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: www.choraline.com and a free one – www.cyberbass.com  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 www.thevoiceexplained.com

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.

Peter

Continue ReadingConductor’s Notes

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

Surely

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.

Peter

Continue ReadingConductor’s Notes

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

Continue ReadingConductor’s Notes

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

TM@tF

Continue ReadingMessage from The Man At The Front

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

What we did on 07.07.21 with The Man At The Front

It was great to see so many of you on Wednesday, thank you for coming and congratulations on a super rehearsal. It went extremely well, everyone coped with the challenges of distance and masks and we made good progress resurrecting parts of the Mass. I also enjoyed some down time in The Chequers with a few of you, such an important part of belonging to a choir.
I was pleasantly surprised by the rapid improvement in the strength and quality of your vocal tone as the evening wore on; we were all discovering our limits and just how isolating it feels standing alone and singing into a mask. Well done to you all, it was wonderful to be back together again.
I will be giving thought to the set up in the church. Moving the sopranos to the front made a big difference and I will consider what else we can do to make everyone feel part of the action – sorry altos! At the very least we can rotate the sections around so nobody feels permanently marginalised.
I read out good news from The Association of British Choral Directors, received at 16.00 yesterday and we are hopeful that at least we will have more flexibility in how we operate, mitigating risk in a way which feels sensible and acceptable to us. Losing masks will be a huge benefit if we decide to do that. The committee will confirm any changes in due course.

Restrictions on choirs in England to be removed at Step 4

The Government has announced its intention to end all Covid-19 restrictions in England on 19 July, though this date will not be confirmed until 12 July.
In addition to the announcement by the Health Secretary in the House of Commons on Monday that there would no longer be any restrictions on ‘communal worship or singing’ from Step 4, we’re delighted that yesterday the Secretary of State announced on social media that all restrictions on choirs will be removed. No further details have been announced and we’ll be keeping a close eye on what the small print might be, but we hope this is a big step forward.
More generally, live music restrictions will be eased and there will no longer be legal limits on audience numbers indoors or outdoors.
This is all good news for the music industry, and for choral music in particular. However, Performing Arts Guidance has yet to be published and we will be looking closely at the content of that. We know that whilst some will be ready to return as soon as possible, many choirs will want to plan a gradual return to their usual programmes. We will continue to support, advise & encourage choirs & their leaders as they make their plans and to keep you all informed with any further news.
ABCD 07.07.21

What we will do on 14.07.21

REMEMBER: Inalare la voce!
Credo (p106)
Et vitam (p150) A reminder: We broke this movement down by identifying the musical themes or motifs which make it up, each with a distinctive feature. It starts (fig 42) with the arpeggio tune up to ‘Amen’. This is supported by the scale pattern (‘Amen’ in the tenors). The rhythmic motif – ‘Amen’ in the S & T at the top of page 151 – becomes significant, appears quite frequently and is kind of developed in longer phrases later. The final building block is the stepwise theme which first appears at the top of page 153 (again in S & T). Recognising these and where they appear minimises the time required to learn the music and gives you confidence as you know more than you think!
Agnus dei (you start on p196)

On 21.07.21 we will look at the Gloria and the cum sancto (p75) which we sang so brilliantly at the music festival, plus other sections tbc.

On 28.07.21 we will rehearse the Sanctus (p180) plus other sections tbc.

Very many thanks – forward together! TM@tF

Continue ReadingWhat we did on 07.07.21 with The Man At The Front

Greetings from The Man At The Front

Soapbox

AFTERGLOW

What does that mean to you? Answers on a postcard please.....

Song lyrics with ‘afterglow’ in the title seem to be mostly about relationships, and there is a category labelled ‘afterglow poems’ for loss and remembrance.

In science we are familiar with light or radiance remaining in the sky after the sun has set, a secondary glow from heated metal before it ceases to become incandescent, and of course the dying embers of a bonfire at evening’s end.

