Tag Archives: Steve Martland

Not long to go…

It’s the morning of the concert: the programmes are printed, tickets are selling well, I’ve been going through all the music for tonight in my head as I took the dog roaming over the hills this morning, the Choir are chafing at the bit, ready to get to the church this afternoon for a short practice, and there’s little else to do.

Advent concertWe’ve had our final two rehearsals this week, and momentum is well and truly built: we’re full of potential energy (physics-at-school flashback), poised to begin the push through this afternoon into tonight’s performance. Even the Steve Martland carol, which has caused us some interesting moments, is reaching its zenith.

Looking back over this blog at the choir’s evolution over the course of this term, I realise how far we’ve come in a short space of time; I suddenly remembered that, until the first rehearsal back on October 4, this choir hadn’t met, hadn’t sung together, people didn’t know one another. In a mere seven weeks, they’ve turned from a nervous group of strangers into a fully-fledged choir; in the past two weeks especially, they’ve developed confidence in one another, and begun to develop a rounded, confident sound, flexible in its dynamic scope. They’ve learnt an entire programme for  concert performance, and have also been learning repertoire for the concert in February.

Not bad for a group that tends to meet only once a week…a testament to their commitment, and to Steph’s work with them as well.

The church people are currently setting the church for tonight, including (I hope) an array of candles, and possibly even a candelabra suspended from the roof mid-way down the nave. With the place a-glow with candles, hushed expectation in the audience, the first of the Advent antiphons is about to weave its magic through the air and really open the door into the season.

Here’s to tonight: stand by for a review afterwards.

Mixed-voice formation: it’s official

It’s official: we’re going to be standing in mixed-voice formation for the concert next week.

All mixed up: and loving it!

Working on the programme in rehearsal last night, we made the decision to run the entire session standing in mixed voice-parts, as we’re keen to develop this aspect of our performing, with a view to trying it out a week on Friday. A decision not without challenges, especially given that last night’s rehearsal was the first time we’d been in the church in which we’ll be performing, and given also that some of the Choir were seeing the music for perhaps only the first time, and we were three members short due to illness. (Look after yourselves, people, between now and next Friday!).

Some of the pieces were very good: the three that we’ll be singing in the Cathedral in December in particular are in robust health. Some are finding their way off the page a little less quickly; the up-beats in the soprano melody in The Angel Gabriel need taking firmly in hand in order to give each verse a confident start, which then reassures the accompanying voices that they are also coming in correctly.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter by second-year Rachel Richardson is beginning to ebb and flow nicely – and even had the composer’s approval last night! – as the voices become gradually more secure.

Steph Richardson stepped out to direct two pieces; the carol It Came Upon A Midnight Clear is developing well, but just needs more commitment to the story-telling; there’s a mixture of intimacty and celebration in the words that the group really needs to communicate. Carol of the Bells is a delight, and promises to be a highlight.

The biggest challenge left to us is the Martland carol; the refrains are beginning to develop a lively dance-feel, together with the dynamic markings that lead through a gradual crescendo as the phrase ‘Make we joy now’ is repeated. The verses, however, require supreme confidence both in knowing where the melodic line is leading, as well as in the words, a blend of Latin and English. I can see where the focus of our last few rehearsals is going to be…

In contrast, I proved myself to be utterly redundant in Remember, O Thou Man; as a test of the unity of ensemble, the choir faced not inwards but outwards, away from each other and unable to see one another, and sang the piece through. They have such a firm grasp of the piece that they sang without needing any conducting at all; listening to one another, breathing together and sure of the tempo, they delivered a pinpoint-perfect rendition that had them moving as one. It’s at this point that I feel my work is done.

Speaking to Janet, the extremely helpful Church Warden who looked after us last night, there’s also the possibility that the church will be candle-lit for the concert. Fingers crossed that this might be so: it would create a wonderful atmosphere…

A few rehearsals left before the day; some fine-tuning to do (and Martland to instil!), but we’re on track.

In the Mix

It’s becoming increasingly clear, as rehearsals progress and the choir develops as an ensemble, that mixed-voice singing really suits the group. The strength and depth of sound, the richness of the chords and the accuracy of the ensemble, all are quite different – and vastly improved – when standing with the voices all mixed. Talking with some of the group afterwards, it seems that they prefer a mixed-voice formation – they like the sound that it produces, and they are keen to keep rehearsing as such, in order to see if we can perform in this fashion as well.( And when the group themselves are asking to keep doing something, you know it’s a good sign!)

In the mix

Image credit: Wikimedia

Last night’s rehearsal was a long one – lasting almost three hours – as we’re rehearsing in the church, at which we’re singing our Advent concert, next week, and it was important that the group had gone through all of the repertoire for the programme before adjusting to the performance space. We used the piano less and less during last night’s session, and I’m hoping to spend less time behind the piano and more time actually working with the sound between now and the coming performances.

The antiphons are starting to discover a sense of freedom; there’s a wonderful flexibility starting to emerge as we become more familiar with the lines they weave. There’s a lively sense of fun in The Holly and the Ivy and Ding, Dong, Merrily on High, and a lovely sombreness to Remember, O Thou Man.

We also looked for the first time at a carol written by a second-year student studying at the University; a serene and intimate setting of In the Bleak Mid-Winter, of which we’ll be giving the première at the Advent concert, by Rachel Richardson. It’s a great opportunity to be able to give a young composer the chance to hear their work performed, and her carol will suit the space in the church very well.

Last night, too, was the first time we’ve gone through Steve Martland’s Make We Joy Now, without the safety-net of the piano; a couple of hair-raising moments where the unity of the ensemble was, how shall I put it, not quite as tight as in other pieces, and there wasn’t quite the sense of confidence in some of the voices that there is elsewhere; but we’ve two weeks to go, and even by the end of last night, the improvement was considerable. (You have just got to go away and look at your verses in between rehearsals, tenors and basses!).

Overall, a really good rehearsal; time to start cranking up the momentum as we head towards the first concert in just over two weeks’ time.