Come and Sing – The Creation

It’s been a while since I did any ‘proper’ singing, so I was both delighted at the thought of another “Come and Sing” day and nervous as to whether I’d be up to the task. This was yet again with The Bach Choir but the time the piece was The Creation by Haydn.

Before the day I did my usual preparation, making sure that I had the score and working through it. I was pleased to discover that there was no splitting the choir into eight (as those parts are always tricky) but less pleased with Haydn’s definition of an alto. Really, there are some notes that should be left to the sopranos, did he not read the memo? He also throws in some fairly tricky fugal sections with several different variants of the same phrase.

On the day I put my worries aside determined to just do my best. I picked a good seat with a clear view of the conductor (once again the wonderful David Hill) and a Bach Chorister next to me (arrive early for these things, it pays off). The vocal warm up was fun and a real work out for the brain as well as the voice in places.

Then we settled down to work through the piece. We rehearsed chorus by chorus. David picking apart things into tiny details in places, simple things like breathing early (so you don’t come in late) or working to get the sound smooth and flowing. It was wonderful to work on making it sound beautiful. I felt an incredible sense of focus, with no other thoughts than the music (a musical ‘deep hack mode’ if you like).

And then rehearsals over, we were ready to perform for our select audience who, sitting at the front, were the centre of attention. They even got a round of applause. Once we started singing though, I was focused on the music, the conductor and not fluffing too many bits. Without soloists, so doing only the choruses, the time rushed by. So much so that we were treated to an impromptu duet of the opening with Philip Scriven on the organ and David Hill on the piano. Then it was time for us to sing the last chorus and our day was over.

Well, almost over, as it turned out there was a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ to sing to David in celebration of his upcoming ‘big’ birthday. Then it really was time to go home.

Yet again, an amazing, enjoyable, educational day.


Come and Sing – Elijah

I knew I wanted to attend another “Come and Sing” day, so discovering that The Bach Choir were holding one in the Royal Festival Hall (as part of the Southbank Centre‘s Chorus Fest) was perfect.

The music was Elijah; a piece I knew not at all, but the story I knew and loved and the Mendelssohn I knew generally seemed rousing and enjoyable. With that information I decided to go for it and bought the score and a copy of the music to listen to. Just a brief look at the score revealed how tricky it would be. Lots of passages with every voice part singing something different. Lots of repetition of words yet changing either the tune or the rhythm. The challenge seemed huge.

Still, I had help from my singing teacher, who went through some of it with me. I also used the CyberBass tracks to help pick out the Alto line and I made the problem smaller by asking for the list of cuts in advance (it’s a big piece, a day wouldn’t be enough for it all).
I also bought myself a folder to put the score in. Putting it in there was also a challenge(!) but it made holding and following an otherwise very floppy book a lot easier.

Thus prepared we* arrived at the Southbank Centre full of excitement. As part of the many events of the festival there was a vocal warm up that morning so we joined in for a fun physical and vocal warm up that ended leaving me feeling relaxed and ready for anything.

Next I trooped up the stairs to the Royal Festival Hall and I took my seat in the choir. Another (more technical) warm up and we were off, starting at the beginning and working on way through under the direction of our conductor. By lunchtime I felt exhausted, but the morning had gone well and I was pleased that we had spent longest working on the movements I’d had most trouble with at home.

Refueled by a wonderful hog roast (it’s all in the sort of bread, in this case a large ciabatta roll) we reconvened to continue our work through the afternoon. As with the previous “Come and Sing” day I had attended, the Bach Choir members were scattered among us, and I had made sure that I was next to one to give me a strong voice to listen to (she was a very lovely lady too). This plan faltered when for one movement the Bach Choir members were given a different part to sing to us ordinary mortals. Yet another challenge, to keep singing without that support and hope I ended up in the right place at roughly the right time (I did).

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Finally after a brief break we reconvened for the concert. Our audience began to fill the stalls. A quick count suggested about two hundred people. Then the lights came up on us and we began. Again, it went by far too fast (as all shows do) until the final note and the applause.
Then we managed to take time to relax, to take in the day, I felt happy, triumphant and amazed. I have actually performed in the Royal Festival Hall – that makes for a very special day.

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

*I brought James for moral support (and therefore at least one audience member) with me.

Come and Sing – Carmina Burana

I was initially incredibly hesitant when it was suggested that I might attend a “Come and Sing” day with The Bach Choir. However after closely examining the website and seeing that no prior experience was explicitly required I let people persuade me to give it a go.

The music we were singing was Carmina Burana. I was sensible enough of my limitations to start by making sure that I bought a copy of the score and a recording so that I could prepare. I put the CD on for the first time in the car. As I drove I listened to the harmonies powering through the air I knew I really wanted to sing it.

I spent the next few weeks listening to it carefully. I studied the score, learning the meanings of markings I’d never seen before. My singing teacher was wonderful, working through the alto part with me, and giving me confidence that I knew the tune.