Geoff Evans, who is one of the longest-serving members of the Dunvant Male Choir from Wales, revealed in a Guardian article about the choir’s covid experience, that he “...is a regular at the choir’s afterglows, the post-concert singalongs in the nearest pub, hotel, or club.....massed voices whisper together, mesh and soar, often fuelled by ‘a few cwrws’ (beers).”  The article is a touching insight to the importance of the choir for the men and their community, keeping their singing up during the pandemic. Read it at ‘We were determined Covid wouldn’t finish us off’: the Welsh choir who sang through the pandemic | Music | The Guardian

I was really drawn to ‘afterglow’, which the dictionary defines as ‘good feelings remaining after a pleasurable or successful experience’ and knew exactly what Geoff meant. I cannot recall ever knowingly using the term for something which is so utterly familiar, and a fundamental component of choral activity. It is even more than that – the reason why many of us sing in a choir – to feel that afterglow.

On reading the article I nostalgically recalled those moments (and hours) after a great concert – and sometimes a good rehearsal – usually in a pub and always with other people who were involved, or at least shared the same experience (audience). It is that warm happy glow of achievement and success, the shared endeavour, the physical release of tension and elation after so much anticipation, the pride, the wash of ‘feel good’ hormones that make us elated, the bonding with fellow travellers that has a heightened special resonance only in that moment, before becoming a fond memory, leaving a thirst for more because it feels so good. Although challenging to explain to non-participants, the impact of the ‘singing effect’ is unmistakable. We all know what it’s like and it has been absent for too long!

The singing effect is so powerful in fact that in 2017, rugby player Warren Gatland, who is coaching the British Lions ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Africa ‘......introduced choir practice every night after dinner as not only a means to ensure the Lions could respectfully reply to traditional Maori greetings in New Zealand, but as a way of unifying his players.’

Contemplating all of this reminded me of the concept of FLOW, introduced in the 90s by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (pronounced ‘cheeks send me high’) who, through decades of research on positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, and total involvement with life – established principles by which people can transform their lives into ones full of enjoyment and happiness. He describes the eight characteristics of flow as:

Complete concentration on the task

Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback

Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)

The experience is intrinsically rewarding

Effortlessness and ease

There is a balance between challenge and skills

Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination

There is a feeling of control over the task

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”.

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

It seems to me these characteristics precisely describe average CNCS rehearsals and concerts, and we never knew this was invented in 1990!! It will not be long now until we are back ‘in the flow’ and basking in well-earned afterglow. Perhaps it should be known as AFTERFLOW? (although this sounds like a kind of plumbing device) Looking forward to it anyway, only twenty-three more sleeps!

I will issue a rehearsal schedule for May 19 the R2S2 via email from Eric, but as a heads up – we will visit the Beatles’ song Here comes the Sun in addition to the Rossini. You will need a copy and possibly some practice – see my blog of 22.07.20 for the materials and links.

By the way.... Did anybody listen to the performance of the Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem on Radio 3 on Good Friday April 2? Thanks to a nudge from Ruth Nissim I flagged it up via email and reminded everyone what a superb performance we gave in Banbury in 2018. What was special about this radio concert was that the orchestral resources had been reduced from the normal 53 players to less than half in a special arrangement to comply with social distancing, and to match the reduced choir size – 24 voices of the BBC Singers. Although well-performed I had reservations about this experience, which I will share these with you in the next blog. I wonder what our listeners felt?

Voicebox

The Voicebox section aims to reconnect with your voice and gently exercise it to get it back to singing. The first session (21.01.21) focused on BREATHING; session 2 (23.03.21), making a sound with just HUMMING. Session 3 is about CONSONANTS & VOWELS.

Start with good posture, well balanced on both feet, shoulders proud but not tense

Roll your head round and side to side gently to loosen your neck and check you are feeling tall, confident and relaxed

Spend two minutes taking some long, slow and deep in/out breaths

Continue by adding a sigh and then some hums, gaining in intensity each time, to the out breath

Now take your hum for a walk, exploring pitch range then hum a tune you know well

Now it is time for some CONSONANTS:

In a gentle voice speak the words ‘The lips the teeth the tip of the tongue’, 4 times

Relax, then take a deeper breath and say it 6 times, faster

Notice that, obviously, you cannot articulate this effectively without active use of lips teeth and tongue and that the sound is all produced right at the front of your mouth. The less you move your mouth and focus on the lips and teeth, the easier it becomes!

