This morning Music for Everyone’s three-day Summer School got underway once more, but at a new venue – Nottingham High School. About 150 instrumentalists and singers arrived looking cheery, pleased to have overcome the absence of trams and the road closures. Or perhaps at the prospect of fresh coffee and pastries…

The day was filled with a rich variety of rehearsals and workshops in preparation for Wednesday’s concert performance. The repertoire for all groups has been themed to complement the 50th anniversaries of both the moon landing and Sir Robin Knox-Johnson’s circumnavigation of the globe.

Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars!

More about the wind band and strings tomorrow – today’s focus is on the choir. Angela Kay, Music for Everyone’s founder and artistic director, led the singers through warm ups and into Ola Gjeilo’s Across the Vast Eternal Sky (one of her favourites, apparently). Then she had everyone swinging Fly me to the Moon before ending the morning with a first go at Handel’s Let their celestial concerts, superbly accompanied by Richard Cox. 

Lunch was followed by a recital and workshop with mens’ vocal quartet Scaramella. They entertained us with snatches and glees from 18th century gentlemen’s clubs – as you might imagine, the lyrics featured much wine and were at times on the naughty side! The workshop stretched the singers physically and vocally, and everyone enjoyed exploring Pearsall’s poignant Lay a Garland.

After a cuppa, Jane McDouall, fresh from the south, returned to a warm welcome and led a singing technique session followed by a Q+A. Everyone will be breathing (inhaling, Jane prefers) with shoulders down and the right muscles in play tomorrow. ‘Basically,’ Jane said, ‘there’s no point trying to hold your tummy in and look good if you want to have breath for singing!’ The choir is looking forward to Tuesday’s arrival of visiting conductor and choral director, Hilary Campbell.

“Let those tummy muscles go!”

cropped-logo_darkblue_green-copy.jpg “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was a prolific composer: ballet scores, e.g. Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, concerti for the shviolin and piano, six symphonies and other orchestral works. He wrote songs, instrumental music and opera, the best known of which is Eugene Onegin. He was a troubled man from a young age until his death. Whether he died from natural causes or suicide remains a point of conjecture. He wrote music of passion and deep emotion, but by no means all melancholic. Music, it’s good for the soul.

The original version of Legend (Легенда) (also known as Crown of Roses), which we will be singing on Saturday, appeared first in Tchaikovsky’s 1882 collection, 16 Songs for Children.  He arranged it for SATB chorus in 1889. The words tell a legendary story of children meeting with Jesus. The verses foreshadow the Easter story, yet the piece is often sung at Christmas, perhaps because it begins “When Jesus Christ was yet a child”.

No doubt we will be looking at how to make the oh so important opening of Legend sound beautiful. ‘When’ is not an easy word to start on, it can easily sound from too far back, in the throat and a bit strangled. The soft and breathy consonants of ‘wh’ can be lost. A further problem is that the note for both ‘When’ and ‘Je-‘ is the same, and  whenever a note is repeated, there is a risk that the second occurrence will come out a shade flat. This can be compounded by a descending phrase, which is just what the sopranos have. Preventing the tuning slipping downwards comes by supporting the breath with the body – firm up those abs and support the diaphragm folks – and the mind. The mind? Yes! Think up and hold up, and all being well the notes will stay in tune. See what you think of the opening in this version:

 

This is the final Simply Romantic blog post before the day itself, but you might like to take a look at these videos in the meantime. See you all on Saturday, we’re looking forward to it. There will be a review entry of the day itself and then news about the East of England Singers’ concert on the 17th of October at St John’s, Carrington – Purcell, Mozart, Bruckner and Stravinsky. Voices, drums, woodwind and brass. Not to be missed!

(If you are reading this blog post in the emailed format, the video of Legend may not show. Click through to the website to watch it.)