Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Christmas Concert

Here in rural France opportunities for attending live concerts are limited, so since autumn 2009 I have been singing in a small choir.  It's always good to try new things but until I started singing I never understood just how hard it is to to make music yourself and to do it well.  Not knowing how to sight read is a significant disadvantage, which means that I spend many hours in front of my computer learning the pieces. Fortunately the Choir Master is computer orientated and he sends out midi files which I can edit and play on Notation Composer, whilst watching the screen or reading the score. 

The choir likes to sing quite sophisticated music from the 15th century onwards, often in latin or modern european languages.  This is much more interesting to perform, and for audiences to listen to, than the popular songs and show tunes that some other local choirs choose to do.  At least I think so!  It is also more difficult, and at times rehearsals have felt like a particularly refined form of torture while I struggled, along with most of the rest of the choir, to get things right.  Even after I have learnt the music well at home, singing with other people frequently makes things go wrong. A different tempo or the lack of a cue for an entry can easily put you off.  I usually find that I don't know the pieces as well as I thought I did!

On Saturday 18th December we gave our first real concert this year in the Church at Teyssieu. The acoustic is wonderful and it really enhanced the performance, but it was absolutely freezing. I was hiding safely out of sight behind the sopranos where the occasional mistake could not be easily localized.  The programme was quite ambitious being a mixture of sacred pieces and traditional, but very old, Christmas songs together with a vocal quartet and solo items.  For the two principal pieces in the concert two violins, a flute, a cello and a keyboard provided the accompaniment.  

Marc-Antoine Charpentier
We had seven weeks to learn the music, and even though some of the choir already knew half of the pieces, it was barely enough.  But we only had about three hours, spread over several days, to rehearse with the string continuo and that proved to be insufficient. In the performance of the Messe de Minuit by Charpentier the choir missed an entry in the Kyrie, after a passage of instrumental music, and ground to a halt.  The saving grace was that the musicians kept playing, so that only the more knowledgeable people in the audience realised we had gone badly wrong.  By the time we came to the second half we were in our stride and gave a good account of that part of the programme, even though we were all frozen and thinking about the vin chaud which was to follow at Netty's house.  For the obligatory encore, the choir refused the suggestion by the Choir Master to attempt the Kyrie again and he opted for Pastores Loquebantur (by Brixi), an easier but still quite impressive piece. 

The people I spoke to afterwards were complimentary about the performance and particularly the quality of the sound that we produced.  All, that is, except for one ex-chorister who said that the second half was better and he was right!  Whilst drinking a vin chaud, which was excellent and very necessary, in Netty's elegant and warm house, I avoided talking to the ex-Choir Mistress who had retired from directing the choir just before I joined.  I am sure she could have been much more critical if she had wanted to!

I have decided to try taking some singing lessons in January in the hope of learning basic technique and some exercises.  As a minimum I need to increase my range at the top, because I am struggling with notes above the stave, and also to improve my breathing.  It would be nice to learn how to get a real tenor quality in my voice but I mustn’t dream.

The word on the grapevine is that we will be doing another concert in June 2011.  I hope we have sufficient rehearsals to do much better next time!  I also hope that we can pick up some more singers, particularly men, because at the moment I am one of two tenors and there is only one bass!


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