Monday, September 6, 2010

Not the Zimbe! concert review! Oh, yeah!

As usual, here I am beating the Press to the post again in my not-quite-a-review of our concert on Saturday night.

(They might have had other, more important things to report this time around, unfortunately. Please consider donating to the Canterbury earthquake appeal at the Red Cross website here.)

Of course, this isn't a real review because I might be considered slightly biased about our performance, being a member of City Choir and all!

But I'm going to review the concert anyway, as usual! I wouldn't want to disappoint anyone, after all!

The poster from our Zimbe! concert.

You know, sometimes it is nice to move away from the more traditional music that City Choir typically performs.

This weekend I think we proved that a move away from the classical to the modern and, indeed, very modern, can - and does - fill seats and get positive audience responses.

Michael Tippett - Five Negro Spirituals from A Child of Our Time

First item on the program was Steal Away which was, and is, my favourite of the five spirituals we sang on the night.

Nigel sounded wonderful as our tenor soloist from within the choir, and did a lovely, tuneful job, rising above the male accompaniment in his two verses. Goeknil Meryem Biner was our professional soloist, and she also did a beautiful job as the soprano soloist.

Next was Nobody Knows, and more solo work for Goeknil and Nigel, who both did a terrific job. In the third piece, Go Down, Moses, the solo was performed by Brian, and he did a great job too, with a beautiful tone to his voice. In all three pieces, the choir was solid, kept in tune and time well, and gave a sense of control and management to the works.

Then it was By and By, followed by Deep River concluding the set. I was one of the three soprano semichorus members for Deep River, along with Lluisa and Kathryn, and we had to time our entries and arpeggios against the main body of the choir, which was really tricky! But the piece held together, and sounded good.

I'd sung a different version of Deep River many many times before, as it is a standard songbook piece for my home choir back in Australia - we sing it at pubs and publicity gigs. It was difficult for me to suddenly sing a different arrangement - and sing soprano instead of my usual alto on the work. It really twists your brain around! But I somehow managed, and just focused on what I'd recently learned (the Tippett version) instead of the arrangement I was much more familiar with.

Overall I think the audience thoroughly enjoyed the Tippett pieces. I know I did. They're lovely, are performed quite often around the world, and are a popular arrangement and work.

The main choir sounded absolutely lovely in places on the Tippett, and it was so nice to hear the deep bass notes providing a solid foundation for these pieces.

After Deep River the choir left the stage, which meant, unfortunately, we never got to hear Goeknil sing How Can I Cherish My Man? or the Canciones Argentinas. I wish I'd been in the audience, instead of backstage!

Alexander L'Estrange - Zimbe!

The second half was Zimbe! and it was FUN!

I don't know what the audience were expecting, but I bet they weren't expecting all us old codgers to get up and groove. Yet that's exactly what we did - and we had the audience grooving right along with us.

The funny thing about Zimbe! is that it isn't really African music at all. It is African music, seen through very, very white eyes and white music standards, with a strong white version of jazz running through it.

I know that I, at least, think of Zimbe! as English jazz with African words and tunes, and this is probably my best description of it.

The songs are all well-known African songs, but these arrangements sound uniquely British. I guess a composer can never really get away from his or her roots. I've certainly never heard anything like it before. I'm not sure I will again.

More than anything Zimbe! reminds me of the music of the early 1980s British pop group Madness. I'm sure L'Estrange must be a fan!

For me , Zimbe! has closer musical links to the early 80s pop sounds of British group "Madness" than to real African music. What do you think?

I'm not sure whether L'Estrange has created a new musical genre or simply manipulated some already in existence, but Zimbe! is catchy, fun and easy to sing, and enjoyable by both the audience and the performers.

Assessment of our performance

I think we did it justice. Strong movements included Singabahambayo thina (2) and Thula Mama, thula (5) - in which the childrens' chorus, a combined choir of St. Paul's Cathedral Choristers and Southern Children's Choir, did an absolutely beautiful job, supported by the semichorus and full choir.

Hamba Lulu (8) was also performed beautifully by the choir, and as I looked out over the audience I could see every single face watching attentively, entranced by the music. It was an absolutely golden moment - one of those points in time that, as a chorister, you never want to forget.

Weaker points in the performance were mainly due to pitching problems, and the choir having difficulty hearing ourselves in relation to the band.

Some of the movements where pitch was an issue were also made difficult by continued slow, descending phrases written into the music itself, and by instruments coming in after long unaccompanied choral sections. Both are an absolute killer for any but the most astute and aware singers. They're really hard work!

Also, many of us simply weren't used to working with jazz instruments and jazz tuning. Ilanga libuya, ilanga liyaphuma (6) and Wai bamba (7) suffered from this difficulty, as did Aleluya / Thuma mina (10), which was rescued by the hard pitch work of Goeknil, once again doing the solo; and by the semichorus singing offstage, who did not have the long, descending phrases to contend with.

Another tricky aspect written into the score was the large number of repeats. I have no idea how David managed to keep track of what was going on, but he did. He thoroughly deserved his extra long green scarf!

The last four movements of Zimbe! were performed largely by heart, with some help in the form of projected lyrics, for those who could see them.

We shall not give up the fight (11) was energetic and powerful, with dance steps that had me perilously close to the edge of the stage. I had my choice before me: restrain my grooving, or plunge to a thoroughly embarrassing death. I chose the former.

It was also really hard work to sing and dance, and once again helped me realise just how darned good the likes of Gene Kelly really were! I am humbled - and at the time I was also sweating a fair bit!

Siyahamba (12), another protest song, really got the audience grooving right along with us, upping the pace. Once again, the childrens' choirs were at the forefront, and they sang well and energetically, doing a terrific job. If any of them want to join City Choir in a few years, I am sure they will be welcome - they were great!

Zimbe! finished up with Freedom is coming / Hamba vangeli (13) and Njooni! Zimbe! (14), ending on a top A for we lucky first sopranos. I'm amazed we had any energy left at all, after all the clapping, dancing and stomping, but we did, and we pulled out those top A's like magic.


Overall, a fun and energetic concert, totally unlike our usual repertoire. Zimbe! proved that City Choir can groove with the best of them, and that doing modern, jazzy music can bring in an audience and be financially viable.

I'd have to say that the weekend's concert proved without a doubt that not only is there a demand for more upbeat music from our audience, but that we may be able to interest and attract new audience and members with a more lively, modern repertoire.

Choir singing isn't half-dead people singing dead people's music! It can be the most lively, community-driven, fun activity in the musical world, for choir and audience alike.

As for me, I look forward to our next jazz concert. Or maybe Broadway music - okay, that's a bit daggy, but why not? Or 60s music.

Now that would be fun!


Leta said...

Hey thanks Leanne, for the entertaining 'review' - mostly agree with you, but personally don't think Madness and Zimbe! have much in common. L'Estrange was rather clever putting the African tunes together with the jazzy groove - it works well. Therein lies his genius - to be able to imagine that it will work, and then making it so. There will be an official ODT review, hopefully published tomorrow...

daharja said...

Hi Leta - I love Madness, so I guess L'Estrange could consider it a compliment! :-)

The concert was wonderful, and I think it all worked really well, don't you? It was also the perfect venue for the music, because we were so close to the audience, and could see them clearly getting "in to the groove" :-)

Here's hoping that there's no more news like we've had lately from Christchurch, and the ODT have plenty of space for a review for us. I hope it will be very positive - I'm quite sure the reviewer would have been tapping his / her toes!