Music News March 2021

Img 2776-800The choir’s celebration of Epiphany has been very different from usual in lockdown 3. No Epiphany carol service, and there will be no February choral evensong. Undeterred, Oli King has been determined that choir practices should follow the liturgical year, and we have been busy reacquainting ourselves with familiar pieces, as well as learning new ones. In particular Oli has found some terrific carols to share with the congregation in future. 

We are all now very used to Zoom rehearsals. These start with physical and vocal exercises. The physical ones involve a lot of stretching, yawning and waving our arms about like trees – very reminiscent of PE classes at primary school in the mid 20th century. Yes, that long ago! The vocal exercises include the usual scales, arpeggios and counting up to, say 25, on one long breath. More idiosyncratically, tongue twisters are forming an increasing part of the warm up. Try saying ‘Paul, please pause for proper applause’ three times. And if that’s too easy, try ‘Blue glitter glue glues blue glitter’!

After we have warmed up, we sing either as a whole group or in separate breakout rooms for the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses respectively. In either case, we can hear only the person playing the piano and not our fellow choristers. This makes learning new material particularly challenging. To help with this, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology organised by Patrick Li, our effectively solo sessions are interspersed with karaoke-style sing-alongs to YouTube recordings of the pieces we are rehearsing. There can be problems with strange timings, the lack of a conductor and jumpy Internet connections, but generally it works pretty well.

During January the choir has been represented in Sunday services both by soloists or family couples in person, and also by recordings done in our separate homes, based on our rehearsals and stitched together skilfully as ever by Peter De Vile. In January the senior and junior choirs joined forces for recordings of the well-known and much loved piece ‘The Three Kings’ by Peter Cornelius on Epiphany 3 and the gently moving motet ‘When to the temple Mary went’ by Johannes Eccard for the Presentation of Christ/Epiphany 4.

At first many of us found recording at home very daunting. It involves juggling the sheet music, one device playing the guide track through headphones, and another such as a smartphone recording our efforts. We have learned from radio presenters that a small, soft, padded environment is best for clear sound reproduction, though no-one has yet reported crouching in their airing cupboard wrapped in a duvet as apparently some Archers actors do. A padded ironing board has become a music stand staple for many of us, and we have all developed ways of limiting the rustle of papers as we move to the next page of music. Then there is the actual singing. It is a very odd experience hearing one’s own squeaks and gasps for breath played back on an unforgiving phone. But eventually the perfect recording has almost been completed – until a dog or child comes into the room, or a plane or motor bike roars past, and everything has to be done again. I cannot speak for the rest of the choir, but unexpectedly this past year has made me more confident about singing on my own. However, we are all very, very keen to get back to singing together in real life, even if this means doing so in special so-called ‘public speaking’ masks.

By the time this article is published, the choir will have sung in a livestreamed plainsong service of Compline Sunday 21 February, led by Marisa Baltrock. I hope it will be available on YouTube.

Looking forward, we are rehearsing music for the Induction of Jeremy Trew as Team Rector on 3rd March. It will still, no doubt, be some form of lockdown service, but we are all hoping to contribute to this special day for Jeremy and St Mary’s. 

Ottilie Lefever