Greetings from The Man At The Front

Hello everyone.... Week nine and counting, although I’m not sure what or who we are counting on! I hope all is well with you and yours. I guess the slight loosening up of ‘lock down’ makes little difference for most of us unless you are a golfer, or play tennis (singles only of course). I have to admit that I’m liking the shopping arrangements at Sainsbury’s Banbury – after queuing (?20 mins) you seem to have the store to yourself – so quiet, and the only thing I have never managed to find is Vanilla Essence – that’s not bad is it?! Each day begins gloomily – reading the papers online – how depressing, must change that habit. The paucity of leaders is frightening. A lovely message: Hannah Cervenka (recent ex-Alto!) sends her greetings to all. She is very much enjoying the Radio 3 sing-along at 8.55 each day and is having timba drumming lessons online and joining in with her Samba group and their ‘pre-recorded groove’ Go Hannah!

WHO IS MORE IMPORTANT? I hope you and your families and loved ones haven’t been hit by changed financial circumstances – know any furloughed fellows? I guess we will all be affected somehow when the country’s bills have to be paid. Concerned about this, a dear friend of mine recently checked a government website to find out how exposed her job is due to Coronavirus. The website didn’t recognise what she put in and prompted her to ‘Please enter a valid job’. She’s an opera singer! Coincidentally she – for ‘tis Natalie – sang solo soprano for us in our May 2003 performance of the Rossini and sings in the English National Opera Chorus. Not being a key worker, she won’t get a clap every Thursday evening, but she might after performing Madam Butterfly at The Coliseum if she does her job properly. Who are the most valuable people in our society? Discuss!

STILL SINGING? Staying cheerful – it’s great to see the online singing things forging ahead, and there is so much good music to catch/keep up with. I hope the CNCS Messiah crew is still at it; performance time is not far away – exciting. I drop into The Sofa Singers online choir occasionally, and spotted that their next song is the Beatles’ Here comes the sun. Great choice, and I recall arranging that song for upper voices a few years ago, which has NEVER BEEN SUNG! So, I am amending it to include tenors & basses and we’ll sing it when together again. We’ve had great weather, and it’s summer, but in many respects these last two months have felt a bit like a “long cold lonely winter” and it would be lovely to see “the smiles returning to their (your!) faces”.

ARE WE AS GOOD AS WE THINK WE ARE? Despite being a popular song with some groovy syncopated rhythms, Here comes the sun is not difficult to sing and won’t take anyone out of their comfort zone, I promise. There is a delicate balance between challenging and stretching a choir to reach beyond their current abilities, and presenting them with the impossible. It’s a calculation that every Person At The Front (or committee, depending on who selects repertoire!) has to make, constantly. Last year was ambitious for CNCS but thoroughly assessed for all risks – manageability, achievement potential, impact on voices and self-esteem in the unlikely event of failure! Know your singers and the commitment they bring to their work has to be a conductor’s mantra. To illustrate this, and provide very brief amusement, I have posted a clip. Labelled ‘The worst choir ever? it’s soon obvious that their Man At The Front is in denial, surely? What’s so sad and makes my blood boil is that nearly 13 million people have viewed this and probably found it hilarious – that’s so unfair. Appropriate repertoire for these singers? I don’t think so, unless anyone wants to suggest they are just under rehearsed, it does happen! I trust that if CNCS ever displayed anything like this, you would ask for my resignation, as I hope they did their Man At The Front, pronto. Credit where it’s due though, some of the basses are trying really hard and I recognise these facial features when I’m casting around on a Wednesday! I bet this ‘worst choir’ sings a moderately challenging church anthem on Sunday with confidence – well done them.

AM I BEING TOO NICE? Talking of basses (like the segue?!), I am enjoying the thoughtful and frank contributions aired in Members’ News from some Boys In The Back Row, particularly the attempt to connect with other voice sections. Any contributions are welcome – length and subject matter immaterial – it’s just good to stay in touch. As the basses seem a hardy lot, I feel emboldened to share this clip I came across when looking for examples of classic singers. It is the great conductor Toscanini (died 1957), who according to Wikipedia (forgive me) was renowned for his intensity and perfectionism. Here he is laying into the orchestra’s double bass players who are not watching, or following his instructions. I’m sure you can appreciate the irrestibility of including this, and reflect on how fortunate you are...

