And now for something completely different.

As we are now about half way through the rehearsal schedule for our next concert, I thought it might be interesting to turn from musical to broader artistic activities for a few weeks.

Did you know that a number of Choir members have not only musical but also other artistic talents?  One such is Cindy Broadbent, whose voice has augmented the mellifluous tones of the altos for the past eight years or so and whose first novel, The Afghan Wife, was published last year.

Cindy was born in the UK and studied at Birmingham University. A life-long interest in Middle Eastern culture was first sparked when she spent two years teaching English in a small town on the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

Since emigrating to Australia in 1975, Cindy has studied at the University of Sydney, where she furthered her interest in the Bronte sisters, about whom she still lectures, and in Jane Austin.  She has also guided visitors around the City, written on a number of topics, and taught English both in schools and as a second language to immigrants.  The stories she has heard from refugees, combined with her interest in Middle Eastern culture, have been the inspiration for The Afghan Wife.

Cindy describes The Afghan Wife as a love story set against  the background of the Iranian revolution in 1979.  Having read and thoroughly enjoyed it, I would add that in addition to the love story, there is a high level of action with many twists and turns in the plot, not unlike a John Buchan story such as The Thirty Nine Steps.

Cindy is currently researching and writing a sequel, The Revolutionary’s Cousin, set in the USA and Australia at the height of the American hostage crisis in 1980.  It promises to be another very engaging read.

The Afghan Wife is published under Cindy’s pen name, Cindy Davies, by Odyssey Books.  Click here for the Odyssey Books website.  Click here for Cindy’s own website, which contains some more interesting reading.

Music between the ears

The aging process seems to be a cue for all sorts of new experiences.  X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI’s had been a mystery to me until recently, but over the past few years they have become a routine feature of everyday life.

My first MRI scan was something of a revelation.  I am not very good doing as I am told, especially when it entails lying perfectly still while a person or a machine prods and probes my body.  A visit to the dentist in particular is a bit of a nightmare, not just for me, I well recognise, but also for the poor long suffering dentist.  Various friends who know this had prepared me for the MRI experience, telling me of the mask which would be placed over my head, and the strange sounds and loud bangs which the machine would make as it traversed the relevant part of my body, in this case, my head.

It did not start well when I turned up at the hospital early for my 9.30 appointment.  Half an hour early, I had thought, but no.  I was twelve and a half hours early.  The appointment was for 9.30 in the evening.  There are times when the 24 hour clock has its advantages.

So twelve and a bit hours later I was laid down on a bench and fitted with a mask which I suspect gave me the appearance not dissimilar to Hannibal Lekter or one of many characters in the more scary video games which my grandsons so enjoy, but as no-one else was there, it did not really matter.

Then I was told to lie perfectly still and to relax, as the machine swallowed me up and all I could see through the mask was a small patch of the ceiling .  Initally, relaxation was the last thing achievable by my tensed up mind and body.  But then – not unlike the Concerto for Violin and Percussion I described hearing last week, a pattern of sounds emerged.  The process is not called Magnetic Resonance for nothing.  The electrical frequencies which power the magnet are almost like music. The banging and clanging is at times rhythmic, at times apparently random, but always intriguing, making you wonder what will happen next.

Now more relaxed, I found myself imagining an accompaniment to the machine.  Lots of percussion, perhaps with full orchestra including all the brass, or perhaps just a string quartet to provide a better contrast with the machine.

So here is a challenge to Australian composers – write a concerto for MRI scanner and orchestra.  There must be a group who would play it and any number of MRI patients who would love to re-live their medical experience.  Or surely in this day and age it should be possible for an MRI machine to synthesise a musical accompaniment to its activities in real time, thereby making the original experience more enjoyable, and creating an up-sell opportunity for its operators..

Just in case readers are interested, the MRI proved what my friends and family could have told the medics without the need for a scan – there is absolutely nothing of note between my ears.  Which, for me, is good news.

I don’t do modern music

Modern music always seems to be very meaningful to those who compose and play it, but somehow I have never engaged with it.  It always seems to be without any discernible form, without any singable tune, and frankly not that musical.

