Brahms Requiem, 21 May

It is just over six weeks now until our performance of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem on 21 May. Tickets will be available at our first rehearsal of the new term (18 April) or by email request to music@monkton.org.uk.

Brahms Requiem poster FINAL v2
I am delighted that both of our soloists, Rebecca Van Den Berg (soprano) and Matthew Sprange (baritone), are former New Generations Artists with Iford Arts, and we very much look forward to welcoming them.

Before then, Catherine Beddison, who is a senior conducting tutor with Sing for Pleasure, is coming to our rehearsal on 2 May, and I’m really looking forward to watching her at work with our choir – she’s amazing 🙂

Looking back at our past concerts, this feels to me like our biggest undertaking yet (although I think I probably always say that). It is certainly the most substantial piece which we have taken on, just in terms of the sheer number of notes and the stamina required to get through it all. It just never stops, something which I think the choir finds both exhausting and at the same time exhilarating! Coupled with the thrill of live performance, I have no doubt that this is going to be one which we all remember.

South West Festival Chorus

February 2017: I am delighted to announce that I have been appointed as Chorus Master to the South West Festival Chorus. The choir was founded in 2001 and draws on singers throughout the South West and beyond. I hope that this will take me one step further towards my ultimate dream – to conduct Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius!

Before that, we will be singing Mozart’s Requiem on 9 July in Frome, and I am hoping that we can encourage sizeable numbers to join us for one of the most sublime works in the entire choral repertoire. More details can be found here. It would be marvellous, or course, if as many members of MCCS as possible would sign up; our Brahms concert is on 21 May, after which we don’t meet up again until September – the perfect thing to keep everyone going until the autumn!

 

A growing choir

Last term we sang Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. It was a big challenge, and also a big risk; not to everyone’s taste, and certainly not an easy sing. I must confess that I was a little worried that choir numbers would fall away as people decided that it was not for them. I was wrong. To my surprise, the choir numbered ninety-something for the concert, and I was blown away by their enthusiasm and commitment to the task.

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Heading into a new term, I was confident that, having survived the Bernstein, Brahms would be a much more popular choice! However, I wasn’t fully prepared for where we find ourselves now. A hundred and thirty singers have signed up to sing the Brahms Requiem, including 14 tenors! I’m not sure how we’re going to fit everyone on the Assembly Hall stage, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it in May; in the meantime, it is clear in rehearsals each week that the choir has gained new energy and even more commitment than before.

We are also raising our game in several areas. We have a new logo, and for our next concert we will have a glossy colour programme sponsored by several local businesses [including The Leafy Tea Company run by Monkton pupil April Collins].

Perhaps most excitingly, as the choir continues to grow, it is evident that many of the new singers who come along are experienced and have come because they have heard good things about Monkton Combe Choral Society. Although we only perform in Monkton, either in the Assembly Hall or the Chapel, our reputation within Bath seems to be growing. No mean feat, since Bath boasts more choirs per square mile than just about anywhere else, or so I am led to understand anyway!

Brahms’ Requiem

In January 2017 we will be embarking on a new project, Brahms’ Requiem. Every new work which we undertake has unique challenges, and the most recent one – Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (set in Hebrew) was certainly no exception!

Brahms’ German Requiem is his largest work, and simply in terms of notes to be learned it is going to stretch us. In the past I have also been put off by the huge forces required for this piece. Brahms envisaged a chorus of 200 singers, and the orchestra is scaled to match this, complete with full brass; far too big for our choir to sing against. However, I have found a new orchestration, by Joachim Linckelmann, which makes the work accessible to smaller choirs. So there is nothing to stop us now!

Guest blog – the alto who can’t sing

Ann teaches Biology at Monkton, and so knows about my Choir who can’t sing project which I launched some 4 years ago now. Last term she stepped out way of her comfort zone and joined Monkton Combe Choral Society. I am full of admiration for her courage.