WHAT SHALL WE SING AND WHEN SHALL WE SING IT? Whilst undertaking enough DIY in the last 2 months to qualify as an interior decorator, I have been mulling and musing atop the ladder about our concert programmes. Past glories and treasured moments have kept my thoughts occupied and tempted me to revisit the repertoire list we assembled after the ‘post-it note’ exercise in 2018. New members may not know that every few years we ask everyone to suggest choral pieces the choir could tackle and would like to see in future programmes. Some nominate pieces they have done before, some flag up their favourites or things we’ve never performed. A music committee then selects a programme for each year balancing size of work, ambition, challenge, style/period and cost. The current programme runs until 2023, which is suddenly not that far away! This current season has been somewhat ambushed and as soon as we have a clear idea of when we can safely return, the immediate programme will be reviewed depending on timescale. The Rossini WILL happen sometime! Whilst daydreaming with a paintbrush I fantasised about two works that are always going to be impossible but have been listed in the past. A Mass of Life by Delius (1905) requires 3 each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, SIX trumpets, 4 horns 3 trombones + tuba, 2 harps and lots of strings, four soloists and double chorus. That’s a huge orchestra (forget using St Mary’s Banbury!) and the cost prohibitive. Sadly, even if our wonderful committee proposed a plan involving cakes sales, sponsored sing-ins, walking up Everest in the back garden and a ceilidh, this MatF would never do it. There is very little music I claim not to like, but sadly Delius wrote most of it. Another fantasy was Mahler’s Eighth Symphony – nicknamed The symphony of a thousand. Why won’t this be possible? requires huge numbers – you do the maths. This comprises 4 each of the woodwind instruments, 8 trumpets, 8 horns, 7 trombones, 2 harps, piano, celeste, harmonium (Anne Page playing of course), organ, lots of strings and A MANDOLIN!! Not forgetting singers – 8 soloists, 2 choirs, a children’s choir and probably a partridge in a pear tree ‘Nuff said.

.....AND SO TO MUSIC I have selected a few more music extracts for pleasure rather than illustrative purposes this time. The first is The Phoenix Choir from Vancouver, with a spoof on Billy Joel’s For the longest time which works quite well. They must have had some fun putting this together.

Samuel Barber wrote his Adagio for Strings in 1936, adapting the second movement of a string quartet. In 1967 he turned it into a choral piece, setting the Latin text Agnus dei. Set aside 7’36” minutes and turn up the volume – the piece is one long crescendo and packs a punch at the climax, around 5 mins in. I have a set of copies if anyone is interested in performing it!

Continuing the contemplative and tranquil theme, John Tavener’s Hymn to the Mother of God was composed in 1985 in memory of his mother. Performed here by Tenebrae, probably the best chamber choir on the planet right now.

And for something completely different – Walking back to happiness sung by Helen Shapiro in 1961. I am hoping that this is how we will all feel just before our next rehearsal!

BIRD NEWS There is a blackbird nesting nearby whose song is the first eight notes of Cliff Richard’s ‘Living Doll’ (Got myself a walkin’ talkin’....).

Love and best wishes, take care and stay safe.

Continue ReadingGreetings from The Man At The Front

Greetings from The Man At The Front

Hello there! How are you? I hope everyone is still keeping well, with spirits as high as possible given the circumstances. Are you singing at all? Obviously we don’t know when we can get together again, but we will grab every opportunity so to do, even if social distancing is still required. How’s about singing in a field through megaphones?! Traffic cones work well too. There’s always a way!

Following the last blog’s consideration of martial metaphors employed to address this pandemic, it was timely of the Prime Minister on returning to work, to nuance this approach by describing coronavirus as a ‘physical assailant’ and ‘an unexpected and invisible mugger’.  His advice that we ‘wrestle (coronavirus) to the floor’ is helpful, but worrying given that many of our front line workers have to attempt this unarmed. Please clap loudly on Thursday at 8.00 to show your appreciation for what they have to do. And let’s also give a thought to anyone we know suffering from Covid19 or families/friends who might have lost loved ones.

