pretty much nailed it, for now. Then S/A looked at the similar passages in movement 7. Meanwhile the T/B were studying movement 4 and the evening ended with everyone singing through that movement. A lot of hard work here, well done.

Bernard will be taking the rehearsal next week (13th) and we have conductor auditions on October 20th and 27th, starting at 6.00. Eric has written to everyone, and more people read his email than last week’s Conductor’s Notes – just saying. Seriously, thank you all for keeping on top of things, following developments and being organised. The Committee and Recruitment Panel are working hard and Eric is keeping everything ship shape, of course.

My next Notes will be published on Sunday 17th with some thoughts and guidance on the audition process and what is involved. Thank you.

You might recall that in this week’s rehearsal I went ‘off piste’ and mentioned a Radio 4 programme about doubt and leadership. It was in the series Fourthought, Wednesday 6th at 09.30. Here is the link – it was quite interesting.

Four Thought – The Power of Doubt – BBC Sounds

What you will do on 13.10.21

St Nicolas – Movements 5 & 7

Messiah – For unto as a boy is born (p55) and Surely (p98)

Have fun.


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Conductor’s Notes 30.09.21

Greetings from a very wet and squally Devon. I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s rehearsal, thank you. It was a pleasure to greet more new faces and welcome the return of some longstanding members. It’s good to know you just can’t keep away from a good thing! Everyone worked particularly hard this week and we covered a lot of ground. If you missed it, please refer to last week’s rehearsal list – we worked at everything except pages 2-4.

I’m grateful to Kieron who stepped in to play at short notice and for his effective sectional work with Sops & Altos.

Eric reminded everyone about subs and updated us on the search for a new conductor – we now have six candidates, closing date tomorrow.

Quiz question (posed last week – What is unique about the number 40?):

Answer – Forty is the only number with its letters in alphabetical order. A member of my Banbury Singing for Wellbeing group suggested It’s when life begins, which may not be true, but an inspired guess. Also minus 40 is the same temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Nothing at all to do with singing, but a welcome brain break eh?

What we will do on 06.10.21

Warm up exploring SCALES. Please find out what a WHOLE TONE SCALE is, in preparation. There is a well-known (French) composer who was fond of exploiting these – who was it? Scales are made up of a mix of TONES and SEMITONES. Um...unless it’s a whole tone scale of course (clue’s in the name), or a CHROMATIC SCALE, which is just the semitones.

E seems to be a very important note in this piece. It is our rock, our anchor, our home, our saviour.....

In St Nicolas, Britten exploits some unusual harmonies by manipulating tones and semitones, so we sometimes feel very familiarly in a KEY, and sometimes uncertain – ‘at sea’ perhaps!


S&A Movt 5 p36-39   and Movt 7 p57, 59 & 60

T&B Movt 4 p28-31, 26/27, 20-25

Movt 5 Tutti

Movt 7 Tutti

If time – Messiah chorus For unto us a child is born

Have a good week, best wishes,


Continue ReadingConductor’s Notes 30.09.21

Conductor’s Notes

What we did on 22.09.21

We welcomed Terry to accompany. Busy rehearsal and some confusion with numbers – for which, apologies. Talking of numbers, whilst I think of it – quiz question: What is unique about the number 40? Answer next week.

I recommended online learning tools: and a free one –  Cyberbass doesn’t  have any CD learning tracks available, but THEY DO have online tracks. These are very useful for helping to learn notes.

We covered the following music:

Movement 7 p56-65

The opening movement p2-4

Movement 8 p66-68

Messiah – Hallelujah chorus

I gave out some small booklets which are pages 39-46 (of movt 5) written out in open score to make the notes easier to read, with more space. This is to be inserted after p38 and secured with an elastic band. The last page of the booklet must be secured with a paperclip to pages 39-46. There will be a demonstration next week!

I also recommended a website to investigate some very good online training sessions to help support breathing and exploring vocal issues, particularly for older voices. The founder/teacher Anne- Marie Speed is excellent and I picked up a lot of practical tips from her at a conference. See

What we will do on 29.09.21

Movement 5 (using inserted pages so come prepared)

Movement 4 in sectionals. S/A please note that you sing all of the S/A music, there is no ‘gallery semi chorus’, you are it! Please look through the movement in advance to be sure when you sing. On page 28 (bottom line) you divide as follows: All sops take the top line and altos divide (tails down) and I’ll confirm with you who does what next week.

Pages 8-9and revisit p2-4

Messiah – Worthy is the Lamb

Enjoy (or ‘hope you did enjoy’) your weekend. Thank you.


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Conductor’s Notes

Well done everyone for another fine rehearsal this week. Numbers continue to grow and it was great to see new members, who are all very welcome. Thanks to Kieron for accompanying and taking the S/A sectional – nice work, welcome aboard.

What we did on 15.09.21

Warmed up with page 46 – All people that on earth. Note that we are not observing any of the pauses except at the ends of verses. But of course, you will all be watching anyway!

