When I was a lad growing up in England, every Village Fete, Church Fair and School Fundraiser would have a row of pocket-money priced sideshows. For a penny or two you could show off your skill and win a modest prize – a free lolly perhaps or a cheap trinket. Of course they were quite challenging as the object of the exercise was to raise funds rather than to hand out prizes!
The Buzz Wire was a twisted piece of rigid wire. The ends were about half a metre apart, but the wire, with all its twists and turns, was at least a metre long. The wire was threaded through a metal loop about 2cm in diameter, which in turn was attached to a handle. The challenge was to traverse the length of the rigid wire with the hoop, held in just one hand, without hoop and wire touching. If they touched, then an electrical circuit would sound a buzzer or a bell, and your turn would be over.
I was thinking about the Buzz Wire last night as we were rehearsing the ups and downs and twists and turns of Bach’s choral writing in the Magnificat. The shape of the wire is not unlike that of some of the phrases we have to sing – think of the theme in Fecit potentiam, for example.
We basses get off quite lightly, but Bach clearly had supreme confidence in his other voices, as the vocal contortions he asks of them are amazing. Some of the twists are gentle, just a few notes apart and in a memorable sequence. Then comes something quite different such as an octave jump up, then a smaller leap down, then more twiddly bits around the same or different sets of notes.
With the Buzz Wire, you have to keep the centre of the loop as close to the rigid wire as possible. With singing Bach, we have to keep each note as close to the proper pitch as possible. With the Buzz Wire, contact brings the buzzer or bell and the end of the turn. With Bach it is the opposite. If we do not get just one note sufficiently close, Carlos’ internal buzzer sounds: he stops us and we have the “bonus” of another turn, and maybe even more turns until we get it right.
I find that rehearsing Bach gives a huge sense of satisfaction. To sing his music accurately is no mean feat, and, what is more, it sounds pretty good too.
Next week we start looking at the carols. They need singing accurately too, but they are much easier, and simply good fun. It will be great to be singing them again.