Showing posts with label rehearsal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rehearsal. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

All is well with Walton

Rembrandt's Belshazzar
Last night we had another rehearsal of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, characterised by fierce concentration, hard work and moments of raucous hilarity - the rehearsal that is; not the Feast.

The story...

But first, for those who are not familiar with the work, you need to know that in the story of Belshazzar's Feast, the Jews are in exile in Babylon. After a feast at which Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, commits sacrilege by using the Jews' sacred vessels to praise the heathen gods, he is miraculously killed, the kingdom falls, and the Jews regain their freedom. Don't we all like a story with a happy ending? Yes!

The music...

The music throughout is strongly rhythmic and syncopated, and richly orchestrated. The rhythms and harmonies (often discords) reflect Walton’s interest in jazz and other popular music, pressed into service to tell a religious story. Despite its jagged rhythms and strident orchestral effects, the work is essentially conventional in its tonality (but not much so).

The tricky bits...

So, from time to time we hit a phrase with some rather tricky pitching or timing and choir director David Burchell, with the patience of Job, would guide each voice separately through the hairy patch, and then all together, until we "get it".

Here's the funny bit...

At one point, round about page 30 in the score, the text describes the wild partying and much drinking going on at the King of Babylon's feast and just before the bit about the drinking spree, we hit a snag. So David waved the magic baton (usually a pencil) and we went over and over those pesky notes... and suddenly David stopped us with "let's go back and do that again; once we're into the drink we're all right!". That brought the house down - you had to be there, but it was sooo funny!

And then Giles piped up with: "These guys must have been sloshed all the time!" More laughter. Yes, it seems they did a lot of drinking at this famous feast.

Again, from David when we "got" another tricky bit: "That's right, and if it sounds wrong, blame Walton".

Some of Walton's phrases in this work, taken out of context, can easily sound wrong, but put the whole lot together and it is a very powerful work. Walton is like an artist with a paint brush, colouring in the emotion of each scene - and he does it very well indeed.

All is well with Walton.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bach is hard work

Last night's rejearsal was long and exhausting! St John Passion is not an easy work and I always feel that there are too many notes! This little alto was very tired last night, to the extent of oversleeping this morning and being late for work. Oh well, it's not always easy to combine a working week with choir rehearsals when the pressure is on just prior to a concert.

Nevertheless, it is all worth the effort. It is very rewarding when suddenly there is the feeling: "Yes, it's all coming together now!" and one can begin to enjoy the music. I think we have reached that stage now.

Tickets are on sale now! Get yours now and don't miss this performance in the Dunedin Town Hall on Sunday 28 March at 3:00pm.

Paul McMahon.

Tenor Paul McMahon, singing the role of the Evangelist, is highly regarded in Australia for his interpretation of the baroque repertoire.

Lois Johnston, soprano, and Claire Barton, alto, are well known and admired by Dunedin concert goers. Oliver Sewell (tenor), Chris Bruerton (bass) and Howard Harvey (in the role of Christ), accomplished soloists from Christchurch, will contribute to the experience of this contemplative work.

Orchestral support will be provided by the Southern Sinfonia.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

It was cold, .. no really, it was!

This is us rehearsing on Saturday afternoon. During a patch where the orchestra are practicing their bit. Note scarves, hats, overcoats...

... and mittens!

The only person wearing just a shirt was David; clearly waving your arms around in a meaningful fashion (aka conducting) is sufficient exercise to keep warm.

We had been forewarned. Friday evening rehearsal was distinctly chilly, even though the heating had been on for six hours. The Cathedral is, after all, a large space to heat.

So, a decision was made that meant that the ladies could wear dress black pants for the performance. Though suggested Judy the long black skirts were more forgiving of things that could be worn underneath to keep warm. I checked with her today, and true to her word, she admitted she had on tights, a pair of long-johns, and black socks tucked into her boots. However, what she hadn't realised was that I had managed to wear my summer weight track-pants (usually worn in the garden) under my dress pants!

So if we moved onto the 'stage' rather sedately, it was due in part at least, to lots of layers of clothing under our choir uniform!

Never mind, hope you all enjoyed it ... we did!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hillarious moments in rehearsal

During the final rehearsals for this weekend's Anniversary Accolades performances there were these two hillarious moments. For those who missed the joke, I'll try to tell it here, but you really had to be there!

David Burchell, our esteemed conductor, has a wonderful sense of humour, but these utterings were quite innocent and unintentionally funny, which makes it even more enjoyable.

He was talking to the tenors and basses, trying to encourage them to sing with confidence in a passage where the two voices were rather exposed, so he says to them: "You have no ladies on top of you at this point..." - and we all cracked up! The gents should be so lucky... ??!!

And then there was the bit where he was organising sits and stands. When we enter stage, someone has to keep an eye on proceedings and when everyone has filed onto the stage, give the signal so we can all sit down together. So he asks alto Rosi Crane who stands at the far end: "Rosi, can you see the last ones on without too much craning?" Again - raucous laughter. I don't think the orchestra got this one; they did not know Rosi's surname is Crane!