Still on the day I was nervous. I made the calculated decision to sit near the front. As suspected that meant I had to sing first alto, when I’d rehearsed second. However it meant I had a clear view of our conductor.
He was wonderful; patient with the limitations of what must seem a motley rabble compared to the full Bach Choir. He took us through the piece strengthening it and our confidence. The members of the choir sitting among us were also invaluable in helping keep us all on track.

In the end the conductor decided to add in a movement that had been listed as excluded on the website. An interesting challenge for me as I had not prepared that piece at all. I certainly struggled compared to the rest and was glad I had taken the time to prepare for the day. However it was not an impossible challenge and I certainly felt able to have a go at it.

A little after four o’clock we were ready to perform for our select audience. We stood up, took a deep breath and we were off. The music carried us along and we sang until all too soon it was over.

My first choral singing, my first concert and an amazing and incredibly enjoyable experience.

I started the day very uncertain of myself, I left feeling very happy but also with a list of things I want to work on before next time. Yes, I did say next time, I definitely would like to attend another such day again.
I’d certainly recommend the day to anybody. If you already sing in a choir then I’m sure you’d enjoy yourself a great deal. If you don’t then I’d really recommend it as a great way to learn more without having to commit to joining a choir.

For me also, the advantage of a day like this over visiting a local choir rehearsal was that people didn’t already know each other,  you did’t have to walk into a room as the only stranger. Equally I wasn’t the only person new to the piece of music,  we were all muddling though (quite successfully) together. That helped my confidence and that helped me sing out with a huge smile on my face.

St Sepulchre Without Newgate

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

They said “Come and Sing”. I really did.

Mediaeval Baebes At Cropredy

Mediaeval Baebes This was the second time I had seen the Mediaeval Baebes this year. Both times were at festivals and in both cases I was there working. The first was merely a week before at the Loxwood Joust, however I had been too busy pulling a rubbish cart about (oh the glamour) to actually stop and enjoy the show. This weekend however I made a deliberate effort to get time off from my post sitting outside a portakabin (actually slightly more glamorous) to make it to the front of the field to listen to the music properly (always a treat) and to take a few photographs.

Alice Cooper At Cropredy


Cropredy festival is wonderful. Aside from the fun of hanging around in a field with twenty thousand of your closest friends (only a few of whom you may have actually met) there is also the fun of getting to see acts you would never have imagined watching.

Alice Cooper is certainly one of these. Before the festival I had no idea if I actually knew any Alice Cooper songs (it turns out I knew two, “School’s Out” and “Poison”) and wasn’t at all sure if I would enjoy his set in the slightest. Still I knew it would be showy and extravagant so I went to take a look.

It must simply be said that what we saw was a fantastic show. Part rock music, part pantomime, it had a sense of fun which entranced and involved a field full of die-hard ‘folkies’. Many a surprised Alice Cooper fan was made that night.

Musical Journey

I’m in Singapore (of which, no doubt, more later) however as we walked across the boardwalk to Sentosa island I saw this beautiful statue which I wanted to share with you.

My own musical journey is very much in progress, I hope it ends up as beautiful as this one.

Linux Scores

One of the things I’ve realised recently is that although I can’t sight read music properly it does help me to have the score to sing with rather than just the words.

This week having laid one song (temporarily) to rest and worked on another we started looking towards our next challenge. So my teacher suggested a site where I could purchase and print out the music for my next song. Cue an interesting technical problem.

While there are computers which can run a wide variety of operating systems in my house my primary system runs Linux. In fact I don’t remember the last time I booted into Windows. In general I don’t miss it. I have browsers, office software and a whole load of interesting and free applications to perform a variety of tasks. So, off I went to this website, credit card in hand to buy my song.

The website itself loaded flawlessly, I could search for and find the song I wanted, all I needed to do was to purchase and print it. It was of course here that the problems started. Music is subject to copyright (fair enough) so in order to control your use of it the website allows you to print your music only once and it must be direct to a printer, not for instance to a pdf. The problem is in that control. The website uses the Scorch plugin, a plugin that runs on Windows or a Mac but not on Linux.

My first thought was whether any other online music seller did support Linux but sadly I couldn’t find this song available anywhere promising. So I did what anyone would do in the circumstance – I googled some more and found a possible solution.

The solution suggested was to install Wine and then to install the Windows version of Firefox and then to install the Scorch plugin. I’ve last used Wine several years ago and it was decidely unreliable so I held out little hope but it was that or boot into Windows so I gave it a try. The installations all worked without a hitch and I was almost ready to roll. At this point my own caution nearly undid me as I attempted to test the setup by printing directly from Firefox to ensure the printer connection would work. After all you only get one chance at printing here.

The result was a computer that thought it had printed but a printer that produced nothing. My heart sank. Finally though, in a desperate act of optimism I decided to try loading the music website and printing the sample page direct from the plugin. Amazingly that worked and I went ahead to buy my music and print it out.

Linux certainly scored well today.