Friday, 27 December 2013

Sweet Bells and St Winifred

Mary and I have joined the local choir.  Back in the summer there were rumours that one would start in Broomhall, and I was interested.  Our mission motivators intermittently ask what we'd like to do to 'get out a bit more' and 'meet some normal people'.  Courses, clubs, and groups is the category I most readily warm to.  I had a brief flirtation with the University of the Third Age Creative Writing group.  Please believe me when I say it was so that I could improve the quality of my blogs!   But the choir means that Mary and I can go together.  Broomhall News announced it would form in November. 

"They'll probably want us to do a Christmas Concert..." Mary was apprehensive.  "Nah," I reassured.  "They'll hardly have sorted out if we're tenors or altos or whatever by then."

Wrong.  At our first practise, we were drilled in breathing techniques, sang scales to ooh, aah, eeh and lah, learned - as a memory exercise - the first half of the Humming Chorus from Puccini's Madam Butterfly, and tackled 'Cradled in a manger, meanly' ("don't forget the comma, the English doesn't make sense without it...").  Christmas Oratorio looked well within reach by December.

Our choirmaster is Steve.  If you check out energetic, irrepressible and enthusiastic in your online Thesaurus (who needs a creative writing course?), you'll get a suitable a cohort of adjectives (what is the collective noun for adjectives? an embroidery?).  He has a distinguished track record: director of the Sheffield Youth orchestra, Worrall Male Voice Choir, etc.  Inevitably, there have been comparisons with Gareth Malone of BBC Choir series.  Steve is dismissive.

Mary's brother, Tony, reluctantly joined the City of Bath Bach Choir (meeting in the Abbey).  Apprehensive at the technical challenges, he was surprised to find that the mid-rehearsal tea break is the best bit of each practise.  It is the same for all amateur groups?  It is for us.  Week one I met Ian, a quietly-spoken emeritus professor, and week two, John, retired team leader from the Social Services Department.  Week three Terry joined us, and week four, David from the aforesaid WMVC.  Meanwhile Mary's been sorting out the Sheilas, Marjories and Margarets, half of whom seem to be elders at the local URC Church where we meet for Tuesday practice.  Then we learnt that Ray and Ruth, newly relocated from Belfast to Battlecentre, have joined a choir that meets in the Royal Opera House.  Provincial just can't compete!

With week two came "Sweet Bells".  This is variation on the traditional "While shepherds watched their flocks" with a jolly chorus.  The objective seems to be for the men to cram in as many sweet bells, chiming bells and Christmas bells as the available notes and syllables will permit.  Steve seemed to think this exercise in lyrical shoe-horning was all good sport, and part of what gives each interpretation its distinctive local character.  Frustrated, I went home and drained YouTube of available renditions, until I had a workable version.  Then I set to, out of harm's way, while on the rowing machine in the cellar, to master the challenge.  Mary laughed at me as I woke up humming, drove humming and ate humming.  I was not to be deterred, even if I hoped we never had to sing it in performance. 

Flushed with triumph, I returned in week three to find that Ian had similarly marked up his score - with a different result!  Chaos again among the basses.  Back to the cellar and heavy editing.  Then came week four's anticlimax.  "We won't sing that this week." Steve announced.  "Well be joining two other choirs at the University in a couple of weeks, so let's try something else."   Out came "Cradled in a manager, meanly" again, til we'd mastered it unaccompanied.  You'll  find nothing on YouTube for the tune St Winifred.  But I have a bootleg video that I shot on stage in the main Firth Hall performance, and I'm sorely tempted to be first to post it.

How have we been propelled to such dizzying choral heights when we only wanted to 'meet some normal people'?

No comments: