Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Christmas music

on December 21, 2011

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been involved with Christmas music in a couple of ways.  Obviously, since September we’ve been rehearsing our pieces for the choir Christmas concert which was on 11th December.  It was great that my parents were able to be around for that – as last year, they came up for the weekend to see the girls in the church nativity play and stayed around for the concert on the evening – I think they enjoyed it!  We started off with Duruflé’s Requiem for the first half.  I hadn’t liked this very much in rehearsals – it’s difficult to sing as the time signature keeps changing and I lost count of the number of times I’d written “Don’t try to count this section – just WATCH!!!” over certain parts of my score.  Some parts are too modern to be particularly tuneful (it was written in 1947) which for me makes it harder to learn.  But somehow, when we got into the afternoon rehearsal on performance day and sang it with the orchestra and soloists, it all made a lot more sense!  I really enjoyed doing it although I know we made several mistakes in timing (despite all the WATCH messages) and I was kicking myself on one occasion when I knew I was right but backed down against the prevailing opinion of the sopranos around me.  Hmm.  So I was glad to get through it and into the second half, which was a mixture of Christmas madrigals, performed carols and audience-participation carols.  My favourite of the madrigals was Philip Wilby’s The Word Made Flesh which, as well as being set to a beautiful tune, has really meaningful and Christian words about the purpose of the incarnation.  My favourite of the carols was The Twelve Days of Christmas, mainly because there are 3 places at which the second sopranos (i.e. my part) separate from the firsts and the performance was the first time we managed to get them all right!  It’s a lot of fun to sing.  We had to learn a very last minute descant for Good King Wenceslas (last minute = just before we went on) because the orchestra part had been arranged to accompany a slightly different version from the one in our books and didn’t fit.  I didn’t mind much as I hadn’t actually realised we were doing it and hadn’t learned the first one (we didn’t rehearse the carols much, as you can tell!), and the new one turned out to be easier.  I was mainly glad we weren’t doing We Wish You a Merry Christmas, as it’s so fast, and differed so much from the arrangement we did at school, that I just couldn’t manage to learn it.  Altogether I got the usual buzz from the concert and I’m disappointed we’re not going back until 29th January, because the Easter Concert is a Come and Sing event, so we don’t need as many rehearsals.  In the meantime (well,  just before!) I’ll be going to the Join in and Sing event at the Sage Gateshead on 21st January, so I’m very much looking forward to that, although I struggle slightly when I don’t know pieces as well, because I can’t arrange my breathing well and I end up very tight throated.  I’ll have to learn some relaxation techniques for singing!

On the same day as Christmas concert, in the morning, was the church nativity play, as I’ve mentioned.  Both my girls were in it, the Bookworm as an innkeeper and the Butterfly as a shepherd, as well as “girl getting water in the town scene” (we don’t have many children at our church so they have to double up on parts – oh yes, and we also had puppet angels this year!)  As usual, I was part of the choir of women who stand at the side and sing along as the children act out the play.  I’ve been around long enough to remember when the choir was supposedly there to “bolster the children’s singing, as they’re not very loud”.  These days all pretence is put aside, the kids don’t sing at all (which I think is a shame) and we do it instead.  Over the years the music has become slightly more challenging and, in amongst the more childish songs, we often do a couple of more serious pieces in parts.  This year we did Rutter’s Nativity Carol – I was glad not to have to do the descant on the final chorus, though, because it’s very high!  We did it in the evening when it was fine, surrounded by some seriously good voices, but in the group at church I think we’d have struggled to make it sound good (it’s much more of a “sing for fun” affair, and many of the sopranos are sopranos only because we get to sing the tune almost all of the time)!

The previous evening (apologies for going at these backwards, it’s just the way it’s turned out) I was at a concert at the Sage with a friend.  It was a Christmas concert by the Northern Sinfonia and choirs, with Gervaise Phinn doing readings.  He was very entertaining but what impressed me most was the music.  We were sitting overlooking the orchestra (you have to have been at the Sage to understand the seating arrangements, really, but on “Level 2” – kind of equivalent to the Circle in a theatre – there are several rows of seats at one end, plus a narrow balcony which runs along each long side of the hall, with 2 rows of seats, and that’s where we were) and had a great view of the percussion section – always entertaining – as well as most of the other instruments.  There were 4 choirs behind them – the Northern Sinfonia Chorus, an adult choir, and the Quay Choirs:  Quay Voices, Quay Lads and Quay Lasses, three choirs for young people of varying ages.  I was particularly impressed with the Quay Voices, who are aged between 14 and 19.  This is often a time when young people are quite self conscious about performing in public, and this shows in their performance.  This choir, though, despite being small in number (about 15 I think) sang clearly and confidently and articulated every word.  I’m currently looking at getting the girls, especially the Bookworm, into something like this for younger children, as I’d love them to be involved as they grow up.

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