Friday, 16 December 2011

Seriously entertained


Last night I sang at a Christmas dinner function. I was scheduled in between the main and dessert. Perfect timing really – the guests have had enough wine to be slightly merry and expansively forgiving of any minor slip-ups, but not so much food they’re going to sleep and you have to studiously ignore the man at the second table with his head resting on his side plate, snoring in the key of E.

Actually it wasn’t really me they wanted. Originally the organiser rang my teacher Rebecca Ryan, but she was unable to do it, so she recommended me. With any luck no-one told the dinner guests that they were getting second choice and a very distant second at that. Like three miles astern. When I was discussing the details with the organiser he said that they wanted a ‘serious’ singer. This tends to be a non-singer’s term for ‘person who sings very loudly, with a lot of vibrato and in a foreign language and therefore must be rather good’.

It’s always interesting choosing repertoire for performances. You may have just put the finishing touches on a technically-challenging 20th century aria with more accidentals and time signature changes than should ever be crammed into 5 pages, but it’s most likely going to fall flat with a bunch of Rotarian’s at their Christmas party looking to be entertained. Oh they’ll politely applaud and look impressed but will they enjoy it? Probably not. So serious, but enjoyable was required.

I started with the short but very sweet Quilter song ‘Music, when soft voices die’, just to give them a dose of ‘serious’. This seemed to be appreciated i.e. thank heavens you’re singing in English and it’s short and tuneful. And then I combined ‘serious’ with ‘entertainment’ and let rip with Flanders and Swanns’ ‘A Word on my Ear’.  If you’ll forgive my lack of modesty, I had them at ‘Hello, I am the great operatic diva Dame Edith Huntington-Smythe-Jones-Smythe’ and it was all smiles, laughs and applause from there. A girl could really get used to that. I’ve sung this several times now and I’m at the point where I can relax and really get into the acting side of things and not sing it through strictly adhering to the time/bar lines/rests etc. Of course the accompanist is very much an intergral part of not just the music, but the acting in this one and mine was with me every step of the way.

So that’s the last pre-Christmas performance and with three weeks holiday starting from Friday next week, plenty of time to start getting my teeth into new repertoire. ‘King David’ here I come….

Monday, 5 December 2011

Let There Be Joy!


Last night I was part of a world premiere! In fact, I can now claim to be the first person to sing a particular song in 450 years. I am a member of A Capella Singers and A Capella Concertino and last night we gave a performance entitled 'Let There Be Joy', music with Scottish connections for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. These are songs and carols researched, translated and edited by Dr Raymond White and recently published in a book also entitled Let There Be Joy. 

In the mid-1500's John Knox and his cohorts of the Reformation disapproved of art, music, dance - in fact as Raymond puts it in the preface of his book, 'they were the cultural terrorists of their time'. Apparently Knox had the idea that 'Satan had corrupted the noble gift of singing cheifly through the Papists, by the use of the Latin language that does not edify'.

Surely the man must have been tone deaf! How can you listen to Palestrina or Gabrieli and not want to be a better person?? 

It was a good test for me of how well my focus on breathing was working, as it was a big sing - 13 items in all, including 3 of them with the small Concertino group and one a solo. (Not to mention I was making my debut as a conductor with two of the songs). In rehearsal the solo had gone well, and felt nice and free. Stepping up to sing it at the performance my mouth was as dry as the Sahara and I was terrified that the lower notes at the end of the first and third lines (only middle C#, so yes I can hear the mezzos and altos amongst you scoffing - stop it Sarah!) but a leap downwards to get there and I wanted to stay in head voice rather than grind them out in my chest. So I just focused on taking the most relaxed and full breath I could and let that do the work for me. And it did. And more good breathing and the echo-y acoustic of St Mary's Basilica allowed the higher notes to float out easily. For once I was actually reasonably happy straight off.  Just the chamber organ and cello as accompaniment. 

The music as a whole was joyful and uplifting and I absolutely adored 'Illuminare Jerusalem'. So many of the songs are dance-like there were times I wished we could have moved accordingly, but of course choirs in church don't do that, that would be naughty. And the shade of John Knox would come and clip as all around our collective ears and consign us to the fires of Hell. 

And of course what would a concert of carols be without a good hearty rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, Adeste Fidele - ooh! more of that wicked Latin - and Silent Night.

My next gig is as part of the entertainment at the local Rotary club Christmas party. Apparently I will be on straight after the main meal so hopefully they won't have all nodded off by then. I'm going to lull them into a false sense of security with a Quilter art song and then knock 'em dead with 'A Word on My Ear'.