Sectionals (S/A movement 2; T/B movement 4). We will return to these in detail in future, but the best way to consolidate the learning is to listen to the music as much as you can (see advice below) then the tunes will stick.

Movement 8 – We pulled this apart and tackled the first part of it (up to p68) working in paired voices. The challenge here is sticking to your notes! Each part is quite easy, but when sung in ensemble the ‘close harmony’ effect can lead you astray so chords can sound ‘muddy’ and out of tune. Again, slow patient work and familiarity are key – keep listening!

We ended with the nunc dimitis (p76) and the final hymn (p86) Again, only pause at the end of each verse.

What we will do on 22.09.21

Movements 7 – p56-61

Movement 1 – p2-4

Movement 8 p66-68

Messiah – Hallelujah chorus p171

What we will do on 29.09.21

Amongst other things we will start Movement 5 – p34

Which choruses are we singing from Messiah?

I have chosen some of my favourites, without apology, or any attempt to be consistent with the theme of Christmas or St Nicolas/Santa Claus, just a good sing! They are:

For unto us a child is born

Glory to God


He trusted in God

Hallelujah chorus (with audience participation)

Worthy is the lamb (Amen chorus)

Recordings of St Nicolas?

In last week’s Notes I pointed you towards my blog of March 23 for a link to an illustrated talk on St Nicolas and recordings. There are plenty available. The Corydon Singers (conductor Matthew Best) is good and the programme notes are also excellent.

Auditions for conductor

These are scheduled for 20.10.21. The following week is the half term break – there is no official rehearsal, but we might need it for auditions too.

Thank you everyone.


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Conductor’s Notes

Welcome back everyone!

There was a good turn out – about 50 – and everyone was on time for the new 6.30 start, thank you.

I thanked everyone again for the Magnificent Rossini concert, welcomed back members who have not sung since lockdown and also new members. I thanked Eric and the committee for their patient and careful work over the summer to navigate the challenges of returning to singing and securing a rehearsal venue following changes at the school. There was a round of applause for this!

I set out our challenges for the term ahead – St Nicolas, Messiah extracts and other music, plus appointing a new conductor, not least. This is a significant but manageable challenge involving everyone and I will help focus your thinking so that you can exercise your responsibilities at the auditions with informed confidence!

We welcomed Bernard to accompany and had an excellent rehearsal of St Nicolas only, covering movements 1, 8 & 9. There are some important instructions for the short section starting at figure 58 on page 72 (‘Let the legends....’). At figure 58 the semi-chorus 3 part will not be sung – you can cross it out. The first voices to sing here will be semi-chorus 1 and there are 6 entries, 3 by S & A then 3 by T & B. We are singing this in sections defined by birthdays, not where you are standing so it is all mixed and more exciting! It’s easy and I will re-issue instructions next time we sing it.

How to learn St Nicolas: Listening to a good recording is probably the most helpful with this piece. The choral parts are very clear so identifying your line is quite easy, and more importantly you will get used to Britten’s harmonic world which will help ears and brain to adapt in rehearsal as familiarity grows.

In my blog of March 23rd 2021 I posted a link to an illustrated lecturette by David Temple, conductor of the Crouch End Festival Chorus (not Bromley as I said at rehearsal) who guides you through the piece. The recording I posted is an oldish one by King’s College Cambridge with David Willcocks which is a good performance but not brilliant recording quality. Amazon has a few on offer and I have just bought The Corydon Singers conducted by Matthew Best; I have not heard it, but the reviews are good.

What we will do on 15.09.21

S & A – Number 2 – The birth of Nicolas

T & B – Number 4 – He journeys to Palestine

Page 46 – All people that on earth...

Page 66 – His piety and marvellous works

Page 39 – Serve the faith (read through)

Thank you all

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Message from The Man At The Front

First of all, a huge THANK YOU to Chris and Bernard for putting you through your paces last week. It’s comforting to know that we have such capable friends and colleagues in the neighbourhood, I am most grateful.

It would give me such pleasure to be able to report that I had a glorious week at the Dartington Summer School, which I was expecting. Alas I can’t, as the week was cancelled. Someone tested positive so a number of people were required to isolate, which made it impossible to run. After this ‘circuit breaker’ Weeks 3 & 4 will hopefully continue as normal. I was gutted and desperate for a week of singing – why should you lot have all the fun?!  Anyhow, I consoled myself by reflecting on how little disappointment or ‘loss’ I have had to face compared with many people during the pandemic, and was reminded that we are not over it yet and should continue to ‘hasten slowly’ back to normal. I was happy to leave you in Chris’s capable hands and as a consolation prize listened to the Bm Mass instead.