So it was with more than a niggling doubt or two that Anne and I accepted an invitation to attend a recital of modern music last Tuesday.  It had been a musical weekend, with a concert of classical music on Sunday and one of Baroque delights on Monday, never mind the events on Friday and Saturday that we might have attended had we not been otherwise engaged.  Anyway, there was no charge for tickets and the recital was in a good cause, so, as we were free, it would have been churlish not to turn up.

We had been told to expect something with a violin and lots of percussion.  And that turned out to be a very accurate description of a Concerto for Violin and Percussion, composed in 1959 by Lou Harrison. 

It took some time to become accustomed to the sound-scape of a single violin and five percussionists playing a bewildering array of instruments, including earthenware plant pots, drums from car braking systems and a recumbent double bass.  Then the music became really rather enjoyable.  Gradually, form and shape emerged, with build-ups and climaxes produced very effectively by both violin and percussion.  There were four clearly distinct movements.  Whereas a classical composer might have marked them, say, Allegro, Scherzo, Andante and Allegro Vivace, without seeing the score one could imagine instructions such as Boisterously, Whimsically, Pensively and Hyperactively.   The third movement was very moving, flowing seamlessly up and down like the silhouette of a mountain range against a pure blue sky, and finishing with a resolute sense of peace.

Half an hour passed very quickly as the music flowed relentlessly, waxing and waning, stressing and relaxing, always engaging for the audience.  Despite there being no tunes to take home, the music was clearly a work of art, carefully crafted by the composer and imaginatively realized by the performers with an extraordinarily high degree of technical skill and clear innate musicality .

The young violinist was Noam Yaffe, a student at the Con and Naomi Roseth’s grandson.  He thanked us profusely for helping to create an audience for his final year exam recital.  It was impossible not to counter with our thanks to him and his percussionist colleagues for introducing us to a completely new world of music which we would have otherwise allowed to pass by unnoticed.

So…..maybe I might do modern music in the future – well, some anyway. 

Connections

It was a little strange last night, attending my first rehearsal of this session with everyone else well practised in the music.  And it felt strange singing apparently unconnected pieces rather than a big work with a single over-arching trajectory and narrative.

Anticipating the former, I had taken time to listen to all four of the main choral works during the week.  And, somewhat unexpectedly, I found some connections between them.

The Choral Medley from Bernstein’s West Side Story happened to come first. This celebrates the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s death on the day before the concert, and is of course a re-working of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, but with the gangs of the Sharks and the Jets replacing the feuding Montagu and Capulet families.

This connects with Shearing’s Songs and Sonnets which comprises settings of seven poems from different Shakespeare plays, in a delightful style which is part classical, part jazz.

The jazz theme is developed in Bob Chilcott’s Little Jazz Mass, a work which manages to be light-hearted yet reverential, and happy but serious.  Chilcott, one of the original King’s Singers, admits to having been greatly influenced at the start of his career by Shearing, particularly in his use of jazz based rhythms.  And the piece finishes with a great sense of peace.

And peace and love are hallmarks of Eric Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs.  This ethereal music to words by Whitacre’s then finacee, now wife, is clear and limpid as can be.  It is the aural version of watching the ripples caused by pebbles being dropped into a perfectly still pond.  And it too ends with a great sense of peace.

So, four pieces, but with interesting connections.  Each is lovely in its own right, and each has its own place in the program.  I am really looking forward to getting to know each piece better as we prepare for performance.

Strictly Mozart

Saturday’s concert seems to have gone down well with audience and performers alike.  It’s the audience that matters most, and here is the view of one of its members, Lyn Turner.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of spending an excellent evening being entertained by the Manly-Warringah Choir and Orchestra at a concert entitled Strictly Mozart. The grandeur of the Cardinal Cerretti Chapel only served to complement their magnificent performance.

Opening with the familiar Ave Verum Corpus and moving on to less well known pieces, the choir show-cased their talents and ability. They worked well together, producing light and shade, obviously aware of and listening to each other. The size of the building in no way intimidated them and they sang confidently, with a clarity of diction which left the listener in no doubt as to the progress through the Summary Libretto of the Requiem.

As a chorister in the UK, I appreciate the vast amount of work and dedication that goes into creating a performance of such high standard. It was brilliant, so professional, and I hope to hear more of them before I leave Australia.