This morning I was alerted to the news that in Germany, bans on religious gatherings have now extended TO SINGING!! Here is an extract from The Guardian online 30.04.20:

......Communal singing has reportedly proved to be a particular sticking point in the discussions, despite repeated warnings by leading epidemiologists that singing is as dangerous as coughing for spreading the virus.

Reports around the globe including in Los Angeles, where three-quarters of the members of one choir fell ill and two died, and in Berlin, where 59 out of 78 singers from the choir of Berlin’s Protestant cathedral went down with the virus – have offered plenty of anecdotal evidence that singing in choirs has contributed to the spread of coronavirus in some communities.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the German government’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, specifically warned on Tuesday that singing was ill-advised. “Evidence shows that during singing, the virus drops appear to fly particularly far,” he said.

Virologists also believe singers could absorb many more particles as they tend to breathe deeper into their diaphragms than they would during normal breathing.

A draft bans both communal singing and wind instruments from services over the “amplified precipitation of potentially infectious drops” and while it has been backed in principle by Protestant leaders, who nevertheless wish to draw a distinction between roomy cathedrals and small village churches, Catholic heads are opposed.

“If the distance rules are abided by, there is no reason why singing should be refrained from altogether,” the German Bishops Conference has said in its own position paper. A spokesman added: “We believe quiet singing and praying should be possible.......”

When we reconvene then I will be recommending shallow breathing, humming and very quiet singing – mezzo piano at most!

Now for something to amuse and entertain you. I thought you might like some poems for a change and a selection of youtube clips taking a quirky look at music. First, I ran a day’s workshop for a mixed adult choir in Royston, Cambridgeshire, for a friend in 2016. With us for the day was a poet in residence who reflected some of the day’s work in verse. As part of the warm up and ice-breaker I took singers through the usual vocal and physical stuff including My bonny lies over the ocean...oh bring back my bonny to me, which requires actions throughout and a lot of concentration! You may recall that you have to stand up/sit down alternately on each word beginning with letter ‘B’. Very easy to get confused and always ends in chaos, with much laughter. This is the result of Jude’s experience in verse:

Bring back my body to me

My body’s gone AWOL, I can’t quite tell why.

I brought it this morning, all buttoned up, shy

And cautious, expecting to stay nicely hid,

But Peter said “wiggle” and (goodness me!) wiggle it did!!

I brought it this morning, all buttoned up, shy

And cautious, expecting to stay nicely hid,

But Peter said “wiggle” and (goodness me!) wiggle it did!!

We started constricted, cold and uptight

But the warm-up was ruthless, arms stretched and eyes bright,

Well I got so relaxed; I just let it go,

Now my body’s gone somewhere that I don’t know.

Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my body to me… to me…

Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my body to me!

Bring back my body before it’s too late –

It’s leaning when I’m meaning it to sit straight,

Flailing and failing, detached from my brain.

I send it a message, the message comes back again,

Saying that body’s no longer there –

I tell it to freeze and it jumps in the air.

It’s twisting and listing.  What’s it doing now?

Is it bowling a ball or unfolding a cloud?

When I try to stretch it, it bends like a B,

Is it over the ocean, or under the middle C?

Sitting down when I tell it to stand

And when we started gesturing… well, it got right out of hand

Now it waves, sways, refuses to cower –

From chair bound to air bound in less than an hour…

Bring back my body, I’m asking you please

Bring back my body; I’m down on my knees…

when I thought I was sitting up, straight-backed and British.

How could this body so quickly get skittish?

Maybe it’s gone out to look for the loos.

Maybe it’s gone to get its blue shoes … glued.

I blame it on Peter – I met him and soon,

My body connected with notes, tones and tune,

The pitch got me twitching, the phrases, the flows,

And all of a sudden my body was touching its toes…with its elbows!

No! Don’t bring back my body.  Let it go free –

It’s nobody’s fault, it’s the music you see,

The legs that loosen, the arms that start swinging,

I don’t blame it on Peter.  I blame it on singing...

Jude Simpson October 2016

The power of singing eh?!

This next poem just makes me smile, and amidst the savagery of coronavirus, it’s lovely to refer to ‘infection’ in a positive way. This would be a pandemic without a cure and from which no protection is required. Happily no scientists would get funding for vaccine research.

Smiling Is Infectious
by Jez Alborough (often att. to Spike Milligan)

Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.

