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.


The Taming of the Shrew – Show Roundup

Taming of the Shrew was always going to be a challenging show to put on but we were fortunate to have a great team to do it with. Our leading protagonists were fantastic, our technical team likewise. The cast were all enthusiastic and involved, and the costumes were amazing.

We were fortunate too, to have a professional actor come and run some acting workshops with us including working on specific scenes.

As a servant (Curtis) I had little to do other than one gloriously slapstick scene however any thoughts of putting my feet up in the dressing room for the rest of the night were scuppered when (to my delight) I was asked to help with scene changes along with another of the servants (Biondello).

The set was minimal, although one set of those of shutters actually opens. My job was largely to move chairs, tables and the occasional signpost (which way is Pisa)?

Thus my evenings were full from walking on in the opening number to the final bows.

Yes, I did say “opening number”. To replace the original framing which sets the piece as a play within a play we opened with “Another Op’nin’ Another Show” from Kiss Me Kate. Thus as a troupe of travelling players we put on a show.

Singing, dancing, acting, crewing; I had a little bit of everything to do and what fun it was.

©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

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.

Five Handshakes From Beethoven

Thank you James for a wonderful Christmas present.

“You’re busy on the twentieth of December”, James told me “it’s your Christmas present and it’s a surprise”.

Well I like my Christmas presents to be surprises so I waited patiently for the day to arrive trying not to find out what might be in store.

Off we went to London (I had been told of that at least, so had my Oyster card handy) with a bottle of water (another tiny bit of information) and a degree of nervousness.

Finally we arrived at Kings Place near Kings Cross, a venue I’d never even heard of before. After a little more misdirection (James was stringing the surprise out for all it was worth) ended up discovering that my present was a “Come and Sing” day led by John Rutter.

Surprise, shock, amazement…singing Christmas carols with the John Rutter. Nothing could be more perfect. On the other hand I suddenly wished I’d warmed my voice up that morning.

As someone who was introduced to his music (particularly his carols) as a child this was a somewhat overwhelming but exciting experience. It was also incredibly challenging as I attempted to sing carols I’d never heard before by sight and to sing an unknown alto line to carols I knew very well but had never before sung chorally.

Left hand photo ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Left hand photo ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Between carols we were treated to an array of entertaining anecdotes including an explanation as to how John Rutter could claim to be only four handshakes away from Beethoven. He had, he said, shaken hands with Herbert Howells, who as a pupil of the Irish composer Stanford would have shaken his hand. Stanford surely shook hands with Brahms when they met in Germany; Brahms must likewise have exchanged a handshake with Liszt, who would, Rutter speculated, surely have shaken hands when he met Beethoven.

Finally there was time to sing a few more carols, now with a beautiful baritone soloist, a final chance to perform what we’d rehearsed earlier, both to him and to the observers in the gallery.

When the afternoon was over I queued up with my newly acquired book of carols to get it signed by John Rutter, a lasting memento of a very special Christmas present and naturally I also took the opportunity to shake his hand.

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.

Learning How I Learn

So our pantomime has finished. I have already talked about how I learn my lines for a play but for the panto I had also to learn several songs and accompanying dances.

Of course learning a song largely involves listening but as I struggled to learn the lyrics (you try memorising “rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong”) I spent time poring over a lyric sheet, learning them as if they were lines.

When it came to the dancing I had more trouble. I watched out choreographer, copied her movements, practised what I could remember but still it struggled to stick. Beginning to fear I would never master the steps, I turned to online advice on how to learn and was reminded that there are three main learning preferences:

  1.  Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Tactile (Kinesthetic)

I already know I’m a visual person. I am the reviewer of any document most likely to say “Can you add a diagram to that”. I learn lines from how they look on the page. Suddenly, I had a revelation. I sat down and wrote out the choreography (in note form at least) and laid it out alongside the lyrics I had already worked on. Now I had a way of identifying the gaps in my memory (which our choreographer could fill in for me), a way of learning and practising by myself and a crib sheet before the performance.

