And yet something else completely different

Marian Hambly joined the Choir a few years ago in the sopranos, joining her uncle, Graeme Richards, who has sung bass with us for many years.  Graeme of course had a long career as a singer and music teacher.  However, Marian’s artistic interests are somewhat different.

Marian’s career was as a clinical psychologist, but she has always has maintained an active interest in the visual arts.  During a career break whilst raising children, she took an arts degree, and ran a print-making studio.  On retiring from clinical psychology, she has researched and written a number of film screenplays.

Most recently, Marian took a post graduate degree in film-making at the Australian Film, Theatre and Radio School, during which she directed the production of a documentary about the Manly Pool, a feature of the beach by the Wharf from 1931 to 1974.  Many Choir members will have happy memories of the pool.  There will be a day dedicated to memories of the pool during this year’s Manly Arts Festival (click here for more details).  There is currently a move sponsored by some Northern Beaches councillors to have it restored.

Marian describes how the film came to be made, and its enthusiastic reception by both audiences and industry professionals, in this article.

To watch the film itself, click here.


Ah! Relax – but not too much

Image result for g f handel
Was it not wonderful to be singing Handel last night?   Preparing for and performing the concert on Sunday had also been wonderful, but we had been stretched beyond our comfort zone and had to focus and concentrate with extra power to sing music which was quite different from our usual fare.

So rehearsal last night felt like settling into the soothing comfort of a warm bath after a strenuous cycle ride or a session at the gym, or after a day in which loads of physical energy had been expended in the backyard.

We could relax.

Handel is the sort of music we are accustomed to.  The harmonies and rhythms are standard stuff.  We know how it is meant to sound.  It pretty much sings itself.  And those of us who have sung Messiah more times than we care to count felt particularly smug, singing sections from memory with only the occasional reference to the score.

We could indeed relax.

I do not remember Carlos actually taking his sweater off, but after a few minutes it seemed as though he might well have done so.  We had sung through all the choruses in Part 1 and were looking forward to Parts 2 and 3 when he returned to the first chorus.

The sense of relaxation evaporated.

This music may be familiar to many of us, but it is not straightforward.  Carlos had us work hard on just two choruses for the remainder of the rehearsal.

There are runs with repeated patters which have to be sung very precisely.  There are entries which depend on successive voices pitching and starting exactly on the note.  There are notes at the ends of phrases which have to be held for exactly the right length.  There are consonants which have to be enunciated by everyone at exactly the same moment.  And much more besides.

Not to mention, of course, the spirit and meaning of the music which Carlos never lets us forget, even on our first run-through.

It was indeed pleasant to relax briefly into the sort of music we know and love.  But it will be even more satisfying to join learn how best to communicate this sublime music and its underlying meaning to our audiences in December.

It will not be a particularly easy journey, but it will be immensely satisfying, and, with Carlos in the driving seat, it will be great fun.

We made it!

Approaching half past two yesterday afternoon there was a palpable sense of anticipation at the Cardinal Cerretti Chapel, not unlike the tension at the start of a sporting event.  The team (there was only one) had prepared and trained for weeks, and was now ready for action. Team members were straining at the leash, waiting for the starting signal as the sign to put all their training and practice to the test.

And they were not found wanting.  After the usual preliminaries, the conductor took to the rostrum and away they went!   There were slow sections, there were fast sections.  There were sections with tricky manoeuvres embedded.  There were loud sections and soft sections.  All seemed to hang together seamlessly, producing a continuous flow of inspirational sound for almost two hours.

If the reaction of the enthusiastic audience is any judge, then the team won with flying colours.

The team comprised firstly the Manly Warringah Choir, who overcame many difficulties in this complex music to communicate it most convincingly.  Then there were the “backing group” of piano, bass and drums, all sensitively supportive – and the pianist threw in a wonderful ragtime number for good measure. Next come the string quartet, whose members played absolutely delightfully, with some majestic moments and some exquisitely soft moments which held the tension so much you could have heard a pin drop.  Finally comes the Maestro, the Choir’s beloved conductor Carlos, who trained  and tested, cajoled and coaxed, and above all shared his musical soul with performers and audience alike..

We made it!  All that preparation had been worthwhile. We finished the course in style.  What a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Ready, steady, go!

Well – here we are, ready for the concert.  All we have to do now is to turn up on Sunday and sing our hearts out.  if we do just that, then the audience will have a wonderful time hearing some delightful music in inspirational surroundings.  What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

It’s been a funny concert to rehearse for.  Much of the music is so different from the works we usually sing.  Some unaccustomed harmonies, some weird rhythms, and some unusual languages created a potent mix of fear and doubt in our minds at the start of the session.  But it is fair to say that we have overcome all the obstacles, and are now capable of giving good performances of all four suites and the two songs.

Credit is due to everyone in the Choir for moving outside our comfort zone into these new styles.  And credit is due to Carlos too, for his patience in teaching and inspiring us, and to Valerie for her masterfully supportive accompaniment.

Will it be a funny concert in which to sing?  I think it will be a fantastic experience.  rehearsals over the past two evenings show that the acoustic of the Chapel suits the suites and songs so well that in one sense they will sing themselves.  A balance of alertness to Carlos and relaxation into the mood of the music will no doubt wow the audience.  Which is great, because that is what we are there to do.

And for those of us who feel “sung out” after these two rehearsals, don’t worry.  On Sunday, Carlos can ask us to sing the music only once!





Five Hebrew Love Songs

Carolynn Everett writes this week’s blog about a close encounter with the Five Hebrew Love Songs.

As I write this, we are less than two weeks away from our next concert, and a feature of this program will be Eric Whitacre’s “Five Hebrew Love Songs”.

Way back in July 2014 we performed this suite, and I must admit that I found the rehearsals hard going. Hebrew is not an easy language to ‘learn’, and the music is quite unusual, so I suspect I was not the only one who struggled!

The week before that concert I contracted a throat infection, and it was impossible for me to sing. I booked a seat at the back of the chapel for the concert, so that I could leave easily leave if/when I started to cough. And so, as a member of the audience, I heard the choir singing “Five Hebrew Love Songs” – and it was simply beautiful.

After this experience I was delighted to learn that we would be repeating this piece for this year’s August concert. Of course, it is still difficult, and I still struggle with the Hebrew text, but …

Earlier this year we were on holidays in Germany, and we spent a few days in a little town called Speyer – population around 55,000. We were looking for somewhere roughly half-way between Frankfurt and Baden-Baden, and Speyer fitted the bill! We learned that this town has a remarkable (and simply enormous) Romanesque cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other attractions include a very fine Jewish museum: during the 11th century Speyer was home to one of the most important Jewish communities north of the Alps. We thoroughly enjoyed our several days there.

After our holiday it was back to Sydney, and back to Thursday night rehearsals. I am always interested in ‘the story behind the song’, and so one evening I looked at the programme notes on the inside cover of “Five Hebrew Love Songs” … and there it was! A mention of Speyer – the town we had visited just a few weeks previously, almost by accident!

To my surprise, I discovered that this suite was first performed in Speyer, in 1996. Whitacre’s notes don’t tell us exactly where in Speyer this first performance took place, but I was intrigued to discover that he was only 26 when he composed this extraordinary music, which was originally scored for soprano, piano, and violin.

You may remember that the text was written by Whitacre’s then-girlfriend, the soprano Hila Plitmann, and his program notes conclude with these lovely words…

“These songs are profoundly personal for me, born entirely out of my new love for this soprano, poet, and now my beautiful wife, Hila Plitmann.”

Eric Whitacre and Hila Plitmann were married in 1998. How very lovely!