I’ll say Amen to that!

We spent a lot of time last night singing just one word – Amen.  Three questions came to mind in the gaps when Carlos was focusing on voices other than the Basses.

Is the libretto of this chorus the shortest in the choral repertoire?

Is this the longest chorus in the choral repertoire with only a single word as the libretto?

How many times is the single word Amen repeated and is this a record for the most times a single word appears in a single chorus?

If anyone out there knows the answers to any of these questions (or is sufficiently Google aware to find the answers), I would be very pleased to know.

Many years ago I was persuaded to join a mass Come and Sing Messiah in Winchester Cathedral in southern England.  You know the sort of thing – no rehearsals before the day; a run through in the afternoon; then a performance in the evening.  The event was so popular with choirs that there was no room for an audience.  Around two and a half thousand singers of varying levels of ability were packed into this vast building.

I had had some reservations.  Where would the conductor position himself to be seen by all singers?  As Winchester Cathedral has one of the longest naves in England, if not Europe, and enjoys or suffers, depending on your point of view, a reverberation period of over five seconds, how on earth would we all listen to each other and yet all sing in time?   It felt like a recipe for disaster.

At the run-through, my fears were dispelled.  The conductor stood in the pulpit, positioned high up part way down the nave, and could be seen by all.  And we all sang in time, no-one getting in front of or behind the others.

Would this be repeated for the performance?  All went well, remarkably well in the circumstances, until the Amen chorus.  Maybe we were all tired; maybe we all relaxed as we approached the end of an incident-free performance.  Whatever, Amen fell apart.  We Basses led the charge and are convinced to this day that it was we who were following the conductor’s beat.  The Altos came a close second, Sopranos third, and the Tenors, uncharacteristically, last, almost a complete bar behind.  But right at the end, at the highly expectant Amen (on a crunchy inverted dominant seventh chord for anyone who is interested) before the grand pause and the final two Amens, by some miracle it all fell into place again, and we finished, as we should have done, in a dead heat.

Does anyone else have memories of singing Messiah?  It would be great to share them..  Either catch me at rehearsal or send a note to me at webmaster@mwchoir.org.au   Thank you.


Hallelu – ?

Last night’s rehearsal proved something which I have suspected for some time.

I do not know the Hallelujah Chorus well enough to sing it from memory.

Despite having sung in around twenty performances of Messiah and all the preceding rehearsals, and despite knowing one or two of the other choruses quite well, I still get befuddled in Hallelujah, especially in the middle where the Basses are dotting Hallelujahs and For evers around like occasional puffy white clouds in a brilliantly blue outback sky.

This will not come as a surprise to family and friends, who continually suffer my memory lapses with a good deal of tolerance and forbearance.  They will remind of the time, for example, when I omitted two entire pages of script in a performance of a school play.  In my defence I would point out that it was a single sex school and I was playing the part of Mrs Winslow in The Winslow Boy, and that my voice had broken during the rehearsal period so sounding like Mrs rather than Mr Winslow for the performances was a bit of a strain.

It is said that opposite attract,  Anne has the most prodigious memory for everything, including the most intricate of details, which pass by most people by.  So that makes it highly like that my memory capacity is, well, like it is, somewhat limited.

All this does not alter the fact that Carlos wants us to sing Hallelujah from memory at the performances in a few weeks’ time.  And we cannot have one or two people surreptitiously looking at half-open copies – we all have to embrace the idea and learn the music off by heart.

So, if you happen to have a few tips about how to learn music, would you be so good as to take me quietly on one side one Thursday and pass them on?   Or contact me by email at – wait a moment, I will just have to check it out – rag4647@gmail.com .

Thank you.

Memories of Messiah

It will be great to be back at Choir next Thursday.  As we continue our rehearsals for this year’s performances of Messiah, memories return of previous performances in which I have sung .  I reckon I have performed the work around 20 times.  This may sound impressive, but it is nothing compared to Robyn Blainey’s tally.  She sang her 100th Messiah with the Choir in 2014, and has doubtlessly clocked up a few more since.

However, Messiah always takes me back to when I was 15, my voice had deepened sufficiently to sing Bass for the first time, and the school choir spent a whole year rehearsing Messiah for what was to be my first experience of a full performance.   Sectional rehearsals on Monday to Thursday lunchtimes were complemented by a full rehearsal each Friday.  The school music master was in charge.  At no more than five feet tall, Rev Frank R Rust may have been of slight physical stature, but he was a force to be reckoned with.  As this performance was to mark his 25 years teaching at the school, he was determined to do the work justice.

