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Challenging the boundaries between sound and silence

Last night’s rehearsal involved singing quietly. A lot of quiet singing. In fact, most of the session was spent exploring just how quietly we could sing some of the pieces in next week’s concert programme.

From the opening of Handel’s Hear Thou My Weeping, through to various passages of contrasting light and shade in Lauridsen’s O nata lux, and the entirety of Tavener’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer, last night was an exercise in seeing just how intimate a sound we could make.

Image: subrealism.blogspot

Image: subrealism.blogspot

The idea, particularly with the Tavener, which never moves away from pp throughout the whole piece, is to draw the audience to us, to make an intimate performance space into which the listener has to lean, in order to be involved. There are moments in the Lauridsen where the dynamics change quickly, and briefly – as I said to the Choir, it’s as though you are standing in a church on a cloud-darkened day, and suddenly, for a brief moment, the sun appears from behind a cloud and comes streaming through a stained-glass window, filling the space with colour. These transient moments of contrast, where radiant colour suddenly blossoms in a passage that crescendos and then diminuendos swiftly, are what give the Lauridsen piece its life.

Sustained pp singing is the cornerstone of Tavener’s The Lord’s Prayer, too; the dynamic remains unchanged through the piece, a quiet meditation on the prayer that, in its contemplative serenity, actually does what music can often do – transcend time, for a while, and take the listener into a very different realm. We hope to blur the distinction between the music and the silence surrounding it, creating a hiatus where it will be unclear whether the piece has actually finished, drawing out the moment of listening. It will be a lovely, intimate way in which to close the first half of the concert.

So, listen hard a week on Friday, if you’re coming to the concert; you might just hear the Choir singing very quietly indeed…

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