The season of Advent has well and truly begun over last weekend. In fine voice, the Chamber Choir rose to the match the occasion on Friday and delivered a performance rich in nuance, flexibility, and with a unity of ensemble that at times made them sound as one voice.
In fine voice: this year's Chamber Choir
All the aspects upon which we’d worked in rehearsals – dynamics, diction, flexibility – came out.
In the rehearsal earlier in the afternoon, we’d practiced the pieces, of course, but more importantly, we’d rehearsed processing in and out and bowing. As I said to them, the performance starts the moment the group processes into the performing space; you win or lose the trust of the audience in that moment, in the manner in which you take command of the space, the way in which you hold yourself as you walk on. Walk with confidence, and the audience will immediately trust that you are about to deliver a performance equal in confidence. Walk on sloppily, self-consciously or nervously, and you communicate that sense to the audience and lose their trust in you. No matter what happens afterwards, walking into the performance governs their initial reaction and trust in what follows.
We also rehearsed bowing. In focusing so much on the pieces, on performing, It’s easy to overlook what happens after the singing stops. If you deliver a polished programme, it can be tarnished by losing discipline in bowing and leaving the performing area; a good group carries high standards of professionalism right through until it has left the public eye. There was some mirth over whether to mutter ‘Have I cleaned my shoes ? Yes, I’ve cleaned my shoes!’ in lowering and raising one’s head or to use ‘Down, two three – Up, two three!’ instead. Then there was confusion (and much hilarity) over whether, whichever phrase one used, one lowered the head over the length of the phrase (‘Have I cleaned my shoes ?’), or whether one whipped one’s head down straight away on the first word (‘Have’) and then immediately up on the later word (‘Yes’), which could potentially result in whip-lash. With such issues are pre-concert rehearsals concerned…
In the waiting-room outside the church, Steph led the warm-ups and we sang the first antiphon and our trusted Remember, O Thou Man to focus our minds on the opening of the concert. When we filed into the back of the church, preparing to process down the middle, we were greeted by a packed audience; from outside, candle-flames flickered and danced a warm orange halo at the windows, and the atmosphere inside was electric. As the first Advent antiphon rose into the rafters, I was immediately reassured; the sound was confident, the ensemble was secure, and the group was about to deliver a fine performance. As the text of Steve Martland’s carol puts it, ‘Make we joy now in the fest,’ and we certainly did.
Congratulations and thanks to everyone who participated, to the choir, readers, those who manned the ticket-desk, to Janet and Tim for their help with setting the church, to those who ran the post-concert refreshments and the nocturnal parking arrangements, and to Stephen Laird for the invitation to perform. Advent has begun.