So, back to work, what will we do on 11.08.21? As promised, we need to sing through as much of the Rossini as we can, for confidence and ‘pre-concert’ comfort, without complacency. Two things will be under the choral microscope – DYNAMICS and LOOKING UP. I am eagerly anticipating seeing your chins as we will no longer be wearing masks. In return you can see how much greyer my beard has become. Or has it?! It’s less than fifty shades for sure....

In preparation please do your own homework if necessary, paying attention to the dynamic markings. From next week, notes are less important than passion, expression, energy and taking it to the audience.

On FRIDAY 13th we will meet in Deddington Church for a 7.30 start please. The first challenge will be sorting out our positions; the second and more pleasant one – growing used to singing closer together in a new acoustic. This should be much easier than usual as we have been rehearsing in a large acoustic for many weeks now.

The DRESS REHEARSAL on Saturday 14 starts at 3.30 and will finish at 5.30 latest. More details to follow next week.

Thank you


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What we did on 28.07.21

Hello everyone. Once again thank you for a super rehearsal last night, it was lovely to welcome five new singers for this concert, and possibly beyond?! A family sought refuge from the rain by resting in the church before we started and stayed on to listen. Apparently, they are interested in coming to the concert – there’s nothing like live advertising.

I waved the updated poster to encourage you all to spread the word about the concert please. We are not selling tickets in advance, only at the door, confident in the knowledge that we will have sufficient room for everyone. Audience size is not an issue, it will just be wonderful to sing live to other people and enjoy the sound ringing around the church.

We made good progress again and the Christe section of the opening Kyrie sounded particularly lovely – balanced and blended and much more confident. The Sanctus also benefitted from some close inspection and improved considerably. Our challenge now is to remember what we have put in place, so the music sounds assured from the get-go (I think that means ‘immediately’ in familiar parlance). This can be achieved in two ways:

Making sure you know your notes, so check those bits that still allude you

Singing the music through enough to cement it and build confidence

Everything will feel and sound so much nicer without masks, and the addition of a superb piano and the harmonium timbre will give us such a lift. We are on track to give a very good performance, so well done so far.

What you will do on 04.08.21

I will be at the Dartington Music Summer School singing Bach’s B Minor Mass with the Dunedin Consort all week and Chris will be taking the rehearsal, with Bernard at the keys. I am happy about leaving you in such capable hands and I thank them both. Have fun.

The following sections will be given attention in addition to singing through as much as possible for continuity and familiarity, and not least – for pleasure.

Kyrie (outer two sections) – note checking; linking with and revising the Christe

Cum sancto from p101 then running from p77

Sanctus (p180)

Agnus dei (p193), particularly the ending

What we will do on 11.08.21

Running through as much as we can, paying particular attention to DYNAMICS and how to support the quiet stuff, and really thinking about the ‘operatic’ qualities of this amazing piece.

Good luck – Enjoy

Continue ReadingWhat we did on 28.07.21

What we did on 21.07.21 with The Man At The Front

Hello everyone. Thanks again for a wonderful rehearsal last night, you did so well and it was only the heat that caused us to tire towards the end – the spirit was so willing! The feelings of rehearsal routine like the old days were beginning to come back, which was nice.

It was useful to sing through movements we sang last week as the repetition helps familiarity so much. We were sharply reminded that it is the joins, or ‘corners’ and ‘junctions’ as I call them, that catch us out. This is when the music changes key or there is a bridge to a new section or anything unexpected. These mustn’t take us by surprise – always expect the unexpected, of course!! Many of the hurdles will disappear when we sing without masks because we’ll be able to hear each other properly – hang on to that thought.

What we will do on 28.07.21

  1. Sanctus (p180)
  2. Et vitam (p163 to end)
  3. Et vitam (p150-163)
  4. Kyrie – particularly the middle section
  5. Agnus dei (p196)

Thank you TM@tF

Continue ReadingWhat we did on 21.07.21 with The Man At The Front

What we did on 14.07.21 with The Man At The Front

This week’s rehearsal was brilliant. We got so much done and for me there were flashes of ‘the old days’ – some note ‘bashing’, piecing pages together and building the confident sound back up again. Despite the masks we sounded good (if muted) and the overall quality quickly improved. We went through the Credo in detail, then picked apart and reconstructed the Et vitam, sustaining the long chords and louder passages well. As a ‘warm down’ we relaxed through the Agnus dei. Credit to tenors and sopranos this week who were smaller in number than usual, but congratulations to everyone for a lovely evening.

The challenges of singing through masks and not being able to hear each other properly still remain but we are progressing well. It was good to hear some people admit there are corners of the music they still get wrong and are committing to practise at home – bravo!

What we will do on 21.07.21

Gloria p19 – Only 2 pages of music so good for a warm up!

Cum sancto p75 The Music Festival section and in particular the ending (p100)

We will revisit the Credo and Et vitam from last week as singing through after extra practice at home and forgetting most of it is always useful!

Warm down – Sanctus (p180)

Thank you TM@tF

Continue ReadingWhat we did on 14.07.21 with The Man At The Front

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