DSC01583 copyThe soloists – Paula Sides, Ciara Hendrick, Nick Pritchard and Tim Dickinson were a pleasure to work with, and superb singers, both individually and as a quartet. Thank you, Paula, for committing to come so soon after giving birth. Gorgeous baby, by the way! The orchestra was wonderful, and Helen Tonge played the violin solo so beautifully.

All the hard work put in by Angela Kay, the choir and orchestra over the weeks was well rewarded, and the odd minor glitch passed in a flash. A performance is not simply a matter of accuracy, rather of the musicians conveying the composer’s intent to the audience through their understanding of the piece, singing or playing it with feeling, variation in dynamic, tone, good diction etc. This musicality came across so well and fulfilled Beethoven’s inscription on the Missa Solemnis manuscript: From the heart – may it return to the heart. An audience member said afterwards, ‘I could just listen to that all over again. It was amazing.’ William Ruff, music critic for the Nottingham Post, seems to have agreed.

Many similar comments followed.  The choir had a real sense of achievement from having tackled one of the most challenging works in the choral repertoire. As the performance had proceeded without interruption, to enrich the audience’s experience, both audience and performers enjoyed a well deserved celebratory drink afterwards.

DSC01582 copy


The photographs were taken at the afternoon rehearsal.

Thanks too to the Albert Hall staff who were, as always, so obliging.


TDSC01530he Nottingham Festival Chorus met over the weekend to continue rehearsing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Angela was delighted with the progress made and is sure the concert will be a wonderful occasion – a rare opportunity to perform and hear this astonishing work.

Singers wrote all kinds of notes into their copies to capture the many moods and meanings Beethoven wrote into the music, and the ways in which he intended it to be performed. He gave a copy of the manuscript to the person for whom it was composed. Above the Kyrie he wrote: “From the heart, may it in turn go to the heart.” Other instructions of Beethoven’s are still published in scores today: “With devotion”, and above the words Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace), “A plea for inner and outer peace.”

A recap for singers of Angela’s tips from the course:


  • Check that you’ve written into your copy everything you need to enable you to navigate the score with ease and to not come in with the soloists – yikes! (And if you could bring a rubber to rub markings out after the concert, that would be great.)
  • Write everything in BIG enough to be read easily.
  • Mark in those places where you don’t want to be caught out as the only person singing on a beat that should be a rest – argh! Put a slash after the sung note to make sure you come off it quickly.
  • Copy in the ‘stands and sits’ from the sheet given out on Saturday.
  • Put a ring round changes in speed, time signatures, and dynamic markings.  sfz = sforzando, suddenly, with force. The accent is on the beginning of the note, then the sound drops back to the dynamic of the section in which it occurs.  So sfz don’t mean loud throughout the note, nor to shorten its length, rather to emphasise the initial sounding of the note.
  • Remember not to sing an ‘ay’ sound (as in ‘Ay up me duck’) at the end of a word that should come over as having an ‘eh’ sound  e.g. kyrie and miserere
  • Be very liberal with putting in the numbers of beats in a bar to make counting easier, even in places where you’re not singing – the rhythm carries the music along. All DSC01547good musicians mark up their scores. Angela will make entries, pauses and endings very clear – watching her is key.
  • Check that you’re confident with the notes and rhythms of the unaccompanied sections.
  • After all your hard and thorough work, enjoy the performance. Once we are with the orchestra, the full glory of Beethoven’s genius will shine through.
  • Ladies – wear a white top with sleeves of some length as well as your black trousers/long skirts 😉

It’s going to be amazing, invite all your family and friends to come and hear it. Tickets are available here.

(The weather forecast is excellent – absolutely no threat of snow like we battled through a few years ago. Do you remember the trombonist with his snowy ‘hat’, and everyone trying to keep a straight face?!)


If you missed Part 1 click here, and if you missed Part 2 click here. (But do come back for Part 3!)

Sectional Rehearsals and Pencils

HD: Tell us a little about the sectional rehearsals this week.

AK: Well hopefully, if people have looked at their parts beforehand and marked them up, the sectionals will help everyone make more sense of it all, which will make it easier to rehearse a bit more before the course.

HD: So it helps us to identify the difficult bits?

AK: Yes, we will also work on those on the course when it’s all put together. We’re going to have some sectional rehearsals within the course this time, too.

HD: When we register at the course, we’re always given an MfE pencil. What do you hope we’ll do with it?

AK: (Sharp intake of breath) Use it to put in words of wisdom from me (laughs) and highlight bits you know you’ll need to look at yourself later. I put those as a list at the front [of my score].