I was thrown out of the primary school choir aged 10. The choir master walked along the row listened carefully and beckoned me out. I didn’t pass the audition for the secondary school choir. My daughter has tried to stop me singing whenever I open my mouth. I could never tune my violin (bad choice of instrument). So I have been understandably unconfident in my capabilities in the singing sphere. And yet, when I’m happy, I whistle or sing – it just bursts out. I sing in church, the volume and the confidence slowly having increased over the years and my sense of “I don’t care, I’m just going to let go” increasing as I get to the age where I am less concerned about what others think of me. And yet, to join a real live choir that gives public performances seemed like a big thing. What if I was found lacking again?

Three things encouraged me to join the choir. One, I love Handel’s Messiah and have sung along to the tune part (not having a clue as to whether it was soprano, bass, tenor or whatever). Two, there are around a 100 people in the choir, so I reckoned I could hide and just open and close my mouth at approximately the right moments. And three, George says there are no auditions for the choir – you just have to be able to “sing approximately the same notes as the person standing next to you”. So I thought I’d take him at his word. “Approximately” gives quite a bit of scope!

Unfortunately there had been a few weeks of rehearsals before the summer break which I had missed. So it was straight in. I had to figure out where the alto line was in the score. (I had no clue whether I was alto or soprano so had to sing a few notes to George). I had no idea of the range that a soprano covered, or an alto. I tried to position myself in the middle of the altos as I knew that if I was too near another part I wouldn’t be able to hold the line. I gropingly followed the person next to me. Often I had no clue where we were and had to sneak a look at my neighbour’s page number. I am hopeless at counting so tried to work out the place we were to come in from the soprano line. But what note to come in on? That was the hardest part.

The rehearsal CD with the alto line picked out was like gold dust. Unfortunately I didn’t get it till quite late and because I’m busy (confession time), I never actually sat down with both the CD and the score together. So I learned the alto line, but couldn’t always figure out the words that went with it. Another confession – I was so busy trying to follow the music that it was only two weeks from the performance (under George’s urging) before I took my eyes off the page and actually watched the conductor. What a wally am I! He actually brought us in most of the time! What a revelation!

So by the performance I was far from perfect, but I had had fun rehearsing, I had the tunes on the brain and I was humming away all the time. I think I’ve cracked it! (The fear bit). Thanks George!

Ann Stuart writes her own blog, Sense of place at Monkton, well worth a look!

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Messiah

 

Messiah poster dec15Tickets are now available for our forthcoming performance of Handel’s Messiah. Please book them now to avoid disappointment, either by emailing music@monkton.org.uk or calling 01225 721129. Price £8.

English Choral Music

Well, though I say so myself, last night’s concert was a huge success!

Venturing into the realms of English Choral Music was something of an experiment, and although I grew up singing Howells and Wesley on a weekly basis, I realise that this repertoire is not ‘mainstream’ repertoire like Mozart or Vivaldi. I suspect that not many had encountered Howells’ music before, and it has take time to get used to the idiom; and the notes aren’t all that easy either. I have been so impressed with the choir’s staying power.

The commitment to the performance last night was amazing, and the sound of the full choir, particularly in the Howells, Balfour-Gardiner and Parry, really was thrilling. Well blended, vibrant and committed. Who could ask for more?

And so to the Tippett Spirituals. The challenges here have been very different. This is the first unaccompanied music which we have performed – no organ or orchestra to hide behind! However well rehearsed you are, if confidence is lacking things can change very quickly, which is what happened in rehearsal yesterday afternoon! Fortunately it was a momentary dip, and by concert time (and with a little added adrenelin) normal service was resumed. Our school Chamber Choir, inspired by the rousing Howells Te Deum, were on top form, and I think in turn inspired the choral society to go for it.

The whole programme also demonstrated perfectly what church music is about; in short, it raises the words to another level.

  • If ye love me, keep my commandments
  • Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee
  • Set me as a seal upon thine heart
  • Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are mine.

All of these Biblical truths are imprinted not only in our minds, but in our ears as well, because the strains of this beautiful music arrives in our ears with the words fully attached.