You’d have thought persuading the gentlemen of the choir to sing in a lusty and bawdy fashion would be no problem. The opening of the setting of Mother, Make My Bed which I’ve written for the concert starts with a rambunctious repeated pattern for the tenors and basses, which needs to be delivered in not quite a thigh-slapping manner, but not far off. And yet…they were terribly polite and mannered about it; it was far too refined. More loose living before next week, chaps, maybe ?!
It was back to England this week, after last week’s rehearsal of Scottish pieces, and a chance to dance with Finzi’s My Spirit Sang All Day. This piece is a complete joy, full of life and bursting with sheer delight in its harmonic revelry. It’s also the last new piece to prepare for the end of the month (apart from the encore, should we need one, which is a popular favourite that we can learn at the drop of a hat nearer the time); from now on, it’s all consolidation, which makes me feel an awful lot better!
Whenever I start to become nervous about the concert – it’s a big programme, with challenging works, in an awe-inspiring venue – I should just get the choir to sing the Skempton Cloths of Heaven, and all shall be well. We looked at if for the third time last night (that spreadsheet I wrote about keeping earlier is really starting to pay dividends – I can see which pieces we’ve neglected in a trice!), concentrating now on balancing the chords and making sure all the lovely semitone clashes between the inner voices are brought out, or making the sure the basses’ sustained pedal notes can be heard. The basses are, at several points, the driving force behind the emotional impact of the piece; they either underpin the gently breathing harmonies with a solid pedal-note, or at crucial points rise up over an octave to really push the texture upwards.
Although I’m endeavouring now to try and provide as little support on the piano as possible, to get the choir accustomed to singing without any accompaniment, there’s a danger that the pitch can drop and you can end up a good semi-tone lower at the finish, something we’ll have to work on improving.
We revisited the Vaughan Williams songs to finish the rehearsal, endeavouring to impart a sense of rhythmic vitality into the sprightly ‘Over hill, over dale,’ whilst contrastingly making sure the bell-like effects of ‘Full fathom five’ were working. The chords struck in the four-part divisi sopranos throughout the opening section need to begin percussively with a crisp ‘d’ on the words ‘ding’ and ‘dong.’ The altos really showed themselves to be solid masters of the beat, holding the straight crotchet beats against the triplet rhythms in the other voices: I’m beating with one hand in six and with the other in four, so it’s certainly a piece to keep everyone on their toes, including me…
(Preview tracks via LastFM).