Magnificat

The years rush round again, and 26th September 2015 brought Wirksworth Community Choir’s annual Choral Day, bringing together a large ‘come and sing’ choir.  As usual it was a very enjoyable day, plenty of hard work, laughter and that special sense of community sharing beautiful music with like minded folk.  The programme was varied with old favourites such as Parry’s ‘I was glad’, and Handel’s Zadok the priest, and culminated in Bach’s Magnificat.  It was interesting to give up my usual top soprano part, and quickly learn the second soprano solos instead, and  I was especially happy with the arrangement when I heard the talented young woman who joined us for the day.  It is always delightful to see young singers starting out on their journey, and share the thrill of hearing moments of great promise.  The trio, Suscepit Israel, was one of those sublime moments when you are part of something so special you don’t want it to end, and judging by the breathless pause at the end of it, neither did the audience!  The best summary of the day comes from the Wirksworth Community Choir Facebook page:

“just when you might have thought exhaustion would rule, Parry lifted us, Stanford and Handel set us straight, and Bach sent us to heaven!”

The rest is details…

There comes a time when the details become important, like three weeks before a performance when you realise you still only have half the props and costume in place.  Thank goodness for ebay!  This wet Bank Holiday has been the perfect time to sit in the office and tick ‘details’ off the to-do list.

I have worked out staging and roped in family as ‘front of house’ – they are kindly putting up with my obsession with Cissie!  The room has great acoustics and a sense of history, I’m lucky to be able to use the Coach House Studios.

This has been an incredible journey, I now have a workable script and a sense of something coming together.   I also feel closer to my family and roots, helped by a trip back to Preston in early August.  I had planned a visit to my Auntie, Cissie’s daughter, but wasn’t expecting the group of cousins as well, what a wonderful surprise.  I do feel a sense of responsibility; although ‘my Cissie’ is a fictitious character she is based on my Grandma of that name.  So much of the story is based on real anecdotes, and the true Cissie remains in the memories of so many people.  I am very lucky to have my Dad’s writings to help me, it’s no coincidence that many of the anecdotes refer to his life as a child and young man.

It also feels so important to get on and do this now, and use my voice while I can.  The original Cissie, my parents, and countless other men and women of their generations couldn’t choose but just got on with it, dealt with poverty, war, separation, and passed the baton on to us to make the most of life.

Cissie’s Songbook flier

 

Cissie’s Songbook

I love the random connections in life, and the way you never know what a new day will bring.  Sometimes it is one of those painful challenges, but occasionally the start of something joyful and exciting.  After singing an Ivor Novello song at the May concert with Wirksworth Community Choir a tenor came up to me and handed me a copy of an Ivor Novello Songbook.  I had no idea then where it would lead, but I am very grateful to him for having that confidence in me that I should do more of the same.

 

I have been toying with the idea of putting on a fringe event for the Wirksworth Arts Festival Fringe for a couple of years now, but somehow never go round to it, and wasn’t sure what form it would take. But after this concert the germ of an idea started and wouldn’t go away, and with the help and support of family and friends I took the plunge and registered a musical evening entitled ‘Cissie’s Songbook’.    I had no idea what I was starting, and it has been a whirlwind getting to grips with all the practical elements, such as venue, licenses, props, publicity but at the heart are the glorious heart-string tugging melodies of Novello.  It was difficult to cut down to a practical number, but I listened constantly and then waited to see which ones I was humming in the kitchen or shower, and which moved me to tears, and those were my choice.

 

So who is CisYoung Cissiesie?

I have had the space this year to pull back a little from work, thanks to my understanding and supportive husband, Mike, and revisited the family tree work I started years ago, then continued by my parents.  I came across a studio portrait of my paternal Grandma, Mary Elizabeth Singleton known as Cissie, and a copy of my Dad’s autobiography.  Rereading that account of his early years brought her vividly back to me, not the old lady I had known, sitting in a chair, hat firmly ensconsed with a large pin, but the young Cissie, who had always wanted to go on the stage, but started in the cotton mill at 12.  And then I found another picture, an older Cissie, arms folded, looking straight at the camera, dirty pinny, clogs and a toddler by her side.  And suddenly it was clear in my head.  Cissie would get to sing again, and the songs of Ivor Novello would be the background to her story.

Now is the month of maying

Wirksworth Community Choir gave their spring concert on Saturday, and were able to include a most appropriate madrigal, ‘Now is the month of maying’ ( by Thomas Morley).  I do like this version by the King’s Singers.  The concert was held in St Mary’s church in Wirksworth, a beautiful building with lovely acoustics.

We had the privilege of giving a premiere performance of a brilliant choral anthem – God is ascended up on High – by Derek Moore Morgan. It employs a brilliant trumpet solo along with organ. There is a family connection to the choir, and we sang it in memory of a dear member of the alto section who sadly died last year.

It was a very pleasant evening, with a varied programme, and several contributions from talented pupils from the local school.  It’s so great to see the love of music being carried by the next generations.

I was able to contribute a song by Ivor Novello, ‘I can give you the starlight’.  When I was younger I didn’t appreciate him, finding the songs a bit sentimental, but as I get older, (and more sentimental myself!) I just enjoy the gorgeous tunes and can appreciate the more innocent and magical world he created.  It must have been such a wonderful escape from some of the dark and dismal days in the first half of the twentieth century.