Rehearsals were hard work, with seemingly endless repetition of phrase after phrase until each was just right.  However, there was a lighter side too.  Ferd (for that was our somewhat irreverent nickname for the Reverend) would quite justifiably become exasperated with us from time to time.  At that point, the swing of his baton increased and the Altos had to duck to avoid potentially painful contact.  And I remember his expostulation once when instead of singing “blessing” we came in with a rather vague “…lessing”.  “Do you not realise”,  he almost shouted, “that ‘b’ is the most expressive consonant in the English language?  Think of all those rude words – no don’t think of them………”.  As he became more exasperated and flustered, not only did the baton wave more erratically, but his top front tooth and its plate dislodged itself.  Schoolboys are not known for their reserve.  We laughed.  Embarrassed but unbowed, Ferd laughed with us, won us over, and was soon back to drilling us hard.

Ferd was a wonderful teacher.  His insights and encouragement were seminal in creating my life-long passion for music.  So as we sing Messiah, you might hear at times a sotto voce “Thank you, Ferd” from the ranks of the Basses.


Birdsville and beyond

“Ting ting'” goes my phone in the pub in Winton, Qld, where we are waiting for our meals to arrive, recalling the travels of the day over a particularly mellow Sauvignon Blanc.  No, it is not an incoming message.  It is the diary reminding me that it is 7.15pm on Thursday:15 minutes to MW Choir practice.

This is the third rehearsal I have missed, and I will miss next week’s too.  And it is the one thing I really miss about being away.  Most other aspects of being at home can be passed by for a few weeks, but singing does not fall in that category.

But in compensation we have seen some wonderful features of the Australian landscape.  The broad vistas of the Flinders Ranges, the magnificence of the Big Red sand dune at the edge of the Simpson Desert, and the “jump up” hills of SW Queensland are some of the stand out items – standing out in part because of the huge distances between them.  And the huge distances are themselves impressive, mile upon mile of flat, arid landscape which is not lifeless but which somehow provides a habitat for a few mammals, birds and insects and even provides a living for a few hardy souls.

The one vaguely musical component of our travels was this afternoon when we found the newly opened Waltzing Matilda Centre the only place in town serving proper coffee.  I took the obligatory photo of the statue of AB Banjo Patterson and we saw many versions of the song in print, and that was it.  There was no-one singing the song and it did not seem appropriate to do so solo.  So we left.

I hope that tonight’s rehearsal for Messiah has gone well, and I look forward very much to re-joining everyone in a couple of weeks’ time.

Two Sunday afternoons in Canberra

Carolynn Everett writes this week about two contrasting Sundays in Canberra.

Last November during a visit to Canberra we attended a delightful Sunday afternoon concert at the High Court Building on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. There is a regular program of such concerts, (which are free, but which must be booked online): you can find all the details at www.hcourt.gov.au

This monumental concrete and glass building, which was opened in 1980, has a very large foyer which is several stories high. Those hard surfaces make for a rather remarkable acoustic, and so singing there is a unique experience.

This concert was given by The Llewellyn Choir, which is based at the ANU School of Music. The choir has a similar number of singers to MWC, and grey hair pre-dominated! The dress code seemed to be ‘full black’ for everyone, including the optional (black) ties for the gentlemen.
Interestingly, their repertoire seems to be similar to ours: recent concerts have included Ariel Ramirez’s ‘Missa Criolla’, the Brahms ‘German Requiem’, and Karl Jenkin’s ’The Armed Man’.

Their Music Director, Rowan Harvey-Martin, is a highly qualified and very experienced young woman, who is also a violinist. Anthony Smith is the choir’s repetiteur: as well as being a remarkable pianist, he is also a musicologist, composer, and arranger. They are a formidable team!

The concert included Berlioz’s ‘Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family’, (from ‘L’enfance du Christ’), songs from Argentinian composers Carlos Guavastino and Astor Piazzolla, and excerpts from Will Todd’s ‘Mass in Blue’, written in 2003. This was an excellent program, and the choir sang with great enthusiasm, while obviously enjoying themselves.

Earlier this year the choir were to travel to Spain, where they were to present concerts in Madrid, Salamanca, Cordoba and Barcelona. What an adventure!

And at the end of the concert, after much applause, the choir members were busily packing up, including clearing away several hundred chairs … all part of the joys of community choirs! Next time you are in Canberra … 

Footnote: And the second Sunday afternoon …? Back in the early 1990’s I visited Canberra with a Sydney choir which numbered around 30, and we had the privilege of presenting a concert in this magnificent building during the weekend.

This was not a formal concert – there was no seating for the audience, and so visitors came and went as they explored the building. There was no piano, so we provided our own keyboard. However, we thoroughly enjoyed singing there, and counted it a real privilege to have had the opportunity to perform in such a space, with its remarkable acoustic.