I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realized
I’d passed it on to him.

I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.

So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected!

And so to some music.....

Let’s start by considering THE VOICE, but not singing as we know it (Jim). Using sounds and effects only, Beardyman – whose background is Beatboxing – demonstrates creating an aural cake!

Ever wondered if a whole choir could do the same thing, creating a soundscape vocally? Yes they can, and in May 2006 Honda launched their latest Civic model with a TV advert.

Recently there have been many online ‘quarantine’ or ‘isolation’ singing opportunities available and technology has been put to good use, as many of you are experiencing. The first ‘massed online choir’ to hit the scene was in 2010 when American composer Eric Whitacre (a bit of a Stateside Bob Chilcott!!) put together a performance of his piece Lux Arumque by collecting recordings from 185 singers and mixing them together. A brilliant first appearance, which not only created awe and wonder in the singing world, but was excellent promotion and publicity for Mr EW himself!! And why not? This was followed by Sleep which brought together over 2000 singers. There is now a lot of similar stuff on youtube and ere long, the technology will exist to be able to assemble this stuff in real time, I’m sure.

A very talented and musical young man, Jacob Collier, has been wowing the music world with his incredibly complex arrangements in which he sings and plays virtually every part! He recently had a Prom concert to himself. The techniques are similar to the Whitacre, layering up many different parts/voices and Collier uses much more advanced technology too. This is one of his simpler efforts, released last year, and I love its youthful enthusiasm and sheer fun – musical ‘messing about’ with friends in the garden. It is Here comes the sun by the Beatles, chosen because at the end of the tunnel we are in at the moment, the sun is shining....

Whatever is happening to us, we can to a certain degree, choose to be happy – or at least try and find what makes us so. I was drawn to this cover of Happy by Pharrell Williams’ (2013) – how to be musically inventive in a small space. Note that this features a kazoo!

And finally, bang up to date and using the techniques now familiar to us all as a result of lock down, I am proud to share a version of With a little help from my friends assembled by The Quarantine Collective – all performers and groups from the Banbury area. The first singer, with the surgical mask is Richard who has decorated the outside of our house!

The message of this song – We all need someone to love, and we get by with help from our friends. You might feel inspired to make a donation to The Horton Hospital.

Happy listening and take care. More musical gems to follow in the next blog.

Continue ReadingGreetings from The Man At The Front

Greetings from The Man At The Front

14 April 2020

Hello everyone! I hope all is well with you and yours as we enter week four of ‘lock down’.  I have been struck by how much this epidemic is being referred to in military terms, with no opposing troops or territory to be recaptured in sight, and slightly confused battle plans. We are ‘waging war’ on this ‘enemy’ and are definitely going to ‘defeat it’ – just a pity our troops are so poorly equipped with no prospect of ammunition arriving any time soon. The best support we can give to our ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’ is to stay at home and clap hard every Thursday at 8.00. I find hitting a small saucepan with a wooden spoon very effective – try it!

All this war talk reminds me of the congratulatory letter I wrote to members of the choir in June 2004 after our stunning performance of Michael Tippett’s oratorio A Child of our Time in St. Mary’s Church Banbury. Naturally, and more appropriately, it invoked many a military metaphor (but little alliteration!).  I would like to share it with you; a dip into history will make an interesting read and will stir some fine memories for those who took part in the concert. It’s a bit of a laugh, but at heart it is praising a stunning performance of what was in 2004 our toughest challenge. Thanking everyone for having the courage to tackle this music and working hard with such enthusiasm is an oft-repeated mantra these days – a credit to our ambitiousness and the joy we seek in singing. How little has changed!

Some context before you read: A Child of our Time is a couple of rungs below Belshazzar’s Feast on the ladder of choral challenges. Very dramatic and closer to home than the story of Biblical Belshazzar, it was inspired by the horror of Kristallnacht, which Tippett portrayed as the experience of all oppressed people, and first performed in 1944 as a pacifist message. Like BF it is a beautiful beast – hard to rehearse, rhythmically difficult and tonally unsettling  – doesn’t stay in any key for very long! Unlike BF it has moments of musical respite from the drama in the settings of some of the most well-known Spirituals. These are harmonically much more stable, expressive and very moving in the context of the whole, equal to the Chorales in Bach’s Passions – familiar music which everyone knows. We were accompanied by the Cheltenham Chamber Orchestra on this occasion too.