HD: I put a cross at the top of the pages where I go wrong.

AK: Yes, people have different ways.

HD: When there’s a tricky page turn, I find it helps write the first notes of the new page at the bottom of the previous page – extend the lines, write in the notes and the words.



AK: Yes!

AK: Things to write in during the course will be dynamics – I might put in different ones from the score, or you’ll need to put a ring round those that are there so as not to miss them. I might shorten a note, so that needs to be marked, as does where to put the final consonant. Then there’s marks where to breathe and where not to breathe. People think they’ll remember, but they won’t be able to, not when they’re in a concert situation. There you need as many props as possible to keep you on the straight and narrow.

HD: Perhaps some people think they’re not very good if they need to write a lot in.

AK: Which is absolute rubbish.

HD: Remember that clarinettist’s score at the Summer School? It was covered in markings.

AK: The best people assiduously put everything in.

HD: So would you recommend writing in the beats of a bar in some places? I find it helps me to count rests especially.

AK: Oh yes. You just need to put beats in to make it easier for yourself, and maybe an ‘and’, like 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +, especially for off the beat, syncopated sections. The notes are important, of course they are, but it’s the rhythm that’s more important, because if the rhythm’s not there, you haven’t got a hope.

(AK starts singing a few bars. Very nice.)

Sectional rehearsal are THIS WEEK. Thursday for the tenors and basses, Friday for sopranos and altos, both at NTU Clifton Site, 7.30pm.


Ludwig van Beethoven as imagined by Wesley Merritt

Ludwig van Beethoven as imagined by Wesley Merritt

If you’re singing in the Nottingham Festival Chorus February 2016 concert, you have hopefully now received your brown envelope containing a score of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, 2 rehearsal CDs and useful information.

To borrow enough copies, we have had to use three different editions. If you have been sent a Breitkopf or Novello score, there will be two green sheets in your envelope. If you were lucky enough to receive a Peters score, you won’t need the green sheets.

Marking up the Score

HD: The brown envelope is now in our excited hands. What is the first thing we singers should do having opened it?

Angela Kay: Well. The first thing to do is to rub out ALL the pencil markings that have been put in by previous singers. I’d like everyone to do this because as a conductor, it’s pretty annoying when people say, ‘Well in my copy it says this’ or ‘Last time we sang it we did that.’  Those markings were from another choir, another conductor or me at a different time, which isn’t to say that they weren’t right, but because February’s will be a fresh performance. Music is a living organic thing, and research has changed interpretation, so I might well do things differently.

HD: What next?

AK: For those of you without a Peters score, please, please, please, and I appreciate it’s a bit tedious, use the green sheet and write the Peters letters into your Novello or Breitkopf score. You won’t be able to follow the CD or the rehearsals without doing this.

Then look through the score and mark both your own line to sing…

HD: I tend to use a tick.

AK: … and something to ensure you don’t come in by mistake when it should be a soloist singing.

HD: Mine has crosses in it for that very reason. It would be SO embarrassing.

AK: Yes, anything, as long as you know where you need to be on the page, especially as some of it is fast and tricky. Please do it all in pencil as opposed to highlighter pen, which we have actually had. We can’t return those copies to the library and have to buy new ones to replace them.


HD: What’s on the CDs

AK: There is (with a modest twinkle in her eye) myself, giving words of wisdom. I go through each movement in more detail than I have done in the past, line by line. I’ve played some of the more difficult bits on the piano and just generally tried to be enthusiastic, because I am, and I hope the singers will be, too.

Introductions and solo bits have been cut out. I’ve actually put the difficult bits on at a slower speed but at the right pitch, especially the fugues, so that you can sing along. During the course we’ll have time to look at these tricky bits, and we’re going to have additional sectionals during the rehearsal weekend to help with them.

HD: I do have a piano, but I’ve been trying out some piano apps on my iPad. I can pick out the tunes from the comfort of the sofa.

AK: (Laughs) And there are rehearsal tracks available online, like at Choralia.

[We played around with a few of these and decided that, as long as you sing along with the score, the version for ‘voice, with metronome and organ’ is the best one to use. Click here to go to that page.]

HD: And there’s Choraline if folks would like to buy a CD of their part, or download them as mp3 files.

AK: Yes, lots of ways to get a good feel for the piece before the sectional rehearsals in January.

To be continued… 

Our roving reporter interviewed Angela about Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which the Nottingham Festival Chorus will be performing in the Albert Hall, Saturday 6th February, 2016.

Here is the introduction, more to follow, including some very helpful guidance about learning the work at home, in the sectional rehearsal, and during the course.

