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?!)


aea181dadc47ed5aff1e2b97ae5dafdcWith only a week to go until the course, here are a few more tips from Angela.

HD: We always start the weekend with warm up exercises. Are these something we should do whenever we’re going to sing for some time, even at home?

AK: Well, a few exercises are good to help with technique, even with how you should stand. More than anything, they’re a mental thing to get you out of still being stuck in the traffic jam, or some other stress, and ready to sing. At a rehearsal you’ve got to feel differently from how you would were you sat at your desk or trying to get the kids to have a bath. With a big choir, if the singers have been practising on their own, then even just a few warm up exercises, say singing arpeggios that sound nice, help people to think, ‘Ah, that sounds ok, this is going to be good.’ It gets them in the right frame of mind.

HD: Some warm up exercises seem to be more about relaxation than voice production.

AK: If people are all tense [Ang makes sounds of fear and panic], they can’t make a nice sound, so you want to calm them so the sound that comes out is rich and encouraging.

HD: How should we make the most of the rehearsal time in the course?

Angela and her younger daughter, Sarah, rehearsing solo sections of Pergolesi's Magnificat

Angela and her younger daughter, Sarah, rehearsing the solo parts of Pergolesi’s Magnificat

AK: When I sing with a choir, I really enjoy just trying to sing my part in my head, or hum it very quietly, against another part that’s being practised, just to see if I can fit it in, find my notes. So when, as conductor, I’m rehearsing a particular part that’s not yours, say the tenors, you should be following the tenor part and looking how your part fits in with it. Unfortunately, many people just switch off – or talk – and think it’s nothing to do with them, whereas they could be… you can be… rehearsing all the time, even when you’re not singing.

HD: When there’s a new entry, coming in can be quite scary, could you give us some tips about that?

AK: Well, people get really panicky about the note to come in on, but if they’ve learnt it properly, they’ll instinctively come in on the right one. When it gets into your brain, it’s just there. It can make life too complicated if you’re looking at other parts, thinking the note you want is in the bass line, etc. It’ll be too late because the entry will have gone in a flash. In Classical composers [like Beethoven] and Baroque composers, to a certain extent Romantic, the harmonic structure is such that the note you come in on is unlikely to be way out, it will fit, you’ll get a feel for it.

To give confidence, I do try, don’t always succeed, to look at parts to prepare them that they’re coming in and give them a signal, whereas if people have got their head in their copies worrying that they’ll miss the entry, they probably will! Then it’s hard to get back in – you can have lost it for a long time.

HD: So some of it’s about looking ahead. Sometimes I extend the music lines at the end of a page and write in what’s coming next, especially if it’s the final note of a phrase, or a new entry that starts a the top of the next page.

AK: Yes, so that you’re not caught out. Or you could just put the note you’re going to come in on and the word. In some of the scores, when we look at them after a concert, there’s tiny writing in them that singers were probably trying to read during the performance, and wondering what it was they’d written. By then they would have missed what they were supposed to be singing. If you’re going to write something in, and I really hope you will, write it big enough to read, and big enough to read without holding your copy under your nose!

We hope you’re enjoying rehearsing. We’re really looking forward to next weekend, when it will all come together. It’s going to be great.

(The other parts of this Missa Solemnis series can be found here, here and here.)