Loud and soft, fast and slow

Wasn’t it another wonderful rehearsal last night!

Immersed in this incredible music, with Carlos directing us, Angela accompanying us and Anita soaring so beautifully over us, it seemed that the break was upon us almost before we had even started.  Yet in that time we had polished three of the movements to something of a gloss, focusing on all that the music contains – notes, words, and, above all, expression.

I arrived expecting to be on top of the music.  I had made space during the week to look through the whole work, ensuring that those dodgy intervals were secure, all the unexpected leads covered, and all the pronunciation correct.  What I should also have done, of course, was to check all the louds and softs, the lentos and allegros, the marcatos and legatos and, most of all, the crescendos and descescendos.

Singing to a given time or volume is pretty straightforward.  Singing loudly comes naturally to us all; singing softly not quite so naturally, but we can do it if we think about it in advance.  The tricky part is in changing volume, and especially in doing so gradually rather than snapping from one level to another instantaneously.  I find it helps to think about braking a car.  You have to assess current speed, desired speed and the distance you have to change, and apply the brakes to just the right extent.  Similarly, to change volume gradually, you have to think of current volume, intended volume, and how many notes or bars there are to get to the new volume – then you can make the change smoothly, just as you would when braking the car.

It is said that Alfred Brendel, the famous pianist, consciously developed twenty three distinct levels of volume in his playing.  Now that may be too many for us, but thinking of, say five levels, could help in judging how to get from p to f or from f to p over the space of one or two bars, as Brahms often asks us to do in A German Requiem.

In driving, you have to read the road ahead: in singing you have to read ahead in the music. In the Choir we have an extra aid which you do not have when driving.  Carlos  indicates with his hands, his body movements and his facial expressions what should happen and how we should be singing.

Watching Carlos is not an optional extra.  It is compulsory.  By all of us responding to him and by following the directions in the score, we will indeed thrill the audience with this wonderful music.