No blog this week.

“Are you going to go and write your blog?” Anne asked as we finished breakfast.

“No, I don’t think there is anything to write about this week”, I replied.

“Not even the lecture at the City Recital Hall yesterday on Music and the Periodic Table of Elements?”  Anne retorted.  Well, I admit that I had hoped it would spark a few ideas, but all it really did was confirm the human condition of pattern making – categorizing things into patterns if you are a mathematician or scientist, and creating your own patterns if you are an artist or composer.

Then ABC Classic came to the rescue.  It was 8.15am and Russell Torrance had been entrusted the task of announcing this year’s Classic 100 – the basis for music played over the Easter weekend.  No prior clues had been given, so it was with eager anticipation that we listened.

The station has recently focused quite a lot on women composers, with music by, amongst others, Fanny Mendelssohn, Grace Williams and Peggy Glanville Hicks being highlighted, and opening a delightful new world to many of us.  So could the Classic 100 be listeners’ favourite music by written by women?

On the other hand, presenters have played a lot of music recently from films and video games.  Could they have been softening us up for an Easter weekend of music from this specific genre – not something Anne or I would have welcomed at all, as this is an unknown world to us.

After the essential tension-creating build-up, we were relieved to hear that listeners are being asked to vote for their favourite composer.  Simply that.  No favourite piece; just the composer.  Presumably someone at ABC Classic will determine which piece for each chosen composer is played – now there’s a minefield if ever there was one!

For me, typically unable to make such judgements, the decision is atypically simple.  Sir Edward Elgar. No question.  He was a man who bared his soul through his music.  He struggled to be taken seriously in his day, yet his music combines echoes of its time with quintessential timelessness.  Soaring melodies with heart-stopping harmonies; intimacy alternating with grandeur; down-to-earth tunes elevated to his most common expression marking – nobilmente.  He gets my vote.

Will you vote?  How will you decide for whom to vote?  Whom will you vote for?  It will be fascinating to savour the results in due course and to spend a weekend in the company of Australians’ favourite composers.

A musical Everest

What a stunning rehearsal we enjoyed last night!

The Mozart Te Deum, which last week seemed like an insurmountable massif, was conquered and has become a part of the Choir’s collective psyche.

It is interesting to reflect that we spent 75 minutes getting our heads around a piece of music which, on my favourite recording, lasts no more than 1 minute 18 seconds.  Now there are lots of notes in that short time, but this is still 58 minutes of practice per minute of singing.

That set me thinking – how long do we typically spend rehearsing for each hour of music we sing?  Well, in most concerts we sing for about an hour.  And each session involves around 15 rehearsals of two hours each.  That’s 30 hours of rehearsals (ignoring what we each do individually at home) for one hour’s singing, or to get a straight comparison, 30 minutes rehearsal for each minute of singing.

So maybe we were not so bad at the Te Deum after all.

Some time ago after watching some surfers at Long Reef beach I commented that they seemed to expend a huge amount of time and effort battling wave after wave to get out to sea and waiting for the right wave, and then they were upright on the board in the surf for only 5 or 10 seconds.  “Ah” they said, “but there is such a thrilling sensation for that short time – it’s well worth the trouble of getting out there!”

And it’s certainly worth all our rehearsal time for the thrilling moment when the music comes together like it did last night.

Which reminds me how fortunate we are with our musical team.  Valerie’s accompaniment, somehow sensitive yet also exuberant, is one key to our success.  And of course Carlos’ unrelenting search for true meaning in the music we sing, matched with his belief in the Choir’s capabilities, enable us to scale heights we might not ourselves ever think possible.

Swing high, swing low.

It has been a week of contrasts.

Firstly the weather – one day 33 degrees and sunny; two days later, especially for rehearsal, torrential rain with the most magnificent and scary thunder and lightning.

Then the cricket – both my teams, Australia and England, suffering humiliating defeats, only to recover with magnificent victories to each win their respective series.

For those of us still with a vested interest in what happens in the UK, hopes one day of an orderly process over the next few weeks to Brexit were dashed the following day as a dysfunctional House of Commons seemed unable to agree to anything.

