Saturday Doggerel

There have been signs of rift and division between our regularly placid and harmonious basses played out on this blog under the suggestion of ‘banter’. Does one detect the stirring hand of a certain alto in fomenting such unaccustomed discord for the sake of driving content?

Surely this cannot be borne without eliciting some response.

De Profundis (from the back row)

Your Soprano is a wondrous thing,
Inhabiting where the air is thin,
Spiralling above where mortals play
A foot-off-the-ground girl (*) one might say

They trill and thrill in equal measure
And rarely to a stave are tethered –
And never should be coaxed below
A slightly diminished fortissimo!

Too flighty for me! With ne’er an adieu
Soaring skywards they will go
And thus released from worldly ties
Serenade the gods who there abide!

No, give me an Alto any day –
Theirs is not the will to stray
Into such strange imagined realms
As aevum(**) where the angels dwell.. 

An Alto is dependable,
(No madam – I did NOT say dull!)
The beating heart of a loyal crew.
O’erlooked by some composers, who

Clearly fail to understand
The subtlety at their command –
If twenty-four bars of a single note
is food for a bass, why not for those?

And yet – such creatures confound reason:
These are such things as dreams are made on –
Sopranos sparkle and weave their spell
But that Alto sound is hot as Hell.

(*) Stevie Smith
(**) an imagined realm between eternity and temporality
. You probably knew that.

Continue ReadingSaturday Doggerel

Views from the Rear — chippingnortonjonnie

Is that banter I read from the first basses? Our normal interaction with them is the receipt of a withering ‘over the shoulder’ look of rebuke as we stumble on our note, or our diction, or our entry, or our key, or our inevitable loss of our trusted pencil or water bottle that have inexplicably wandered towards the tenors?

Was there a tenderness and sympathy in their script or did the words belie a hostility based on our observations of their rhythmic, unshaven ear hair?

Surely voices that often share words and notes should feel a sense of camaraderie even if the sticks on their notes sometimes point upwards and they cannot aspire (or is it ‘despire’) to the depths of our singing? There is only one thing lower than a rattlesnake’s fundament and that is second basses on a bottom ‘E’!

And in all that is canine about our character the comparison to a spaniel is a deeply misguided response. We resound as Basso Profondo in our guise as Dogue de Bordeaux, not the Labradoodle or Poodle style of those that sit before us.

And do not insult our intelligence. Everyone knows a smorzando is a Swedish sausage unless of course it is a description of the art of being a second bass? Dying away I believe?

But there is never hostility from our ranks. We treasure the cover provided for us by the firsts both physically and musically and would never deliberately sing more quietly in the passages they are struggling with.

We have after all not only a clear view from the rear but also one of rears. Treat us not as windmills but as gentle giants. Introverted we may be but never ask us to come out of our shells. Try saying that to a snail.

Just saying..................................


Continue ReadingViews from the Rear — chippingnortonjonnie

Singing Together Alone

Another Friday night approaches and with it the happy prospect of another bass rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah with the Self Isolation Choir. Alongside, I am glad to say, other members of our eager troupe of second bass chappies joining in on the chat and no doubt singing with their usual gusto and aplomb (despite the slanderous picture Jon has painted of us – I don’t know what those naughty boys get up to at his end of the row). Even the satisfaction of discovering last week, one bar that I have always sung wrong, through four performances!

Many of you will no doubt have joined at least one virtual choir and experienced that strange sensation of performing live alongside a large group of fellow singers – in my case banned to my office shed in the garden – without being able to hear any of the other participants. Of course, as a bass this is not unfamiliar territory, given how often we have been stuck at the back during concerts unable to listen to any of the other parts or to one another! Even though spending time online in conference calls is a fairly regular part of my job, with microphones muted this is very different – a solo one-to-one session shared with a hundred people. 

And thinking – oh how much do I miss our wonderful altos!

Despite the keenly felt absence of familiar faces, Peter’s warm-ups and the feeling of communal satisfaction when – yes even second basses – we do nail it, there are some advantages to this singing together at home lark…

Not rushing to rehearsals directly from London feeling stressed and dehydrated from playing sardines on the tube. Not discovering I’ve forgotten the bifocals now sadly necessary to see both the score and the conductor. The welcome presence of a soothing glass of wine on hand to help warm the throat and ease through the higher notes.. and the chance to go over the recording to catch up a lost session.

Although somehow, despite the intervening technology, playing the stream at a later date is not the same. The knowledge that everyone is singing, in their homes around the world, all together at the same time, still creates a real sense of a shared experience even in isolation.   

How quickly all of this came about! Whilst politicians and businesses floundered, within the very first few days of lockdown I had been invited by colleagues from all around the world to join in a sudden surge of online groups dedicated to drinking, conversing and singing. It was an immediate response: even as we were drawing up leaflets for the village on where to find help, organizing resources to fetch and distribute medicines and linking up volunteers to look after neighbours, people were setting up virtual choirs.