Quite honestly, I’m kicking myself I didn’t think of it sooner.
So the most important thing I learned from this was, no matter what you are learning you need to learn it in the way you learn best. Whatever that is. And for me writing this down is the best way for me to remember that lesson!

Snow White – Show Roundup

Our pantomime is over,
This story of Snow White…

And before you know it, it really is over. In the way of all shows the run has gone by incredibly quickly but there are some things that make this panto very special:

  • It was my first performance in a pantomime.
  • It was the longest run I have ever done (12 shows). I would happily have done more.
  • I was less nervous than I have ever been about performing. Having only four lines meant I was almost completely free of stage fright. Singing and dancing is somehow different from acting (probably because it wasn’t solo).
  • I loved the non-performance parts of my role, both being a ‘cauldron wrangler’ (while simultaneously being a dancer) and managing the microphones backstage.

In short, I had fun and that makes all the effort worthwhile. That and the enthusiasm of our audiences of course. I think they had fun too and that really makes it worthwhile.

Awaiting A New Term

Well I thought I should mention that I have found myself a new singing teacher. She’s a lovely lady and I’m looking forward to working with her.
I had a trial lesson with her recently. It was in many ways different than I was used to, which is to be expected. However I think that is a good thing as it will stretch me in new and interesting ways.  Indeed she got me to do several exercises, some familiar and some which were completely new to me.

The only drawback is that the summer holidays are upon us, so I will have to wait until the Autumn to get started with her.
I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Oh Yes I Did

It may seem like an odd time of year* but I auditioned for a pantomime recently. Now I’ve only seen about three pantomimes in my entire life so I was entirely out of my depth in every way but I was persuaded to give it a go anyway.

When we got to the theatre I felt a moment of panic at the sight of three microphones at the front of the stage but they were quickly cleared away and we got on with the process of reading through several scenes. As usual once I set foot on stage I felt much more comfortable and enjoyed myself greatly.

Still I knew that some singing was going to be required eventually and I was incredibly nervous about it. Finally the microphones were moved back on stage and I was one of the first three asked to get up and sing. We were given printed lyrics and I thanked my lucky stars as the song was “Any Dream Will Do” which was the first song I ever sang with my singing teacher!

Without warm up or even a listen but thankfully with a recording to sing along to the three of us had to launch into it together. Looking at the paper in my hand and trying to ignore the room full of people I concentrated on singing confidently aware that I’d actually sound better that way. I even eventually found enough mental space to look up and smile while singing.

Then we had to sing it again, this time one of us singing a verse at a time. I concentrated on which verse I had to sing and launched into it when my turn came. Bizarrely because my voice was amplified I had the sensation of singing along with myself. I could hear what I was singing and yet it didn’t sound like my voice at all, so amazingly didn’t freak me out.

Thankfully I sat down at the end to listen to the next group of three victims singers.

However we were not yet done. In the same groups we had to get up again and sing another song, this time Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years”, a song I’d never heard (heck, I haven’t even heard of Christina Perri!). Somehow I managed to sort of sing along to this and when it came to the solos (this time one line at a time)  I decide that I might as well go for the ‘making the song my own’ approach and sing the words in whatever tune seemed to fit and not worry if it wasn’t exactly like the original. To be fair we were helped by the fact that several of our audience did know the song and therefore sang along with some of it too.

Now I’m not expecting to get a part and frankly right now that bothers me not at all. Mostly I’m just thrilled that I managed to stand up and sing in front of people without it going too badly wrong and also perhaps more amazingly, I actually enjoyed it a little bit.

It’s so unlike me that I’m left wondering did I really do that?

*Although it’s always panto season in our house

On My Own

I’ve had my last singing lesson.

Not for ever I’m sure but certainly for now. My singing teacher is leaving the area and so my lessons have come to an end. I’ve known about this for some time but with the play having been taking up my attention I’ve not acted on that information.

Now however, I have to think what to do next. Keep practising of course and also somehow find somebody who I can have a good rapport with who can help me achieve the things I want to with my voice.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.