A moment of frisson with Whitacre

There was a magical moment at the all-day Chamber Choir workshop on Saturday when, in a moment of ‘I can’t wait to try this’ recklessness, we ran the last two pages of Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque without the piano. We had literally just looked at the final section for the first time, exploring those chocolate-hued chords and sudden moment of harmonic brilliance in the change from minor to glorious major, resonant and rich chords of C#; and it was a moment of ‘Ok, let’s just see how we get on…’

And we tried it. And it worked. There was a moment’s awe-struck hush after the final chord had died away, and then a real sense of excitement hung in the air – this will be the moment which will end the first half of the Crypt concert in March, and what a poised moment on which to finish it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one bearing an irrepresible grin across my face at that moment, either…

Matt B leads the Chamber Choir in music by William Byrd

Matt B leads the Chamber Choir in music by William Byrd

As is customary, we hold an all-day rehearsal early in the first term, in order to get to grips with a large amount of repertoire, build the momentum from the first rehearsal, and get the Choir to bond socially during the day during the breaks and over lunch. The student conductor, Matt, and I had carefully planned how we would use the day, and by the end of it – apart from two movements of the Brahms op.62 lieder – we aimed to have sung through everything in the Crypt programme, over these first two weeks.

There’s a real sense of achievement at the end of the day, that I always forget, and which is very pleasing; from now on, we’re revisiting pieces, rather than having new ones thrown at us (well, rather than my throwing new pieces at them). The psychological effect of this is to make you feel that you are really starting to make progress, rather than starting from scratch each week with something new.

Throghout the day, the Choir took every piece we threw at them, ranging from William Byrd through Brahms to Whitacre. (There were one or two exciting moments in Chilcott’s Steal Away where the basses were singing in parallel octaves rather than parallel minor sevenths, but that will come…) Matt had the Choir in high spirits as he led them through Rutter’s Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron, which is trickier than it looks – whilst one voice has the tune, the other voices are often punctuating with rhythmic chords and off-beat interjections, which takes some getting used to – and we ended with my setting of Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay, which will show the Choir in jazzy, barbershop form – lots of added-note chords and jazz-infused sonorities to perfect and to tune.

Luncheon of the Singing Party

Luncheon of the Singing Party

All in all, though, a very good day, and one in which we all felt we’d made great strides, particularly in singing some pieces (the final section of the Whitacre and Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus) without support from the piano, at this early stage, showing the signs of good things to come.

So, back rehearsing again tomorrow night: and it’s time to get festive with a look at the great Advent antiphons and some carols in preparation for the Advent concert at the end of November. It never stops…

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