You need to know that ‘Lieutenant Toby’ refers to Toby Blundell who was our Nick/Julie/Brian/Keith person at the time and also that we rehearsed in the church on the Friday night before the concert, and we were anxious about it! Happy reading.....

“Now you can all relax…..”

(Stand at ease)

The summer moves on, and we are all relatively relaxed, convalescing well, as the Tippett trauma becomes a distant memory, but I can still recall what a triumphant occasion June 4th really was. Like a war veteran, I hazily recall our comradeship and tenacity in the face of a stern enemy, our resourcefulness when required to do so much, with so little, and our stoicism in predicting victory when defeat seemed guaranteed. As D-Day approached, the only certainty was that Lieutenant Toby would have prepared the trenches, called in extra

stretcher-bearers, and despatched route maps to the reinforcements of the Cheltenham Regiment, who were not only heavily armed when they arrived, but gave unstinting and valiant support in a common endeavour. A minor skirmish in our new barracks on the Friday night, and the anxiety that perhaps the battle plan had not been rehearsed tightly enough, demoralised the troops a little, but this was nerves prior to the big push, and only served to strengthen everyone’s resolve to meet the foe head on when battle finally commenced. The intense training paid off; well-drilled tactics enabled most of us to stay together and fight as a unit. We ended the assault having captured an astounding amount of territory, raising the flag of victory with pride, and giving thanks that there were so few casualties.

  Telegrams from the War Office trumpeted such phrases as “Certainly members of the audience I knew thought it was quite a moving experience”; “Well done everyone!”; “I admitted to being sceptical at the start…but now I really understand why you said everyone should sing it once”. A retired RAF pilot was impressed with our risk-taking and team effort that resulted in “…..getting us all to fly together – marvellous!”. The battle strategy was admired from as far away as Hook Norton, prompting the observation “A total master stroke to have copies down for the spirituals. Such direct and passionate communication as a result.” Ammunition might have been useful though. Finally, a retired General with a passion for giving the enemy a good pasting, and no stranger to choral conflict, was ecstatic: “It must have been years since I heard a live performance of that piece, and I don’t remember enjoying it half as much as the one last night.”

I’m sure we did our little bit for world peace, if only in our hearts, and as Commanding Officer I certainly rate this achievement amongst our finest. I heard many people say ‘I don’t normally like Tippett, but that was fantastic’. To me that’s progress, and is evidence if any were needed, that it’s so important to keep one’s mind open. I would like to thank everyone for their faith in the project, and for working so hard; it was truly an unforgettable experience.

PH 21 July 2005

Love and best wishes from The Man At The Front (how appropriate).

I will be sharing a couple of poems next time. Take care and stay well.

Continue ReadingGreetings from The Man At The Front

Greetings from The Man in the Front

How is everyone doing ‘out there’? I hope you’re keeping body and soul together and adjusting to the change of pace and (lack of) activities demanded of us at this awful time. I’m keeping busy, but it would be SO nice to leave the house and do something in addition to shopping, walking the dog and exercising! I have been cycling, and the kayak is out of storage ready to launch on the canal – I can’t really complain. I would look for teddy bears but there are none to be found in Cropredy, unlike Ascott and Stourton! To help Brian’s list of titles with ‘bear’ puns, I googled ‘best songs with bear in the title’. Out of 67, the most worthy was the recitative from the Messiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” Really?! Still, a tenuous link for those of you learning Messiah for May, eh?

