Ready, steady, go!

It seems quite some time since the Choir’s hugely successful concerts at the start of December.  In the intervening time we have all been celebrating Christmas and New Year with family and friends, taking advantage of the warm weather to spend time at the beach – and, of course, worrying about the drought and the bushfires and their horrendous consequences for many of our fellow countrymen and women.

Now it’s time to start singing again.   It’s a great program for the year (check it out here), starting with Karl Jenkins’ The Peacemakers.  The music is very much in Jenkins’ usual style, and the message of the piece is crafted not just by the music, but also by the words and the reasons for their inclusion.

Early in January there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.  It’s a fascinating read about a modest local choir (originally called the Hurlstone Park Choral Society) transforming into a prestigious world-class choir.  Much of what is written resonates very strongly with our activities in MWC, especially the contribution of choral singing to individual well-being and self esteem, and to community cohesion.  The article is well worth reading: to find it, click here.

One of the points made in the article is that the whole choir is dependent on the skills and personality of the musical director – in SPC’s case Brett Wymark.  MWC is no different.  We are fortunate to be led by a man of consummate musicianship and great humanity.  As usual, Carlos will no doubt extract all the meaning from Karl Jenkins’ words and music, drawing us all with him on the exciting journey which makes up rehearsing and performing great music.

That Monday morning feeling

It is the Monday morning after a weekend of MWC concerts, and, as usual, I cannot settle to anything.  It’s a good thing that I am retired.  If I were still at work, my contribution on days like this would be pretty unremarkable.

Phrases from the music we performed are continually buzzing around in my head, completely at random.  One minute it is Cum sancto spiritu, with one of the long runs (eventually mastered, but only just in time), and the next it is part of Georgia’s glorious rendition of Et incarnatus est.  The full double choir of Qui tollis interrupts, to be displaced in turn by the densely woven harmony of Osanna in excelsis. Then the charming final movement of the Mozart Divertimento cuts in, and only to be overtaken  first by the roof-raising volume of O come all ye faithful and next the magnificent sound of full choir and orchestra in the Hallelujah Chorus.  And so it goes on and on.

They were indeed two memorable performances.   One member of the audience was heard to comment over drinks and nibbles, “They really are a world-class choir!”  Carlos was justifiably thrilled.

As I put my copy of the Mozart score back in the bookcase last night, I bade the music a fond farewell.  It and I have been deeply entwined with each other these past thirteen weeks.  Indeed, we were so strongly linked that, had the music been a person, Anne might have been justified in thinking that I had been having an affair.  It is music of extraordinary technical accomplishment, radiant beauty and great spiritual depth.

And it is wonderful that we, a community choir, should be able to give such competent and convincing performances.  It is all possible through the efforts of many people – ourselves, in diligently practicing and rehearsing the music; the soloists, in bringing music of such beauty to life; the orchestra, in rapidly mastering complex music with apparent ease; and of course Carlos, in bringing all the elements together and infusing them with his consummate musicianship and engaging personality.

Cake and flowers etc.

Last night’s rehearsal was a corker.  Choir and conductor in great form, with soloists measuring up well to their respective tasks.  For us choristers, it is as though we have been mixing and baking a cake over the past fifteen weeks, and it is now out of the oven ready for the decorations to be added – soloists yesterday, and orchestra next week.

And what a cake it will be!

I know that mixing metaphors is bad writing, but I cannot help but make another observation.  The sound of the choir last night was awesome.  Confident, firm, and at time very loud.  However, we were in a small building, which seemed to constrain our sound and leave it, if it were a tree or a shrub, only just in bud.  How wonderful next week it will be to be in the Chapel, where the acoustic will encourage our sound to blossom and flourish in all its glory, with the buds opening to full flower.

The audiences are in for a rare treat.  And we in the Choir should also make the most of the remaining opportunities to sing this glorious music.

A final though on the Mozart Mass in C minor.  The man who wrote this beautifully crafted, profoundly spiritual music was someone who specialized in writing opera buffa and was disliked by many for his frequent lavatorial humour.  As they say in Yorkshire, “There’s nowt as queer as folks.”

 

Running hard

English is a fearfully irregular language.

For example, there are the obvious irregularities of pronunciation, such as through, though, cough and bough (you need to read those aloud!)

And then there are cases the same word has various meanings.  “Mine” (belonging to me and a hole in the ground) is one example.  Another is “run”, which the Macquarie Dictionary affords 167 meanings, of which number 1 is to move at faster than walking pace and number 121 is a rapid succession of musical notes.

Last night we had a wonderful rehearsal polishing up all the music for the forthcoming concert.  We did pretty well.  There were one or two glitches, but Carlos sorted them out and we are ready for the next stage, rehearsing with the soloists next week.

But for me there was one black spot.  Runs. The many meanings of this word came to mind as we ran through the music, although I had not anticipated finding quite so many in the dictionary.

We in the select first bass department have three really long runs to master.  My colleagues were fine.  But for me, the first was navigated just about successfully, the second fell apart somewhere in the middle and the third never quite got off the ground – its starting very high in the register on a top E is, I am told, no excuse.

So if you will please excuse me now, I am off for the first of many practice runs to get fit for next week.  I leave you to guess whether that is meaning number 1 or number 121.

What makes a musical performance special?

I asked myself this question last weekend after hearing the Fauré Requiem sung by the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs accompanied by the SSO.  It was a stunning performance, leaving the audience awed and delighted in full measure.  No-one rushed for their bus or ferry at the end – we all applauded for several curtain calls and then chatted to the strangers sat around us, savouring a very special occasion.  A truly wonderful experience.

But how did they do it?  And are there any lessons for community groups such as M W Choir?

The obvious observations include the Choir singing precisely in pitch and time, with consonants synchronised across all 150 choristers; being able to sing loud and especially to sing softly, and to create crescendos and diminuendos, both rapid and gradual.  Lastly, the Choir clearly knew the music well and were able to look up from their scores for much of the time.

That is the technical stuff, but there was more than that.  The choristers clearly understood the spirit of the words of the Requiem, and realized they had a duty to communicate their meaning to the audience.  In this they were ably assisted by the conductor, Donald Runnicles, whose varied gestures and facial expressions brought nuances of expression from choir, soloists and orchestra alike.

M W Choir is fortunate enough to have just such a conductor in Carlos.  As we enter the final weeks of rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem, we can capitalise on his deep understanding of both the words and the music.  If we can link with his vision of the music, so ably portrayed in his conducting, like the Philharmonia Choirs and the SSO last weekend, we will give our audiences another very special experience.