Conductor’s Notes

What we did on 01.12.21

Holy Trinity Church is a marvellous building in which to rehearse – warm, comfortable and spacious. Wonderful acoustic for the right music, but not so easy for rehearsing as the resonance made it challenging to hear each other so our rhythm and ensemble were compromised. Someone admitted in the pub that the only way to keep together was to watch me! Now there’s a thought...... Despite the new hurdles it was a good rehearsal and we covered a lot, thank you.

Parish notices:

Thank you to everyone who signed ‘Peter’s Podium’. It will be available again for everyone to sign. I will treasure having a CNCS rostrum to stand on whenever I conduct in future, and if everyone’s name is on the back, I will feel truly supported by you all.

Concert programmes: These will be available for the choir to purchase at the Friday 17th rehearsal.

Guests’ refreshments: Thank you in advance to Tenors and Sopranos for providing refreshments for the instrumentalists and soloists after the dress rehearsal. Please sign up if you haven’t already.

What we will do on 08.12.21

Rehearsal will be back in St Mary’s Church at 7.30 and we will sit in the pews for easier distancing.

Warm up with Ding dong, Silent Night & Coventry Carol

Britten: Movements  4,  5  &  7

Messiah: Amen (p 227 to end),  For unto us (p55),  Glory to God (p68)

Keep practising – the end is nigh.

Thank you

Peter

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Conductor’s additional notes

Here is the programme running order for the concert 18.12.21

St Nicolas

INTERVAL

For unto us a boy is born

Glory to God

Silent Night (S/A only)

Surely

He trusted in God

Coventry Carol (T/B only)

Hallelujah chorus

Ding dong merrily on high (+ audience)

Worthy is the Lamb/Amen

The Dress Rehearsal timetable for Saturday 18th is as follows:

2.30 – Britten

4.00 – Break

4.15 – Messiah choruses + Carols

5.30ish END

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Conductor’s Notes

Greetings from Great Western Railway – getting ahead of myself with notes from yesterday’s session and plans for next week. Thank you for a rushed but useful rehearsal. The church was chilly and we were rather cramped, but we did cover some useful ground (see last week’s Notes as we managed everything apart from For unto us...). When we return to St Mary’s on December 8th we will set up as close to concert formation as we can, with due regard to distancing, ensuring no one is left out on a limb.

The Annual General Meeting was swift and I presented my final Conductor’s Report which can be found here:

CONDUCTOR’S REPORT 2020-21 SEASON

Following the masterclass on public speaking by Boris Johnson – our Prime Minister – on Monday, I will be making no references to cartoon characters, will not imitate any kind of motorised transport and have carefully numbered my pages to keep them in order.

It is a pleasure to present my conductor’s report for the 2020-21 season – which is to be my last! My first must have been in Autumn 1998, but I have no record of any until 2001, which was rather perfunctory, and contained the bold statements: The sound continues to be good and poor tuning has been eradicated’ and ‘Everyone rises well to challenges’. Remarkable progress over four years.

(NB ‘Tuning’ refers to performances and your ability to attain it. Rest assured that to this day, in rehearsal poor intonation is still achievable!! – update: November 2021)

I am not treating this report as a ‘leaver’s speech’, but it does present an opportunity to reflect a little on the choir’s enormous achievements and progress over 24 years. BTW, my first concert with CNCS was 24 years ago this week – Nov 22nd 1997.

So, what exactly is the season on which I am reporting? The last 18 months have been incredibly challenging, and dates & timelines get blurred. I did submit a report to the zoom AGM in November 2020, which referred to Belshazzar’s Feast from November 2019, the Christmas concert (Chilcott’s ‘On Christmas Night’) and the beginnings of the Rossini Mass and music festival appearance in March, before lockdown on the 23rd

Throughout the summer and into the autumn of 2020 I stayed connected with posts from The Man At the Front which were designed to inform, educate, and entertain (BBC’s Charter!!) in an effort to keep bodies and souls together as we couldn’t sing. During that year, in July, we very sadly lost Peter Barber, a bass who together with Wendy, had been in the choir for 20+ years. This loss inspired some digging deep into the publication he edited and produced for many years – Leading Notes – and I was able to quote from it in the blogs – a reminiscence project I enjoyed very much.

As the 2020/21 season began, we very nearly got back together in November for a Return to Singing, but were thwarted until December 17th for ‘one night only’! It was fun, but very strange – wearing masks and standing 2m apart. Not at all a real singing experience, but better than being isolated at home on zoom I feel. A small working party worked hard to set this up, mindful of the pandemic and all the H&S requirements, and I would like to express my gratitude and say ‘thank you’ on behalf of everyone to the team for their dedication and planning make this happen. Sadly, we had to lock down again, but a robust process was in place for the future.