If this teaches us anything, it is that singing together is a deep human need in times of crisis. 

Why should this be? We know from archaeological evidence that the sharing and making of music is hard-wired into what makes us all human. The oldest instruments discovered to date are around 45,000 years old – but these already betray a sophistication that points to music making being far, far older than that and we can assume the act of singing is as ancient as the human voice. The evolutionary changes that made possible our range of tones go back some 500,000 years based on current evidence. Some believe these adaptations could date right back to 1.8 million. 

The role of music in evolution is still one of the great discussions between archaeologists of prehistory. Some suggest that music making set our branch of the human family apart from our otherwise more sophisticated and physically stronger Neanderthal cousins and contributed to our success as a species, binding our ancestors together as a community and allowing them to survive. Others point to ‘motherese’, the sing-song pre-language communication between mother and baby as an essential adaptation: unlike apes, new-born human babies cannot cling to their mothers and so the sound of the voice is what identifies and comforts. From our earliest days the very first sounds we come to recognize and treasure are those of song.

Whatever is the reality, music – and especially singing – is where we turn to be together and virtual choirs are a welcome opportunity to let rip, if only from the relative comfort of your own shed and without worrying about the neighbours.

Of course, humans are not alone in music making. Many other species sing – and over the past weeks with the traffic stilled the village is awash with the lovely sounds of birdsong. But – unlike our aforementioned altos – for all the beauty of their calls, I’m not convinced that birds smile when they sing.

Continue ReadingSinging Together Alone

View from near the Rear — Don Quixote

“It is perhaps hard to realise the immense strain that the second basses are under...” (Views from the Rear – chippingnortonjonnie, Sun 19 April).

Though recently posted, Chippingnortonjonnie wrote his observations on the plight of second basses in an age that we will learn to refer to as BC(2), when there was an appetite for whimsy. These are tricky times and of course we have more to stress about, but I think we need to keep whimsy alive, perhaps by wearing T-shirts – ‘Save the Whimsy 1’.

So it is in this vein that I say to second basses, staying on a single note and counting to more than 10 whilst holding a score, it’s a big ask. We first basses feel your pain. We Too.

It’s never a bad time to be kind, to reflect on what we feel but too rarely say; so now’s the time to sing it loud. They are good people these second basses; a little introverted, but thoughtful and always considerate. They may growl, but like a pet spaniel, it’s all show. Deep down, which is their natural milieu, their tails are, as it were, always wagging. And just because they greet each other with nothing more elaborate than a barely perceptible movement of the head, it doesn’t mean they are without extravagance. They are just cautious about showing it, possibly as a result of something that happened in their adolescence. Who knows…deep as they are.

And as for their sensitive voice boxes, well wouldn’t yours be?

The wee lambs.

They overheat. Don’t we all, but that’s not why they open the back door – don’t be taken in. They want to open the back door because, in truth, they would rather be outside. It’s their happy place, where they can gather in their own way, discussing a recent smorzando in bar 127 and engaging in some mutual grooming, perhaps picking a bit of fluff of one another’s collar. Happy.

In the words of another:

How do you tell an extrovert second bass?

They look at your shoes when they’re talking to you

Just saying…

Continue ReadingView from near the Rear — Don Quixote

Views from the Rear — chippingnortonjonnie

It is perhaps hard to realise the immense strain that the second basses are under constantly during rehearsals and in concerts.

We can hear the elegantly voiced tunes from the sopranos; the frighteningly accurate and harmonic pulse of the altos; the stratospherically cultured pitch of the tenors; the Italian ice-cream inspired baritone of the first basses; and then us.

We smile confidently when we have to sing a pedal note especially if it is 90 bars long as it gives us time to get to the same note together over the first 45 bars. It means we do not have to worry about our breathing (the small apostrophes above the relevant bar written with one of our seven pencils – each). We can now confidently look at Peter for a disturbingly long period disrupted only by the sudden realisation that the pedal note should have stopped 20 bars previously.

We have learnt to lean slightly right as the altos often have our note but become distracted by the haircuts of the first basses and tenors and their remarkably co-ordinated ear movements (especially the unshaven ones).

Yet we are not without mischief. We are the ones that boo quietly when the tenors win the raffle. We are the ones who fling the back door open to cool our strained voice boxes only to be thwarted by those of a more temperate nature and disposition. We are the ones who pretend to swap places at half time. We are the ones who scan our musical copies to see if the double basses and cellos can give us our notes on a regular basis. We are the ones who cease singing during the warm-up when notes drift past the ceiling-limited sanctuary of middle C.