I am thinking of you all, particularly when Wednesday evenings hove into view and especially this week as it was to be our concert on Saturday 😔. I wonder how the Rossini would have gone? Brilliantly of course! We would have loved the quirkiness of the harmonium and marvelled at Anne Pages amazing playing. We would have given Stewart Taylor (piano) a hero’s welcome as he was The Man in the Front until 1997 and probably noticed, as he feared, that his DJ is now a bit on the tight side. We’d have been overwhelmed by the brilliant soloists – so good and so young! You would all have been wowed by your success and just how confident you felt compared with Belshazzar’ Feast, and definitely hungry for more. My prognostications lead me to suspect that post concert, apart from ‘congratulations’, I would be saying: The Kyrie opening really set the standard, with amazing dynamics, the cum sancto was great but not as taut as in the music festival and the Et vitam on page 150 just ripped along with a crazy ‘Amens’ at the end. The Agnus dei was to die for, so expressive, and pages 209/10 were definitely the gratification so long deferred from the beginning, well done.
Let’s keep this script for October, or whenever the concert happens. It will feel all the more exciting as our lives will have seemed so impoverished, and occupying a beautiful church with hundreds other people, some closer than 2m (keep selling those tix eh?!) will feel surreal.

I am delighted to hear that quite a few members are participating in some of the online singing opportunities, that’s great. I know a few are involved in The Messiah. Although it must feel odd to be singing on your own and not to hear the rest of the choir (some might think this a good thing!), it can be quite moving to know that you are connecting in a shared endeavour with others and part of something bigger. Keeping that spirit alive is so important; good luck to everyone involved. I have been dipping into Gareth Malone’s sessions – interesting. They may not challenge you in ways you are used to but The Quarantine Choir and the Sofa Singers might. One significant advantage of this online collective singing of course is that you develop a very different relationship with the The Man in the Front. Someone pointed out that they find one of the new conductors to be wonderful because “he never tells us off for not looking....and he never tells the basses off for getting behind” . Touché – let’s call that 15 all!

I’d like to leave you with this delightful Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Continue ReadingGreetings from The Man in the Front


Greetings from The Man At The Front

Hello everyone. I’m delighted to do my first blog post on the new CNCS website and I hope many will follow in the months ahead. What strange times we are in. I miss you all and feel empty without our Wednesday work outs. I can’t believe we have only missed two rehearsals since our ‘lock down’, but it is comforting to know that the rehearsal on March 11 was one of the most productive and energetic for a long time, so a fond memory to comfort us through the grizzly times until we meet again. There will be more and there WILL be a performance of the Rossini, whenever it comes.

At our last rehearsal we were buoyed by the ‘distinction’ awarded at the Music Festival on the previous Saturday – bravissimo! A great performance and everyone who sang it should be proud of a fine achievement – thank you. Phrases such as ‘a good blend’, ‘such relaxed enthusiasm matched with precision’, ‘rhythmically alert’ and ‘generous warm-hearted singing’ peppered the adjudicator’s comments.

Particularly noteworthy was You do watch’. I found this a pleasant surprise as it’s not something with which I am familiar. But it’s true, apparently, officially documented by an adjudicator. I accept that I am wrong to berate you for failing to look at me sufficiently in rehearsals and occasionally in concert and I’m truly sorry. I now doubt myself. Perhaps it’s just coincidence every Wednesday that we simply miss each other – you watch when I’m looking at my score, or maybe I blink and miss it? Anyway, no matter, you do watch and that’s official. Well done. Thank you.

Thinking ahead, to the good times when we are reunited, I wonder if we could come to an arrangement, and do it again? Maybe we could put in place a phased programme, starting with a reunion to relive past glory, on March 7th 2021 – ‘a Watch day’ perhaps? Once we are familiar with the process and our neck muscles are fully active, the training could increase so we achieve this once a month, preferably on a Wednesday evening, although I wouldn’t be that prescriptive. Ambitious though it sounds, the next stage would then be a weekly watch. If successful, and sufficiently coordinated with the rehearsal, we could somehow synchronise the watching quite frequently with some instruction from The Man At The Front  – loud bellowing perhaps? I’m aware of the limitations this will have in concert. Whatever the journey, I am supremely confident that with dedication over time we can make this work, resulting in fine performances.

I would normally be leaving home for a rehearsal about now – sad to be staying in and a strange feeling not to have any clue as to when we will next sing together. I’ve just spent 30 minutes watching Gareth Malone lead his third Great British Home Chorus session on youtube. Nick forwarded the link It’s fun and GM does quite a good job. You might like to try something completely different and challenging which will keep you singing and give your body/brain a work out, look at The material comes from a book called Singing games and rhymes for ages 9 to 99. I challenge you to get one of the songs and actions completely perfect!!