In February of this year, I attended Shauni McGregor’s funeral and, as one of the thirty mourners permitted by covid rules I was honoured to be present as a close friend and representing the choral society. It was very fitting, and a great mark of our affection for Shauni that so many of you gathered outside the school to pay your respects as she took her last journey to the church in Shipton. To those of you who don’t know, Shauni was our accompanist and assistant conductor for many years, conducting a Mozart programme in 2006. Her most profound impact on our musical achievements was as the fixer for soloists and instrumental players, drawing on friends and contacts from a professional career in London. This choir would simply not have become the choir it is without Shauni, and she is a huge loss to the community of Chipping Norton.

The summer of 2021 came, I kept blogging – something I really enjoyed BTW, and we geared up for Return to Singing 2 in May. Unfortunately, the government ignored the amateur music sector, and we were subjected to harsher rules than sport and night clubs, so couldn’t resume singing. I was heartened by the tenacity of the choral organisations (ABCD and Making Music) and some choir members, writing to MPs and the Culture Secretary to plead our case, seeking justification for the apparent ‘discrimination.’ No one got a satisfactory response, so we continued twiddling our musical thumbs and joined online choirs, workshops, and masterclasses.

We finally returned to singing on July 7th, then met every Wednesday to resurrect the Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini, postponed from April 2020, and performed it on August 14th in Deddington Church.

We were supported by Stewart Taylor (my predecessor at CNCS) on piano and Anne Page, Harmonium, both of whom had been booked for the 2020 performance. Moreover, they had both performed the same piece with us in 2003! In that year’s conductor’s report, I wrote: ‘Very exciting and hugely enjoyable. We have the capacity to capture the appropriate flavour of any piece we do. The choir is reasonably mouldable and cooperative and is much better at doing what is asked than it used to be! The vocal soloists were a little disappointing but produced the goods. Anne and Stewart were fantastic and made a significant contribution to the effective performance.’

Much of that comment applies to the August performance but this time the soloists were amazing (James Berry, Philip Costovski, Lorna Day, and Isla MacEwan), the choir was brilliant and totally committed, having really absorbed what was expected of them, and the whole experience was utterly thrilling after such uncertainty and a long absence. Well done all.

Despite the chaos and frustration, isolation and grief, this last academic year has been one of calm endeavour with a triumphant return. We are still here, with new members and growing, able to prepare for a concert in four weeks’ time and looking forward to a bright new future.

My annual reports over the last 24 years (despite some gaps) have steadily got longer, more fulsome in their praise for the choir’s singing and more challenging in expectations and ambition, which have resulted in some spectacular performances – Bach’s B Minor Mass, Belshazzar’s Feast, Elgar’s The Music Makers and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem in the last 5 years. In my report of 2014/15, I wrote:

Thank you all once again for working so hard since January, I’ve enjoyed the journey. We chose Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius as a challenge and could have avoided it – too difficult, too expensive – but I’m reminded of the final verse of Robert Frost’s The road not taken:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

And finally... The process for appointing my successor is strictly this year’s business, but now is an appropriate moment for me to say thank you to everyone for contributing to it so openly and with such sincerity. You have made a sound choice in Ben which I am happy about, and confident you will continue to grow with fresh challenges.

None of the above over 24 years would ever have worked so effectively without the many committees and volunteers, for which an enormous thank you. I have always been supported and encouraged by the committees, none more so than this year, which has been particularly challenging, requiring a lot of extra time and duties, thank you. Strong leadership matters, both on the conductor’s podium and in governance and each committee has enjoyed good leadership from their chairs. Thank you to all of them.

Leadership from the chair has never mattered as much as it has this year! Eric was appointed at the 2020 AGM believing his largest challenge that of emerging from the pandemic after not singing for nine months. In January we met for a walk by the canal in Cropredy to chew the fat and put the world straight, finishing with a whisky in the churchyard. Already exercised by the uncertainties ahead, he met my bombshell that we were moving to Devon, with remarkable restraint. Although dismayed and upset, he characteristically turned all our conversations to what the future might look like and how we would get there, determined to maintain and cherish what we have all created. Eric, you reefed the sails well ahead of the storm and have guided us to calm and safer waters, thank you.

Peter Hunt

24.11.21

What we will do on 01.12.21

Rehearsal is at Holy Trinity Church, London Rd at 7.30.

Parking available in the Primary School playground.

