Choralfest 2017

Members may not realise that MWC is a member of the Australian National Choral Association (ANCA).  Every two years, ANCA holds Choralfest in one of Australia’s state capitals.  This year’s Choralfest was in Brisbane in early July.

One of ANCA’s leading lights is Dr Debra Shearer-Dirié, who, amongst many other musical activites, conducts the Brisbane Concert Choir.  Pam Lewis, our Librarian, has a sister who is a member of the Brisbane Concert Choir, so it was natural for Pam to arrange a visit to her sister to co-incide with Choralfest 2017.

Pam says that she got a real buzz from Choralfest, similar perhaps to that enjoyed by some of our members in their recently reported overseas experiences.

She explained that Choralfest is a celebration of choral music which brings together some of Australia’s and the world’s finest choirs.  The delegates were choral specialists and composers from schools and universities, both here and international.

The program comprised performances, lectures, seminars and workshops, led by internationally recognised specialists in choral music.

As well as listening to some wonderful performances, Pam was able to take part in the Festival Women’s Choir, performing with other choirs in the closing concert, which was a real delight.

For Pam, the highlights of the weekend were to hear fresh choral music and to see composers in action, also hearing three outstanding young men’s choirs.

With the shared passion and enthusiasm that Pam observed over three days, she is sure that the future of choral singing is in good hands.

Click here to read more about Choralfest 2017.

The next Choralfest will be held in Fremantle in 2019.



News that is not Australia

This week there is some real news to report, rather than some vacuous musing; something more concrete than ethereal.


Julie and Roger Dawson spent some time in the US following the Carnegie Hall concert, including going to some wonderful events at the famous Tanglewood Festival.

Then it was across the Atlantic to another music festival, this time in South Wales, the Gower Festival – not at all the sublime to the ridiculous, but certainly not so extensive or so well known, yet nonetheless fascinating.  The modest community of the Gower Peninsula, just west of Swansea, puts on a series of fifteen concerts on consecutive evenings at the start of July, in local churches and community halls, buildings dating from 12th to 20th century, and seating audiences of from 50 to 1200.

Imagine Julie and Roger’s surprise when, over the interval refreshments at one of the more modest venues, they found themselves chatting to none other than Sir Karl Jenkins and his wife Lady Jenkins.  Sir Karl had not only sponsored the concert, but the performers were the winners of the Sir Karl Jenkins Music Prize for 2017.

When Julie mentioned that she is to be in the massed choirs at the Royal Albert Hall next week to sing Jenkins’ Gloria, Sir Karl said he would be there, and that she was to be sure to “pop by”.  She wonders whether – and this is where this week’s musing comes in – she should invite him to Sydney to hear the Manly Warringah Choir giving voice to one of his splendid works.

Now there’s a thought!

Slow, slow, quick-quick, oops!

It might seem strange for musings about music to start with a reference to a TV programme about railways.  But read on, for all will be revealed in due course.

Great Continental Railway Journeys has the British ex-politician Michael Portillo using a 1913 Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide to devise journeys around Europe.  He travels by train to places featured in the guide book, visiting places and peoples whose lives in 1913 “would soon be changed by the advent of war”.  Once in almost every episode, in the interests of providing some local colour and culture, he is called upon to learn to dance – anything from a stylish waltz in a grand Viennese salon to a folksy side-stepping polka in St Petersburg.  Part of the programme’s enjoyment is that Portillo is completely left-footed and unco-ordinated, but seems happy to be filmed outside his comfort zone, stumbling around alongside experienced performers.

It might also seem strange for me to mention that, where Anne and I come from, the UK, community halls have to be licenced.  Hence above the main entrance to every hall there is a sign “Licensed for the pursuance of public singing and dancing”.

There is a connection..  Read on, dear reader, read on.

Anne, who has suffered the bruises and broken bones to prove it, says of my ability to dance that, should the licencing be of the individual rather the the premises, I might well get a licence for making music in public, but there is no way I would get a licence for dancing.  I am not even supposed to dance in private, behind closed doors.