HD: When did you first sing in a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis?

AK: Well it was in 1978, I think March, with the Nottingham Harmonic Society conducted by Andrew Burnham, in the old Albert Hall Institute. Nearly thirty years ago.

HD: Or nearly forty years ago?

AK: You’re right. How time flies!

HD: Tell us a little about that experience.

AK: It was the first time I’d heard the work, I didn’t even know it existed really, and I thought it was fantastic, quite hard. Some bits are really easy and then other bits are absolute killers – fugues, because they’re so quick. There are still about 8 bars I’ve never known anybody sing properly. If you’re an alto, like me, you get to a certain page and you hear, “Can’t sing that bit.” [Laughs] But… with lots of slow practising…!

 writing Angela's instruction into the score

Writing Angela’s instructions into a score

As you can see on my copy [from when I sang it], it has instructions written all over it, and beats in the bar for all the syncopated stuff. Fortunately, lots of it is doubled up in the orchestra.

HD: Do you have a favourite movement?

AK: Well the Credo and the Gloria are just wonderful, then from where the Praeludium starts and leads into the Benedictus, it has a divine violin solo, the basses sing a few notes and a quartet of soloists comes in, followed by the choir. A land of repose in all the excitement that’s going on. [Laughs again]

HD: What led you to choose this work for the Nottingham Festival Chorus?

AK: Well I thought it was about time we did something we could really get our teeth into, and I thought that no one else had done it for years, as far as I can remember. Or did the Bach Soc? Anyway, it will be a wonderful experience.

To be continued…


not the turkey, but brown envelopes!



The staff in the office are stuffing them (as they call this process) with everything we singers will need for the Nottingham Festival Chorus (NFC) Missa Solemnis course at the end of January, 2016.

Beethoven’s work is one of the most astonishing and demanding choral pieces. What better way can there be to pass the long, dark, winter evenings than to learn the music? Not for NFC, weekly rehearsals. No. We practise alone initially, with the help of a CD and rehearsal tracks, or perhaps with a group of friends, and all in anticipation of the course and giving a fine concert on the 6th of February

Attending the sectional rehearsal helps with the learning process. For tenors and basses, that’s Thursday 7th Jan, and for sopranos and altos, Friday 8th Jan, both 7.30pm at Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Campus.  The course itself, at Bluecoat Academy, Aspley Lane, will focus on the tricky bits (there are quite a few of them) and polishing each movement to performance standard.

The Missa ISMNM201895444_2Solemnis is rarely performed due to its challenges. Come and be part of a fantastic opportunity and (what we are sure will be) an amazing concert. Invite your choral friends who live elsewhere, sing in other choirs etc to join you in enrolling for the course and concert.

If this particular course sounds a little advanced, worry not. Music for Everyone offers exciting music-making opportunities for all abilities of singers (and instrumentalists), so there’s plenty for everyone – four Daytime Voices choirs, the Workers Choir, the musicals and summer NFC courses, Summer School, choral workshops, etc, etc, etc.

Coming soon from the Artistic Director: Angela Kay’s Guide to Stuffing a Turkey. Oh, that was meant to read: Angela Kay’s Guide to Singing the Missa Solemnis.

cropped-logo_darkblue_green-copy.jpgAs the Indian Summer continued, over 100 singers enjoyed a day of Romantic choral music. There was a relaxed and cheerful mood to the day. For example, Angela said Mendelssohn’s Grant us thy Peace was so beautiful she would like it to be sung at her funeral!

P1110399It was good to have time to look at the pieces in depth and learn some singing techniques. Angela and Alex talked about the importance of supporting the breath with those abdominal muscles. (Did anyone see Strictly? Weren’t there some abs on view!) We considered the importance of posture, and how to lift the sounds of our voices from strangled-cat in the throat to beautiful and resonating in the mouth.

After the tea break we muddled up to sit next to someone singing any part but our own. This encouraged us to listen to the other parts and blend with them, while also concentrating on our performance – no hanging onto the sound-tails of our neighbours! Although a little daunting, it proved enjoyable. The tuning improved and there was more expression and musicality. Angela stopped conducting to encourage us to listen to each other P1110404even more. The front two rows then turned round and faced the back three and we sang the piece again, just as a small group would do. Fantastic.

The next Nottingham Festival Chorus event will be the January course for the February concert of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Angela enthused about what a great work it is but also mentioned that it is one of the harder pieces in the choral repertoire, and so singers will need to be well prepared before the course: no sight reading on the first day of the course! Singing done, we went home to the rugby. Nuff said.