Britten: Movements 1,  4  and  7

Messiah: Worthy is the Lamb/Amen chorus

Thank you

Peter

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Conductor’s Notes

What we did on 17.11.21

Great rehearsal last night – well done. Nice to welcome Bernard back to the piano stool. The sectional work was particularly useful and paid dividends. For the first time this term we were beginning to pay attention to dynamics and the words so that the drama started taking shape. This is a sign that confidence is growing!

I advised everyone to keep practising – listening to the piece a lot, and in addition to securing the notes, repeat any short phrases/passages over and over like an exercise, so it really sticks.

Sopranos and altos were developing really characterful singing in Nicolas was born. I’m not sure if references to midwives and trainee nurses were helpful, but there was definitely an improvement.

Tenors and basses were sounding positively tribal in movement 8, with a much better tonal blend and energy to the sound. Impressive.

Thank you and keep up the good work.

Peter

What we will do on 24.11.21

Rehearsal in St Mary’s Church at 7.30 (Carol singers meeting at 7.00)

Annual General Meeting at 9.00

Britten: Movements 5 and 9 (p76)

Run through of movt 2 (S&A)

Messiah: For unto us (p55) and He trusted (p115)

Looking forward to 01.12.21

Rehearsal will be in Holy Trinity Catholic Church, London Road 7.30

Britten movements 1, 4 and 7

Messiah – Worthy is the Lamb/Amen (p217)

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Conductor’s Notes

We warmly greeted the news that Ben Goodall has been appointed as the new conductor from January. I have written to Ben with congratulations and good wishes. I know you have appointed the best person for the job and I am delighted to hand over the baton to a fine musician who is keen to take you to higher and better things. Ben replied: I’m really excited to be taking over, and I’m so grateful for all of the support.... I’ll absolutely do my best to continue the amazing work you’ve done with the choir.

Let’s make sure we do some amazing work over the next few weeks to produce a good concert in December! Last week’s rehearsal was excellent and very encouraging, thank you.

What we will do on 17.11.21

Rehearsal at the school 6.30

After warming up – Britten sectionals:

Sopranos & Altos: 

Movt 2, movt 7 (p57) and movt 8 (p68)

Tenors & Basses:

Movt 1 (checking how secure the harmony is),

Movt 4 (particularly the harmony section on p29)

Movt 8 (p69 to end)

We will run movement 8. At the bottom of page 72 (Let the legends...) it divides into 6 parts and taken in the following order: Sops, A1, A2, Tenors, B1, B2

Movt 5

Messiah: Surely (p98)

What we will do on 24.11.21

Rehearsal at St Mary’s Church 7.30 – 9.30

Britten: Movements 5, 9 (p76) and the Hymns (p46 & p86)

Messiah: For unto us (p55) and He trusted (p115)

Annual General Meeting at 9.00

Have a good week

Peter

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Conductor’s Notes

I thoroughly enjoyed our rehearsal on Wednesday – thank you everyone for some hard work. Like you, I am anticipating the white smoke from the Vatican, as the appointment committee burn their ballot papers with the results of the outstanding process we ran to appoint a new conductor. I’m sure we will select the right person to take the choir forward and I know you will support him by working as hard as you have for me over the past 24 years, to keep CNCS the outstanding beacon for choral singing that it is.

What we will do on 10.11.21

Britten:

Sing through Movt 7 – Pickled boys (left over from last week)

Movement 4 (p20-30) – Journey to Palestine  

Movement 1 – Introduction

Messiah – For unto us (p55)

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Conductor’s Notes

What an interesting couple of weeks since my last posting! Thank you all very much for the audition sessions which were extremely successful. It was interesting to work with different colleagues who wish to become your new conductor, and I would like to pass on your congratulations to them all for their commitment and helping us with our rehearsal. I am looking forward to your responses, finishing the selection process and making an announcement as soon as we can. In the meantime, it’s business as usual folks…….

We have two more rehearsals in the school hall before more venue changes, so let’s use them as an opportunity to get the Britten ‘under our belts’. I am pleased with progress so far. I have oft stated, that although there aren’t many notes in the piece, they do contain surprises and take a while to become really familiar.  You’re doing well, thank you. Please practise as much as you can and miss no more rehearsals without just cause or impediment.

What we will do on 03.11.21

Britten:

Pages 68-73  from fig 51  Let the legends

Pages 76-85  Nunc dimittis

Movement 5 – Pickled boys (recap and run through)

Messiah – Glory to God (p68)

What we will do on 10.11.21

Britten:

Movement 4 (p20-30) – Journey to Palestine  

Movement 1 – Introduction

Messiah – For unto us (p55)

Best wishes to you all.

Peter

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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)

Peter

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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.

Peter

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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!

SECTIONALS: 

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,

Peter

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