Technology is marvellous and it’s brilliant that we can all stay connected in some way and I hope you are finding satisfying connections, whether musical or not. There is nothing to beat being together in the same room, sharing a song and synchronising our hearts – technology will never replace that.

Sorry to over-work the ‘watching’ gag by the way, but as it is our watchword of the day I will end by saying watch out for each other and stay well.

Best wishes from The Man At The Front 

Continue ReadingGreetings

What We Will Do On 04.03.20

What we will do on 04.03.20

Apologies for delay in this posting.

Important notices:

*** Rehearsal on THURSDAY MARCH 26 7.30 in the Town Hall instead of Wednesday 25th

*** Music Festival choral class on Saturday March 7 at 1.45

Wednesday’s rehearsal will look like this:

Ben Nicholls will introduce us to the new website! Before the break we will rehearse pages 143-149 and the sanctus (p180)

After the break the MUSIC FESTIVAL SINGERS will sort out performing positions then sing through the Holly and Ivy and Cum sancto

What we will do on 11.03.20

Et resurrexit pages 150-173 and Agnus dei (page 196)

Continue ReadingWhat We Will Do On 04.03.20

What We Will Do 05.02.20

Great rehearsal again everyone – thank you. We looked at the Credo, Agnus dei and sang through the Cum sancto after working on pages 90-93.

What we will do on 12.02.20

We will begin the rehearsal by revising The Holly and the Ivy for the music festival. No music required, words will be provided.

Gloria (p19); Et resurrexit pages 150-173 and sing through the Cum sancto

GENERAL NOTICES: There is NO rehearsal on the 19th (half term).

The Music festival class is on Saturday 7 March in the afternoon – details to follow.

The FRIENDS’ASSOCIATION is holding an informal afternoon on Sunday 29 March at which Peter and fellow conductor Roger Pinsent will do a live ‘chat’ about the conductor’s ‘art’ and how to shepherd 90 singers through choral masterpieces. This will be interactive, great fun and will introduce the audience to the Rossini in preparation for the concert on April 4.

There will be a dress rehearsal in Deddington on Friday April 3 

 What we will do on26.02.20 

Kyrie, Et resurrexit (pages 129-149) and Cum sancto

Continue ReadingWhat We Will Do 05.02.20

What We Did On 29.01.20

Great rehearsal, thanks everyone. We covered the work listed for last week. There is a very good choral sound developing with matching vowel sounds. The warm ups are helping to create this, so use them when practising (if you can remember them!).

We briefly discussed the importance of pencil use and shared different ways people notate reminders to themselves. It’s essential that requests from the conductor (such as breath marks) are noted, but don’t overdo them and keep the marks light (2B is ideal) as it makes erasing before returning the scores a lot easier!

What we will do on 05.02.20

Cum sancto – starting with pages 90-93 then the whole movement.

Credo p106 (recap)

Agnus dei p196 (NEW)

Kyrie focusing on the Christe (p9/10)

Continue ReadingWhat We Did On 29.01.20

What We Did On 22.01.20

Great rehearsal everyone, thank you. We covered Cume Sancto pages 94-105. BASSES please shorten the ‘-men’ in bars 2 & 4 on page 103 (to match bar 6). SOPRANOS be careful bottom page 94 – you sing below the altos! We also pretty much learnt the Sanctus (p 180) – a lovely rich melody, bringing to mind a romantic Gondolier! 

The Nail Parlour was opened to explore Time Signatures and introduced the American system for naming note lengths – very sensibly Whole (Semibreve), Half (Minim), Quarter (Crotchet), Eighth (Quaver) and Sixteenth (Semiquaver). 

Next week’s Parlour session: Pencils – What’s the point? – considering effective ways of marking your scores. Um….please bring one!

What we will do on 29.01.20

Kyrie; Credo (p106); Sanctus recap (p180)

Continue ReadingWhat We Did On 22.01.20

Happy New Year!

Welcome back and thank you all for a splendid Christmas concert, crowning a very ambitious and exciting year for the choir.

A warm welcome to new members who joined this week, I hope you enjoy singing with us. Please talk to me if you have any challenges or concerns, we’d like to you to be happy and confident!

Rehearsals for making the music happen and preparing a performance. The more everyone can do independently to learn their notes the better, so please do what you can. The following are helpful:

* Listen to a recording and follow with your score. This will help the ‘bigger picture’ when you rehearse.