Choose a comfortable pitch in the upper middle part of your register and sing the exercise 8 times, one to each note of a descending scale for an octave.

Try again two times, once starting on a higher note than the last, and finally starting on a lower note than the first one so you explore a wider vocal range.

Now make space for the VOWELS:

In a commanding voice speak each of the 5 vowels, smoothly A-E-I-O-U For fun, try this in different voices, starting with King Lear!

On a single pitch, sing them

Explore each vowel by singing these phrases – smoothly, to a single pitch:

Clare’s rare bear snares hares

We three fleas need trees

Ah Pa’s fast car’s last

Tom stops Ron’s long songs

Do you glue blue shoes?

Make sure that in each exercise the vowel matches. Tip: Don’t move your mouth too much so that the vowel shape changes, make the consonants work around the shape. Remember ROBERT DEAN’S advice – have your mouth in the right shape for the vowel as you breathe in (‘inalare la voce’!!)

On a different pitch (just in case you’ve been stuck on the same one!) sing:

Are there bees on you? (notice that all 5 vowels are required and in alphabetical order)?

Repeat a few times, paying attention to each vowel, making sure your mouth cavity (and lips and tongue) is in the same shape each time. Really listen to the sound and feel what your mouth is doing. You might feel that too much attention is required and it sounds unnatural, so relax but keep listening. You are aiming for a smooth connected sound; the consonants must not interrupt the flow and tone of the sound.

Well done if you are still here and did it!!

Opportunity knocks

Now that the future for group activities (and shopping) look brighter – but still with care! – you might be searching around for some additional singing opportunities. The support service Choraline has some listed which might interest you.

Vocal Scores for Run by Singers : Choraline

The Really Big Chorus » Fauré Requiem/TRBC Celebrates!

The Really Big Chorus » TRBC Summer School 2021

The Really Big Chorus » Messiah from Scratch® 2021 | how to book (trbc.co.uk)

I heartily recommend this CD of singing exercises by Deborah Miles too:

Vocal Warm Up Exercises Devised and demonstrated by Deborah Miles-Johnson Deborah Miles-Johnson : Choraline

This is a new resource on the horizon which is targeted at choral singers is coming soon – look out for it on the Choraline website:

During the past twelve months the Choraline team has been working with Deborah Miles-Johnson and Brian Parsons from ‘Choral Clinic’ in developing a new range of singing tutorials starting with a complete beginner interested in joining an SATB choir through to a very advanced singer with years of experience.

Debbie and Brian are two of the most brilliant singing teachers we have ever worked with and we are absolutely delighted to include these tutorials within the choral repertoire. Their individual careers have included work with lots of major UK choirs and ensembles – the Monteverdi Choir, Schutz Choir, The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars and London Voices.

In our view, most ‘learn to sing’ tutorials tend to be too general and not relevant for SATB singers, but these have been specifically produced with us in mind. You can select a tutorial for your specific voice part and level of experience. Each tutorial is carefully planned and includes exercises and excerpts (from Messiah) to improve your technique, voice, and confidence.

We are currently working on the finishing touches and will make them available via the ChoraLine App and ChoraLine website during the next few weeks.

Music Box

I love being surprised and delighted by chance encounters with music in passing on the radio – usually whilst eating breakfast (home-made muesli btw). Radios 3’s Record Review, April 17th at 10.27 featured the most exquisite singing from a hugely talented soprano from Egypt – Fatma Said. The song – Give me a flute and sing – was from her debut album El Nour and is a setting of text by Kahlil Gibran. Beautiful singing and incredible breath control!  The CD is a ‘crossover’ collection of European and Egyptian pieces reflecting past cultural ties and current folk influences with some contemporary settings, some of which are accompanied by a novel instrumental ensemble.