Good luck to all for tonight's performance; it's going to be very good! And then we get to do it all again on Sunday - yippee!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Snow Day!

We're snowed in, and if you haven't heard, City Choir is cancelled tonight. Whatever shall I do with all my spare time?

Well, I could build another snowperson. The first one didn't look too good:

snow poodle-person

But then, I am an Aussie, so concessions must be made. I'm not used to all this white cold stuff that falls from the sky. Cooking eggs on the footpath - now that I'm an expert at!

Or I could just enjoy the scenery out the window.

snowy view

I see scenes like this, and imagine Father Christmas (he is NOT "Santa Claus" in MY family, thankyou very much!) to come shooting over the top of Stone Street in his sleigh.

Or to at least cruise along Kaikorai Valley Road in a beat-up combi van with snow chains.

beat up combi van

On a more serious note, yes, City Choir is cancelled tonight. Yes, we have a rehearsal on Saturday morning instead, as I've just been informed by email. 10:00 to 12:30. Hmmm...that time slot is starting to feel a bit familiar!

So tonight, I shall grab my copy of Handel and go over "My Heart Is Inditing" for a couple of hours until I nail every last note!

Actually, I'll enjoy some of the gorgeous-smelling homemade shortbread I just baked, play a game or two of Up And Down The Creek Without A Paddle, and have a hot bath with lots of bubbles. Then maybe do a bit of rehearsing if I feel like it.

But if I told you I'm spending all evening rehearsing you wouldn't believe me.

Would you?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bach bites! And the perils of musicality

It's the final week of rehearsals before we perform the Bach Christmas Oratorio with City Choir.

This is a challenging work. I find the German language tough. My German is normally restricted to following what's going on in German movies without having to read the subtitles most of the time. Preferably movies with a lot of action and not much talking. When it comes to German pronunciation, forget it.

So while everyone else is nastying over the runs, I'm struggling with the text. Why couldn't Bach be English, hey?

I've been a good girl. I've done plenty of homework, although it hasn't felt like enough. I've looked at all the choruses, but my cutoffs are still scratchy - they're always scratchy, it's a fault of mine. I never could count.

Learning music as a child

In many ways, I wish I'd had the opportunity to come to music as a child, not as an adult. I never sang until I hit my twenties, and a friend heard me singing in the shower and suggested I come along to choir. The rest, as they say, is history. For me, anyway.

Because I didn't start early, I had to learn all the technicalities as an adult. That's hard. I still don't understand key signatures (my other half was trying to explain to me at eleven o'clock the other night something about A minor being the same as C major - I think that's what he said. I told him to shut up and let me sleep!)

Every piece I compose needs to be respelled, because it turns out I've written it in one key but its actually in another. And I won't even go into how difficult I find it to write down the rhythms I hear in my head when I write music.

All of these things are probably just taken for granted by musicians who trained as children, but for me they're hard work. Only now, after years of choral singing, am I getting to the stage where I can grab a piece of music and sing it straight off the page, without needing an accompanist. And I still make heaps of mistakes!

Only now am I starting to be confident enough to assume that if the person next to me is singing a different note, chances are that I might be right after all, and they might have mucked up, instead of the other way around! These are the rewards of choral singing. Music is a hard master - he carries a whip, and cuts me hard, but I love him for it and demand more even while the sting hurts.

And so to Bach. I don't think I'll ever love Bach - it still sound like mathematics to me. You just find the numbers and the pulse and go with it. It's too clinical, and probably always will be. I work with computers a fair bit - maybe that's why Bach turns me off. It's like one big computer wrote it. Maybe HAL (Good evening Dave!). But I love what I'm learning from the Oratorio.

And if Bach bites the dust in the too-hard-basket?

I've heard a few people in the choir grumble about this work. I've grumbled too. They've said it has been too hard for us, and we've taken on too much.

Maybe. But how can we improve if we don't tackle works that challenge us? You never get better at doing anything if you don't try the hard stuff. And when we rise to meet the challenge, that can be truly glorious. And if we fail - we try again next year with something else that's also hard, and know that at least we did our best.

What do I think?

I think we will be spectacular at the concert, and we will stun even ourselves with what we can achieve. Why? Because we can. We all know we can do this. That's why we're all here, working hard and selling tickets and attending rehearsals. If we didn't think we could do it, we'd have crawled off somewhere to hide by now. But we haven't.

As for me, I'll be singing along with my recording again tonight, until it is time for bed. Hopefully I won't fall asleep on my score, like I did the other night. I'll do what I can to be the best I can, then whatever I do on the night I'll know I did my best, and I'll be proud of that. That's all we can ever ask of ourselves.

I think challenging ourselves is a fine thing to do. Music teaches us what we can do, and the great masters such as Bach teach us why we do it. Choir teaches us friendship and perseverance, and gives us the rewards of fabulous wow moments during the concert, and great memories of a job done well.