So the first connection is that I would be well placed to take over from  Michael Portillo when the series needs a change of presenter.  Admittedly, my own Bradshaw dates from 1910, is only a facsimile, and covers only the British Isles.  But my dancing makes me ideally suited to the role.  I would make an even bigger hash of it than Michael Portillo.

Which – and here at last is the connection to MWC – might explain why I am having such difficulty grasping the rhythms of these wonderful songs from South America.  The other works, especially the Schubert, pretty much sing themselves.  But these songs are outside my comfort zone.  Other choir members seem to catch the rhythms after a couple of times singing through, but I finished last night’s rehearsal  completely out of step.

So, irrespective of anything Carlos might have set for homework this week, I know what I shall be doing.  Sitting alone in a darkened room with a cool towel around my head, hammering out these rhythms   e v e r   s o   s l o w l y.  Then hopefully, gradually increasing the speed, then adding some words, and finally maybe singing the tune.

Incidentally, have you noticed how Bethany can play completely contrary rhythms simultaneously in both hands?  She has to do it in at least two of these songs.  She does it completely without fuss.  And I bet she’s a great dancer too!

Subconscious music – a week later

Not many of my predictions come true.  But my prediction last week that a performance at the Conservatorium of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius would take over my musical subconscious has indeed come about.

Indeed, despite that feast of music on ABC Classic FM over the weekend (Music of Love, Passion and Heartbreak – mind you, some of the connections to the theme were tenuous to say the least, and some of the presenters’ patter was decidedly facile at times); despite working hard last night with Carlos on the quirky rhythms of the Credo in Missa Criolla and the even more quirky rhythms of El Gavilan; and despite my other choir, Cantiamo, preparing for one of our occasional performances this morning, it is moments from Gerontius which keep surfacing in my mind even now, a week later.

The performance was excellent.  The three soloists managed to satisfy Elgar’s extreme demands with fluency and sensitivity.  Choir and orchestra were well drilled; always accurate, always expressive, following the clear direction of the conductor, Neil McEwan.  Their competence and musicality showed a maturity which belied the fact that they are still students.   It is staggering to think that these students mounted a performance worthy of much more experienced musicians.  The future of music in Sydney is in good hands.

Many memories from the performance recur from time to time.  Some are glorious sweeping melodies.  Some are fleeting moments.  The one above all is the moment where Gerontius catches, at last and after much travail, the long promised glimpse of the Almighty.  There is a longish orchestral build up, made up a wave-like phrase which is repeated several times, slightly varied, louder and higher each time to increase its intensity. Then there is a pause.  Complete silence.  And then a huge crash of orchestral sound – every instrument playing, all the percussion from crashing cymbal to tinkling triangle.  The hairs on the back of my neck tingle as I write about it.

It has taken ten years for me to truly appreciate what the Conservatorium does.  What is more, I have discovered that there are loads of concerts put on by the students, at very accessible prices, throughout the year.  Click here to find a concert you might like to go to!.

Subconscious music.

What snippet of music is buzzing around in your head this morning?  Most Friday mornings I find that something from the previous evening’s rehearsal has taken over  my musical subconscious during the night and stays with me until the following Thursday.

Today it’s the bass jazz rhythm in Prende la vela. “Prende la vela, mi negra, mi negra” is bouncing around and I find myself humming it at all sorts of unlikely moments.  I hope I am getting those off-beat stresses in the right spot!  I have just been standing in a queue at the shops and the lady in front of me turned round and asked me if I was humming.  I had not realised it, but indeed I had been.  And she must have wondered what it was!

Last week, unusually, I was caught by something we had not even sung.  It was the running bass octaves played in the left hand of the piano accompaniment during the Credo of the Schubert Mass. (Look at page 25 of the score).  Incidentally, I always marvel at the way Bethany plays them so fluently – they are absolutely unrelenting.

Mind you, today’s subconscious music may not last that long.  Tonight is The Dream of Gerontius at the Conservatorium.  As it one of my favourite works, and as I do not hear it that often, it would not be surprising if one or more of Elgar’s grand melodies were to take over my subconscious completely.

Until next Thursday, that is.