The extracts include Give me a flute and sing, some opera to demonstrate the versatility of Fatma’s voice and her BBC new Generation Artists interview, which reveals some interesting perspectives on her lessons and training as a classical singer.

Fatma Said records “Aatini Al Naya Wa Ghanni” أعطنى الناى وغنى – YouTube

Fatma Said & Rolando Villazón on “Stars von morgen“ BRINDISI – YouTube

Fatma Said Interview – BBC New Generation Artists – YouTube

Chatterbox

I have just finished reading the most delightful book called LEV’S VIOLIN by Helen Attlee, which was Radio 4’s Book of the Week in early April. I recommend it. Beautifully written, it takes you on an absorbing journey inspired by the sound of a violin. I quote from the dust jacket – which has a nice cover too!

From the moment she hears Lev’s violin, Helen Attlee is captivated. She is told that it is an Italian instrument, named after its former Russian owner. Eager to discover all she can about its ancestry and the stories contained within its delicate wooden body she sets out for Cremona, birthplace of the Italian violin. This is the beginning of a beguiling journey whose end she could never have anticipated.

Making its way from dusty workshops, through Alpine forests, cool venetian churches, glittering Florentine courts, and far-flung flea markets, Lev’s violin takes us from the heart of Italian culture to its furthest reaches. Its story of luthiers and scientists, princes and orphans, musician, composers, travellers and raconteurs, swells to a poignant meditation on the power of objects, stories, and music to shape individual lives and craft entire cultures.

For once, this is not inflated hyperbole, the unfolding story is a ‘beguiling journey’ and like a good detective story, the end was truly a surprise. Why did I like this book? Not only was my knowledge of the violin and the Italian composers whose music was profoundly influenced by its development, significantly broadened, but I was fascinated by the making process and enchanted by the author’s exploration of the cultural and geographical threads that this popular instrument wove across Europe into the 19th century. The most interesting revelations for me were in the chapter about the ‘foresta dei violini in the Dolomites, where the Alpine spruce trees (‘wood of resonance’) were sourced, and the rich variety of people who were involved in every stage of the transformation from tree to luthier to performer. Through the book, the story of the violin becomes a metaphor for the difference between value and worth – does a multi-million ££ Stradivarius excite and communicate more than a cheap German copy in a folk band? Exactly why IS an Amarti worth millions of pounds and how can you tell when you hear one? Lev’s Violin is an absorbing 202 pages, make it part of your holiday reading.

On a completely different note: If you want an inspiring and gently jaw-dropping evening on TV, I recommend My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. It is a documentary about said eight-armed cephalopod mollusc narrated by a marine biologist who observed and ‘befriended’ it over a year. The director won a Bafta for it. The photography is breath-taking and it out-attenboroughs young David.

And finally...I am most excited about the possibility of gaining possession of a full set of Leading Notes which Shauni collected. Whilst chatting on the phone with her last year about the blogs, and much else, she said I ought to have them. I anticipate sharing more of their priceless contents with you in future blogs.

Until then, best wishes, TM@tF

Continue ReadingGreetings from The Man At The Front

Greetings from The Man At The Front

Hello everyone, so good to be greeting you again. Impossible to believe that we are entering our second year of the pandemic and its limitations, but with significantly more confidence and optimism. I hope you are well. My last blog opened with ‘Happy New Year’ (a bit late) and today I greet you with nearly ‘Happy Easter’ (a tad early). I got rather caught up with moving house in between, but all is settled now and I am looking forward to seeing you for the Quiz Night soon (more later) and being with you in May.

Soapbox

I wrote to the choir with the CNCS plan for Return to Singing (R2S) earlier this month; the committee has discussed it in detail, and we are on course to meet again in the church on May 19th unless circumstances change the national road map. Whatever happens we are ‘good to go’ when allowed and I am confident there is enough rehearsal time to prepare the Rossini for August 14th in Deddington. The harmonium, players and soloists are all booked, and like us, desperate to perform again!