Then the music.  It has been a week of listening, rather than singing myself.  One day I heard the wonderfully rich sounds of that quintessentially English ensemble, The Sixteen, and on another I listened as a grandparent to a succession of school choirs and instrumental groups.

The Sixteen were, as you might expect, wonderful.  The program was English renaissance and contemporary music.  The encore, Byrd’s Ave verum corpus, was typical.  Each note was meticulously weighed for pitch, tone and intensity; then the notes were imaginatively assembled into phrases of pleasing shape, then the phrases were carefully woven together like an exquisite tapestry.  I could have listened to them for ever.

As for the school groups, well, they were quite a contrast to The Sixteen.   But two stood out – the senior choir and the string ensemble.  Both tackled pieces of some difficulty, and were not phased by them. The choir’s enunciation across tricky rhythms complemented perfect tuning, and the plucky (please pardon the pun, especially as there was not a pizzicato note in sight) string ensemble pulled off a piece with alternating two and three beats to a bar with great panache and much tunefulness.

Maybe not such a contrast after all.  And of course the young musicians at school could well be members of MW Choir in say twenty, or forty, or even sixty years time.  Now there’s a thought!

Modern times

I am rather old-fashioned and a bit of a Luddite, so social media is a bit of a mystery to me – what Facebook and Twitter and the like do and why we need them.  But you can’t escape the phenomenon in this day and age, especially when someone as exalted as the President of the United States (POTUS) uses Twitter as his preferred method of communication.

As I was trying to get off to sleep last night – always difficult after a really good rehearsal – an idea came to mind.  Here is a Tweet from an XPOTMWC (I am sure you can work that out!)

“BRILLIANT rehearsal last night!  FABULOUS singing from all, especially top noted sopranos!  INSPIRATIONAL conductor on TOP FORM!  This is Haydn’s VERY BEST music!  This concert will be a SELLOUT!  MWC is the GREATEST community choir EVER!”

BTW, don’t forget that booking opens next Monday.  Get in early to buy your tickets, just in case the XPOTMWC is right about the concert being a sellout!

A Mass of Angst?

It was really good last night to be shepherded by Carlos through to the end of the Nelson Mass.  However much we may rehearse or listen to recordings at home, there is nothing like singing it at rehearsal, under Carlos’ guidance, to really begin to understand the music.

And what music it is!  As Carlos said last night, it is beautifully crafted, very singable and tuneful.  That does not mean to say that it is easy, and the Sopranos might have a quibble or two about the number of top As and top B flats which are required of them.

But these are details.  We always think of Haydn as composing bright, sunny music, most often in bright, sunny major keys.  He is affectionately known as “Poppa Haydn”, reflecting a warm, friendly personality.

The Nelson Mass is something different.  Its sub-title gives the first indication:  Missa in Angustiis.  I can’t be sure, but I reckon there is a connection between our word angst and the Latin angustiis.  Haydn must have been going through considerable angst at the time.  Napoleon, then at the height of his powers, was expected to invade Austria at any time.  Church authorities had severely restricted the use of music in regular services.  Haydn’s employer had been forced to sack several members of his court orchestra for a combination of political and financial reasons.

Haydn’s world was falling apart around him, as was that of his employer and potentially the whole of his beloved homeland, Austria.  His response in the Nelson Mass is remarkable.  The music is so different to what we expect.  Can you think of another Mass where we almost shout the invocation “Kyrie eleison”- “Lord have mercy”?  or where “Donna nobis pacem”-“Lord grant us peace” seems more like an instruction than a request?

And that’s not all. In the Credo, most composers set the words of Christ’s death in a sombre minor key and his resurrection in a bright major key, for obvious reasons.  But in the Nelson Mass,  Haydn reverses the sequence.  Following a gentle G major laying to rest in the tomb, there is a striking B minor sequence to announce the resurrection – most unexpected and most effective as a precursor to D major for the remainder of the Credo.

I like to think that the Nelson Mass shows the true deep inner personality of Haydn.  Yes, a cheerful man in the main, but someone with deeper beliefs, feelings and emotions than he often permitted himself to display.

We are most fortunate to have Carlos conducting us for this work.  He forces us to think about what we are singing, and about how the composer is using music to communicate ideas and feelings. The combination of Haydn and Carlos is indeed compelling.