Choraline is the clearest – each voice is represented by a different instrument and the rehearsal figures and entries are indicated by voice:

Cyberbass is also good, with the advantage of being able to alter the speed of the music – handy for the fast movements! It is also FREE. However, the sound is all electronic and the individual parts are not quite so clear – your call!

*** If you are able to play or sing your own part – do it, lots!

 Kyrie and Christe pages 2 – 18

Good practice and self help: Bring a pencil to rehearsals – we will examine signs/symbols that are useful for reminding you about musical expectations as you are singing – many are not ever printed in the score. We will also cover some basic music theory on our travels…..

Kyrie pages 2-18

Cum sancto pages 77-90

Cum sancto pages 77-90

Continue ReadingHappy New Year!

Thus Spoke the Choir!

Congratulations everyone for a brilliant performance of Belshazzar’s Feast in Cheltenham last Sunday and thank you ALL for believing in this project and working SO hard to make it happen. You can be very proud of this achievement – one of the toughest pieces in the choral repertoire, rarely attempted by amateur community choirs. You have my full admiration.

We can now relax a little as we prepare for the Christmas programme on December 21st. Thank you Chris for taking this week’s rehearsal and on your debut as accompanist and assistant conductor! Welcome aboard, now with your own cabin,


From the booklet: Ring the bells, Holly and the Ivy (folk version), Bleak midwinter & Joy to the world

On Christmas Night – Chilcott score – various movements

Continue ReadingThus Spoke the Choir!

Welcome Back to the Feast!

It’s September already and we resume our hard work on Belshazzar’s Feast next Wednesday 4th. A warm welcome back to everyone and anyone joining us new this term. We have NINE rehearsals before the concert in November plus the exciting Singing Workshop with Robert Dean on October 5.

Each week we will tackle a new section, consolidate recent work, and as time allows, sing through something from last term to stir the memory!

Score page numbers – Please remember that we are using two OUP editions – the new edition (2007) is the larger of the two. All PAGE REFERENCES are indicated with the large score nos first, with the small score numbers in brackets.

HERE ARE THE SECTIONS REHEARSED THOROUGHLY IN MAY & JUNE:  Pages 11-18 (12-19), Pages 19-31 (20-31), Pages 42-55 (40-53), Pages 76-83 (70-79), Pages 103-107 (98-102)  48 pages (out of a total 121!!)


Recap In Babylon Pages 25-31 (small score pages 26-31), then look at Babylon city Pages 58-65 (small score pages 55-61). Note that the music is almost exactly the same, differing only towards the end.

Sing aloud, starting page 76 (small score page 70) and focusing on new material from page 79 (74) to page 83 (79). Finally, the short section pages 87/88 (83/85). We will attempt to join all of this up, including the 2-choir section pages 83 to 86 (79-82)!


By the waters of Babylon Pages 3 to 6 (both scores) then pages 7 to 10 (6-11).

Sing aloud Pages 120 to end (111 to end)

Recap Daughters of Babylon Pages 19-24 (20-25)


We will start with SECTIONALS: Tenors & Basses will tackle the opening Pages 1/2 which, although short, must be very dramatic! In the concert these pages must be sung from memory please, which will add to the drama and impact. Sopranos & Altos will look at While the kings Pages 89 to 97 (85-92)

Together we will then look at a 2-choir section on pages 32 to 38 (31-38)

Continue ReadingWelcome Back to the Feast!


Summer term rehearsals [Belshazzar’s Feast]                                         Wednesdays 1, 8, 15, 22 May                                                                                   (No reh on May 29)                                                                                                      5, 12, 19, 26 June

Autumn term [Belshazzar’s Feast & Christmas programme]                      Start: Wednesday 4 September                                                                  Saturday 5 October – Belshazzar Day Workshop – Robert Dean                                  (YES reh on Oct 30 – half term)                                                                    Belshazzar concert Sunday November 3 – Cheltenham Town Hall (Transport arrs to be advised)                                                                 Wednesday 6 November – Rehearsals continue [Christmas programme] Christmas concert Saturday 21 December – St Mary’s Church

Continue ReadingDATES LIST TO DECEMBER 2019