I have been asked to recommend a good recording of the Rossini with piano and harmonium accompaniment. Here is an excellent one from youtube – the choir is small, but this helps clarity and when it comes to the speeds – they’re thinking what I’m thinking!

Rossini: Petite Messe solennelle – Groot Omroepkoor – Live concert HD – YouTube

By the way, here is what the adjudicator wrote for our performance of the Cum sancto movement at last year’s music festival:

Alert articulation here and excellent give-and-take between the voices dynamically to allow the entries to come through the texture clearly. You were rhythmically alert too. You were precise with the rests – just watch those quaver endings to ‘Amen’ never sound clipped. Good warmth in the sound for the soft sustained ‘Amens’. You do watch – look up as much as you possibly can, whilst counting like mad, to give even more authority to your performance. Splendid work – generous warm-hearted singing (Eileen Field 07.03.20)

CHIPPING NORTON MUSIC FESTIVAL: The 2021 festival might have escaped our notice this year, no choirs class, workshops or concerts, but it did happen online and was a stunning success. Sarah Cobb (Chair) wrote in her report:

During the last fortnight, we have held 36 Zoom calls where our fantastic team of 7 adjudicators have between them commented on 303 videos and gave friendly, helpful and constructive feedback to our amazing performers. We have seen performers, teachers, parents and grandparents join the sessions from school classrooms, sofas, kitchen tables, and have been entertained by the presence of a number of your pets coming to see what all the fuss was about! (Music Festival website 22.03.21)

OUR QUIZ NIGHT: This Wednesday, 7.30. You should have received a zoom link for this. If not please ask Eric eric.clubley@braidholm.com It will be fun and I am looking forward to seeing you again – there might even be a sing at the end! Thanks to Nicky Smith for setting this up.

I want to thank the whole committee, and Eric’s chairmanship, for the constant attention to choir matters, in particular the R2S plans, and some first tentative considerations about the process of finding a new conductor. This will take a while and everyone will have a voice, but it is essential to start thinking about options soon.

Voicebox

Last edition’s Voicebox was about breath. This session features only humming. Yes, just humming. I have a book dedicated to humming and health – see Opportunity knocks.

The voicebox activities are accumulative and that preparing to sing requires briefly visiting each step as part of warming up.

  • Begin with a gentle facial massage: Place your palms on your cheeks and with the carpels (the bony part of the wrists) gently massage your cheek bones in a slow circular motion. Continue, working down your face to cheeks and along your lower jaw, working up to the ‘hinge’ beneath your ears.
  • The breathing exercises encourage slow deep breaths thinking towards the belly, so the sound is supported. Take a few deep breaths, remembering to take longer breathing OUT.
  • Now breathe deeply then simply hum as if expressing delight!
  • Repeat, taking the pitch for a short walk higher and lower; then do it again with a longer walk, exploring higher and lower.
  • Now hum some simple tunes you know well, not too fast. Two suggestions which stretch the pitch and have reasonable phrase lengths are Chestnuts roasting on an open fire (Merry Christmas) and Edelweiss.
  • Final challenge: Improvise and hum Moon River along with Jacob Collier in his arrangement (see link below). For the introduction (the first 1’ 26”) sustain any notes you choose – making each one float on the breath for its length and enjoy the sensation of being a part of the rich texture he builds up. For the next two minutes, hum the tune with him, breathing when he does. Aim for a confident sound, using all the breath for each phrase. Then for the final five minutes listen to what happens – sit in awe with your jaw on the floor, quite literally gobsmacked at what this young man can do alone in his bedroom. I don’t even have that many shirts! His creations are not to everyone’s taste (’over the top’ is not even adequate) but you must admire his skill and capacity.

Jacob Collier – Moon River – YouTube

  • Back to basics – simple sustained humming is very helpful for relaxing and coaxing the voice into action.

Opportunity knocks

I was recommended a book called The Humming Effect – Sound healing for Health and Happiness by a member of the choir. It makes very grand claims about the beneficial therapeutic effects of self-created sounds and the proven physiological impact of humming. The American authors are Jonathan and Andi Goldman. Some salt is required for pinching when you read it and a better case is made for the life-giving properties of the breath and the hum through yogic traditions, but it is an interesting and thought provoking read.