And yet we feel we belong. ‘Gravitas’ is our watchword and we are the foundation on which all other voices descend although in the words of other authors and not I.........

‘Never invite a second bass to look after your dog when you are on holiday. They will either fail to find the key or come in far too early or far too late.’

Just saying..................................

Continue ReadingViews from the Rear — chippingnortonjonnie

Sounds bearly pawsible!

Dear All,

I hope this finds you all safe and well and enjoying the sunny spell of weather which feels welcome indeed. Spring is certainly getting sprung and apparently the blackbirds, taking advantage of a little peace and quiet, have started singing to each other again!

There is no pawcity of rumour that the bears aren’t doing too badly at co-ordinating their efforts either: reports have been pawing in that the ‘Bear Hunt’ has become more literal than intended. It appears a number have subsequently gone AWOL and there have been sightings of marauding bears apparently looking for suitable picnic sites.  Indeed, I caught my little fella red-handed (or more accurately orange-pawed) plotting his escape to the park with a jar of my old Ma’s best thick cut…

… the bear cheek of it!

Not only that but they have apparently (following hints from the Man at the Front) been popping up in songs and major choral works unannounced all over place. Nicky Coldstream told us:  

My bear is an inept watercolour painting stuck in the front window, because all my childhood bears have mysteriously gone AWOL [Ed’s aside – have you looked in the park Nicky?]. But, a propos Peter’s search for music with ‘bear’ in the title, I can produce a bear in the text, which had me muddled until I was well into adolescence. I couldn’t think who the ‘holly bears’ were and what they had to do with blossom.

She also admitted how her five-year-old self lustily sang ‘garden sinners reconciled’ [and quietly she still does]. Well – thank goodness they were!

With reference to a major piece David Fitt suggests:

I’m doing phonics lessons for my grandchildren on Zoom, and we did the -air sound this week. So from a musical point of view I thought of “Night on Bear Mountain”, and taking the dog for a walk in the fields this morning I thought that a choral version would be best represented by the massed voices of “Sheep may safely graze”. Do they bleat in B?

Its lovely to hear from folks so do send in any quips or capers that bear repeating! We can expect a tenor themed artistic piece on Easter Day I believe, followed by a bass mono-blog from our very own ‘chippingnortonjonnie’ sometime next week, so watch this space and in the meantime stay safe, keep singing and be sure to keep following that time-old government advice:

 Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Easter!


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Continue ReadingSounds bearly pawsible!

Bear Hunts

Those members who, like us Ascott mob, live in the villages – and possibly other locations as well – may have noticed a sudden (pre)ponderance of bears around.

The idea began with some Facebook posts circulating between communities, to give bored toddlers (and their frantic parents) the opportunity to go on a ‘bear hunt’ in their locality.

So our village – and I’m reliably informed by Eric, his village also – has embraced this, and bear shaped silhouettes are now visible peeping out from amongst the trees and gardens and watching from windows. For my part, I found my daughter’s old graduation bear who is now on sentry duty and my company bear (sporting a tee-shirt for the imaginatively named Brian Leach Consulting) is keeping watch in the tree in the front garden.

If, that is, he hasn’t fallen down yet.

Bears on Parade – mine (left) and Eric’s (right)

Tall bears, short bears, some younger, some older, well-loved bears, dashing bears, adventurous bears, elegant bears, scruffy bears, slightly portly bears, huggable bears, bears sophisticated and disreputable, bears full of character and, it has to be admitted, the occasional Thread Bear.

When taken together, not, in all respects, looking entirely unlike a certain Bass section.

Bearly credible..

What is the collective noun for an ursine choir – a Roar of Bears? A Rumble of Bears? A Cacophony of Bears? Perhaps a Conundrum of Bears? Hopefully not, like crows, a Murder of Entries!

I wonder whether they would be avidly watching their conductor bear.

And what would they be singing?

Bearlioz, or Bearnstein perhaps.

Make up your own..

Continue ReadingBear Hunts

The Self Isolation Choir sings the Messiah – 31st May

Hi Folks,

Following on from my e-mail earlier in the week here is some more information about the Self-Isolation Choir and its performance of the Messiah next month. Just follow, or cut and paste the link:

The choir had its first rehearsal (of 8) last night and it was great fun – and very well attended with over 1000 singers joining from all far flung corners of the world. It was lovely to see some names from CNCS floating past as I gaily crooned along to the Hallelujah Chorus and no doubt greatly entertained the neighbours with the Alto line!

Further rehearsals follow this week and please don’t worry if you’ve missed the first couple – you can easily catch up online.

I hope to see some of you there soon – in the meantime keep safe, stay well and keep on singing!

Warmest wishes – Julie

Continue ReadingThe Self Isolation Choir sings the Messiah – 31st May

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