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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.

Slow practice!

Following a wonderfully uplifting Elgar programme in May, our main challenge for the summer and beyond is Bach’s Magnificat. I’ll cut to the chase: there are lots of runs, at great speed, and this piece is going to be technically challenging for the choir. But before we even get to that point, there is the not-inconsiderable challenge of learning the notes themselves! Whether we are singing, or playing the piano or the clarinet, the ideal is that we know all of the notes so well that we are not still trying to work them out during performance! So our first stages of rehearsal will be twofold – learning the music (ie how it is put together, how it works) and learning to sing the notes SLOWLY. Slowly enough so that we are not taking constant wrong turns, so that we travel the same path again and again until we know exactly where the line goes, and begin to follow that line almost without thinking. The joy of slow practice is that we can get it right! It might seem an awfully long way from the final tempo, but we will get there in due course – much better to be sure of the notes than to be trying to correct problems at a much faster speed. From a technical point of view, semi-quaver runs are physically demanding. However, once the slow practice is done and we actually know which direction we are heading in at any moment, we will have one less thing to think and worry about. So often, successful practice is about breaking down a challenge into more manageable tasks.

Elgar for 2014

Happy New Year! And for the new year, a new departure for MCCS, in as much as we are going to be singing some secular repertoire for the first time. Our main work for this term is Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands, six choral songs with texts by Elgar’s wife, Alice. In addition we will also be singing Give unto the Lord, Elgar’s setting of Psalm 29.

Rehearsals begin on 14 January, and new members are of course welcome (see here for more details). The concert will be on Sunday 11 May.

Rutter’s Magnificat

Our new challenge for this September will be Rutter’s Magnificat. It is, unsurprisingly, full of catchy melodies, but despite being very singable it is by no means straightforward; so I hope that the choir will enjoy the challenge, as well as a change from our more recent diet of Mozart and Vivaldi!

rutter magnificatRehearsals begin on Tuesday 3rd September, with the concert on Sunday 8th December. Membership details can be found here.

Viva Vivaldi!

Our concert on Sunday evening was a fine celebration of the Venetian Baroque (with a little Handel thrown in for good measure!) Not only Vivaldi, but also a concerto by Albinoni; and not only choral music either, but some truly amazing instrumental music too. It is a genuine pleasure for us to work with such fine musicians on these occasions, but this Sunday was truly wonderful. With the string players arranged in a wide semi-circle around her, and with violinists and violas standing (as was the norm in C18th Venice), Lorna Osbon captivated the audience with a virtuoso performance of Spring and Summer from The Four Seasons; one only had to watch the choir, who were just a few feet away from the action, to appreciate the extraordinary chemistry between the musicians.

Lorna Osbon

Lorna Osbon

Imogen Triner then took to the stage to play Albinoni’s Concerto in D minor for oboe. The huge phrases in the slow movement appeared effortless, and again this was a performance characterised by an infectious energy.

And so to the choir. Zadok the Priest was (is!) a brilliant opener for any programme; that masterful introduction begins so ordinarily, but then there is the gradual realisation that something truly extraordinary is about to happen. The choir didn’t let us down!

By the second half the whole place was so fired up by what we had already heard that I had no doubt that the choir would rise to the occasion. We continue to work hard at learning the music, not just the notes, and Vivaldi’s Gloria offers such a variety in this regard, from the achingly beautiful musical lines in the Et in terra pax to the dancing Domine Fili Unigenite. I think the photo here says it all really – I love working with this choir!




The full programme for our next concert, on Sunday 23 June, is as follows:

Handel – Zadok the Priest
Albinoni – Oboe Concerto in d minor
Vivaldi – Spring and Summer from ‘The Four Seasons
Vivaldi – Gloria

Georgina Stalbow (soprano)
Phillipa Thomas (mezzo soprano)
Imogen Triner (oboe)
Lorna Osbon (leader)