I’d forgotten what a heady mixture the summer term is at Kent, of excitement and angst: because it’s exam term, one never quite knows how many people will be at rehearsals over the weeks of term, given that (quite rightly!) many students are revising for exams, or taking exams, or attending revision sessions to prepare for exams. Quite often, one never has everyone in the ensemble until the final rehearsal. And sometimes not necessarily then, either…
For all that planning for rehearsals is fraught, the great aspect of this term, in choral terms, is that the Chamber and Cecilian Choirs are each revisiting repertoire from the year, in preparation for the concert at St Paul’s Without, in Canterbury, on Friday 7 June. Because singers duck in and out of rehearsals, in order to take the pressure off and not add to everyone’s already frantic stress-levels, the summer choral concert comprises pieces the Choirs have each already learned, by and large.
Having said that, though, the Cecilian Choir is learning a short piece by Judith Weir, from The Little Tree for upper-voice choir and marimba, whilst the Chamber Choir is learning three new pieces. (Well, as anyone who knows me well will realise, I never like to do things exactly the same way twice…). So, there is some new repertoire with which to grapple, but we are covering pieces we’ve already learned and performed.
And the effect is tremendous. Both choirs have developed a real confidence in the repertoire, and in performing as an ensemble, such that there is a real commitment to the sound and a solidity about the pieces that is new. The confidence comes, in part, from having already performed the pieces in public, and through being familiar with the tonal landscapes the pieces occupy – this is most readily apparent in the Cecilian Choir’s recent return to Britten’s Ceremony of Carols which will form part of the concert in June. There’s a sense that the Choir is enjoying itself anew, and with the confidence comes a richer, more positive sound. It’s very exciting to discover. (And – dare I say it – there’s a sense that the Choir is starting to enjoy the Britten… !)
The Chamber Choir, meanwhile, is letting its hair down with three pieces ranging from jazz to arrangement of two pop pieces straight out of the current charts (I can’t say which two, as we’re sworn to secrecy – all shall be revealed in the Summer Sunday concert on June 9). Again, as we revisit pieces from the Crypt concert back in February, there’s a developed sense of confidence and a new freedom in the sound.
The sad thing, though, is that all this comes scant weeks before the end of the academic year, when many of the singers will graduate, and the Choirs (as we have know them this year) will cease to exist. For such positive steps in each Choir’s evolution to come only a few weeks before they will finish is sad, really. But very exciting to finish with such a flourish, too.