We're amateurs who strive for a professional standard, and I think we'll come pretty close. But in the end, we have something that professional musicians will never have. You see, although the professional musicians teach us what heights we may one day achieve, we - the amateurs - remind the professionals of the love and pleasure that can be derived from music when it isn't a job but is instead simply a great joy in life. We teach them why they became musicians in the first place.

So here's to a great concert on Saturday. Let's bring the house down!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Note bashing for Christmas Oratorio

Calling all choristers! Want to do some note bashing at home in preparation for the 22 November performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio?

Here's just a wee reminder of this wonderful resource that Leslie Leong (bass) pointed out to us some time ago:

I've used it - it's really awesome!!! Just wish they's slow down some of the fast movements so I could get my tongue around the words. It would have been nice if they had a slow version and an up-to-speed version of each midi (for each voice), at least of the fast choruses.

Only 11 sleeps to go until the big night!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Exhortations, Admonitions and Rebukes!

Well the extra rehearsal this morning was fun wasn't it? But then I always enjoy myself at rehearsals. I love pulling faces at the tenors during the warm-up, particularly the ha ha ha bits. I love the gentle rebukes, admonitions, exhortations and endless list of instructions!

For this Bach, there are an alarming number of trills, which I've never attempted before. After Tuesday's rehearsal, I know I'll have to have a private session in the shower to get them sort of sorted. David told us we "cannot shy away from the trills, even if it's just the first note then wobbling a bit. They're called ornaments and are there to adorn the music." OK maestro, I'll have to have a proper go.

Also on Tuesday we seemed to have problems keeping to time. Which amateur choir doesn't I wonder? But how many of them are treated to such gentle admonishments, such as "you don't have time to put your knitting down here", and "come along, it's like taking a reluctant dog for a walk."

Talking of animals. It reminds me of when we sang Mozart's Requiem under the baton of Ryusuke Numajiri. His English was far from fluent. But he made it quite quite clear that we were not to be floppy jellyfish; we had to shoot an arrow directly at the bull's-eye. Tecwyn Evans didn't use any animal metaphors. During the warm-up for Poulenc's Gloria he wanted us to be bus or lorry engines. Can't now remember why.

Today, being a special rehearsal meant that we had a longer break than usual with a cuppa. This clearly brought its own problems "Anyone who sings in the rest", said David, "has to do the washing-up". Yeah well no prizes for guessing who sang in the very next rest, talk about auto-suggestion! Afterwards we still were dragging things a bit "too many biscuits," he said, "you've gone a bit stodgy."

The instructions on the Chorales are giving me some amusement. I've written Brisk (twice), Broad (twice), Solid, Statley, Strong but Graceful, Questioning and Crisp, Majestic. Facetiousness got the better of me on Tuesday. A remark, made to myself really, was overheard, so I had to repeat it out loud "The last pair sound like a brandname don't you think? Majestic Crisps?" Guess you had to be there really. Then there's the Urgency with a Unity of Purpose (which means, explained David being together!) [rats not again!!] for the 'Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem' chorus.

Despite the problems mentioned above I think this Christmas Oratorio is shaping up really nicely, it'll be a great concert. Not far off now - Yikes!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Its bite is worse than its Bach!

Am I the only soprano who is thinking AUGGGGGHHHH! after our first rehearsal on the Bach?

There were a few places where I thought I had things nailed, then we'd go over them, and everything fell apart again. Well - not everything, but certainly some places were rather fudgy. Ugh. Not good.

I found some of the rhythms and intervals quite difficult to manage, and from the nasty combination of uneasy silence and incorrect notes and rhythms around me, I don't think I was the only one.

So I am wondering whether there are any sectional rehearsals planned, or if anyone is interested in organising impromptu sectionals to go over problem areas? I'm singing sop., but I would imagine the need is there in other voice parts as well.

If so, please comment. If not, I guess I'll just slog away on my own at home in extra time, until I get things right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Singing is an art form...

well that much we knew already.

After last night's practice it occurs to me that this particular piece, Caramel Banana (as we've been told this is a useful guide to correct pronounciation) throws up a particular set of challenges.

Firstly for me, it reveals that I need a hair cut. There is a fine line between balancing glasses on the end of the nose, so that I can peer over the top of them, and having a fringe short enough so that the view I get is of David and not of out-of-focus hair.

Secondly, it's a balancing act of handling the ever-so fragile copy of said Banana. Incidentally mine has been badly repaired using ordinary sellotape, itself now ageing and falling off leaving horrible sticky residue behind. I may have a go at some rescue repairs myself, but really it needs more than 3M Scotch Tape, much of the spine needs supporting with some extra paper strips and a bit of PVA glue - these two are fairly innocuous methods of sticking things back together again.

Thirdly, it's an art knowing where the other parts are singing. I did a wonderful alto solo last night, joining the men when I shouldn't have been, I blame my neighbour for not digging me in the ribs to let me know I was not in the right place.

Fourthly, and this art-form is common to all of us, getting our toungues round the words. I have a CD (sorry I forget who is singing) and they don't seem to do much better, no excuse but hey, we can only do our best!

It's all good fun.

PS: caramel banana = Carmina Burana