Music Box

Our proposed concert on December 18th will feature the cantata St Nicolas by Benjamin Britten. This work is not performed as much as it ought to be. Typical of Britten it was composed with amateur performers in mind, apart from the solo tenor – Nicolas, and a small cohort of instrumentalists. I found a very good, illustrated lecture which promotes a recent recording by the Crouch End Festival Chorus, but ignoring that aspect, the presentation is helpful in getting a good overview of the story and the music.

CEFC Listening Party – Britten’s Saint Nicolas – YouTube

The following link is to a recording only from 1970, by King’s College Cambridge under Sir David Willcocks and tenor Robert Tear.

Cantate de Saint Nicolas Opus 42 – Benjamin Britten – YouTube

Chatterbox

For this blog, the chatterbox section is devoted to reminiscence and reflection as we remember Shauni McGregor, to whom we bade farewell on February 26th (however formal, the grammar just had to right, or she would not forgive me!) The choir owes so much of its success and quality to her work as accompanist, assistant conductor, fixer, music adviser, singer, supporter and dear friend. During my move, I found a card she sent to me on April 10th 2006 after conducting the Mozart Requiem and C Minor Mass with you. She had temporarily moved back to London.

I quote: I shall miss the Choral Society very much; I have learned a lot from it, not least how to address a large number of people without quaking, but much more musically. I have been encouraged by both you and Stewart (Taylor) to try repertoire ‘foreign’ to me. I think especially of Merrie England, Elijah and Child of our Time, all totally different, but where I thought the music wouldn’t be either satisfying or particularly edifying. I was wrong.

I had the opportunity to conduct a professional band with the Mozart C Minor and Requiem (albeit made up of friends!). Thanks for having a sabbatical – it made me take the decision to have a go. I well remember standing in the procession for Midnight Mass next to Judith (committee chair) ready to start ‘Once in Royal’ when she whispered: ‘Peter is going to have a sabbatical – who can we get to do the Mozart?’ To which, I replied ‘I’ll do it’. ‘That’s alright then’ she said. I spent the rest of the service wondering what I let myself in for!!

The card was a photo of an expansive lush meadow, blue sky, wispy clouds and in the middle is a single stout oak tree – tall and majestic. Rather fitting I thought.

Leading Notes – the original choir newsletter – has been a delightful source of Shauni memories. In his conductor’s report from 1996, Stewart Taylor said: ‘Shauni it was who showed us the way into the big wide world of ‘real’ music making. I have learned so much from her expertise.... It was her idea to perform Israel in Egypt – I don’t think I would have had the nerve.’

This ambition set a benchmark of expectation because I inherited a choir which expected to perform major choral works with top professional players and soloists who regarded Shauni as family! The next 24 years was set.

...and finally, an extract from Roger Stein’s ‘farewell eulogy’ in LN after Shauni’s 2006 Mozart concert:

When Marian and I joined the Choral Society in September 1993, Shauni was already established as Assistant Conductor to Stewart Taylor. We quickly realised what an asset she was, at first as an outstanding rehearsal accompanist. But it soon became obvious that her qualities went beyond that. Her sheer professionalism, coupled with infectious enthusiasm and an ability to communicate, made rehearsals with her a real joy. She had high standards and was quite ruthless in making us reach for them. And yet she did so in a way that made sense to us amateurs: her delighted smile when, at last, we did wat she was aiming for, made all the effort worthwhile. It made a refreshing change to learn Latin pronunciation vis Italian food: RAH-VEE-O-LEE AHND SPAH-GE-TEE....

...and then there is all her work for the Music Festival, her organising of carol singing in the hospital – one could go on. But I cannot close without mention9ing her stalwart support of post-rehearsal socials in The Fox. Cheers Shauni! We’ll miss you.

TM@tF

Continue ReadingGreetings from The Man At The Front

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