It is a new song for me, so not entirely bedded in, but I will enjoy working on it.  Below is a very poor recording taken on a phone, but you get the idea!

Finding the inner Diva…

Tired but happy today after an excellent Opera workshop yesterday, one of a series of specialist workshops run from the  Lynne Wayman Voice Centre.  I am so lucky to live within an hour of Nottingham and be able to study with Lynne and attend classes.

Each singer brought along an aria in preparation, and as we moved through the day Lynne set each in context and took us on a journey, from the delicacy and precision of Voi non Sapete by Mozart, to the grand emotion of Verdi’s Otello and ‘Verismo’ (Realism) of Puccini and Mascagni.

There were also fascinating discussions on the anatomy and physiology of singing, particularly as related to opera.  There were music teachers and experienced singers in the group and the shared experience and wisdom all added to the day. 

My own work in progress was ‘Ebben? Ne andrò lontana’ from Catalani’s La Wally.  I was a little unsure on this choice, as my favourite versions are by Maria Callas and Rene Fleming and I wasn’t sure if I could do it justice, but was pleasantly surprised by the good feedback I got.  There is a core of singers at Lynne’s events whom I have got to know over the years and several people remarked it was the best they had ever heard me sing.  This is a huge boost, coming from great singers I trust and respect. Especially as I am recovering from a cold

Over the last 18 months I have concentrated on building stamina and strength through Pilates and uphill walking, gone back to basics in technique and breathing exercises and most importantly worked on self belief, and defeating the ‘inner critic’ which can do so much damage to performance.  It is heartening that the voice is responding so well.  But I must remember to rest it today!

MariaCallas

 

 

Mostly Vivaldi…

After a few months of having to concentrate on the day job I finally have time to turn more attention to upcoming concerts. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but its difficult to practice on the 7.25 from Luton Parkway to London Bridge!

It has been mostly Vivaldi for a while, and the Gloria is one of my favourite works.  Wirksworth Community Choir are holding their annual choral day this  Saturday in St Mary’s church in the heart of Wirksworth, and the Gloria is the main event.  It has been interesting learning the shorter versions of the solos, as we are using the Ricordi Casella score, but they aren’t as much fun.  I find some of the edits a bit harsh, and the underlay for Domine Deus doesn’t flow as well as other versions, but that was the brief so I set to and learned ’em!

We rehearse with the orchestra for the first time tonight – the moment of truth!st marys

We are also doing other music including Montiverdi’s Beatus Vir (with one of the best Amens ever) and Tavener’s Song for Athene.  The Community Choir learned this, but we don’t have the numbers to get the full effect of the 12 part harmony on the last page, so I’m really looking forward to hearing it from a large ensemble. If you don’t know this piece, listen – it is electrifying.  Those of you of a certain age may remember it was used at the end of Princess Diana’s funeral.  (I’ve just watched the Youtube clip again and it still gives me goosebumps).

 

 

And after Saturday?  Its full steam ahead to finish learning exciting new music by Nottingham composer Colin Wolfe for the Armistice Day weekend, but that will be another post…

 

 

 

Camembert & cider!

After a break of a couple of years I was again able to take part in one of the Advanced Performance courses run by the inspirational Lynne Wayman LRAM ARCM which take place in Normandy each July. A group of singers come together to take part in workshops  over 4 days, culminating in two concerts, Friday night is the Soirée, hosted by a local family, and on the Saturday morning a ‘Concert Sacré’ is held in the local church. The setting is the small commune of Aubry le Panthou in the beautiful Pays D’Auge region, near the town of Vimoutiers and close to Camembert.

Norman house

It is a land of rolling green countryside, traditional half-timbered buildings and orchards for the calvados and cider for which the region is famous.  Unfortunately both alcohol and cheese are not recommended for singers, and we had to wait until after the last performance to indulge properly!

There were 8 of us on the course,  from the UK, France, Holland and Italy, singing a wide variety of musical styles.  The repertoire ranged from Bach and Pergolesi to Mahler and Duparc, as well as Cindi Lauper and a selection of Disney princess songs!  it was an intensive week, so much to learn and take in, as each singer received mini master classes on their selected pieces, with all of us being able to benefit from the tips and advice as well as gaining a greater understanding of the mechanics of singing and the psychology of performance.  Our skilled accompanist also happened to be a musical director working in the West End, so we benefited from her additional insights.

I chose a contrasting set for the Friday night, the haunting ‘Chanson Triste’ by Duparc, and then a complete change of mood with two Cole Porter songs.  For the church concert I offered ‘Domine Deus’ from Vivaldi’s Gloria and ‘Ah Belinda’ from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

The beautiful 18th Century church is now sadly in need of some restoration, and proceeds from our Saturday morning concert went to the church fund.  It is a delightful place to sing in, with good acoustics, well suited to the Vivaldi.

The Saturday concert was followed by a ‘Vin D’Honneur’, a chance to share a drink and nibbles with the audience, and in the afternoon we converged on a local award winning ‘cidrerie’  to taste and buy cider, calvados and delicious home produced honey.  The day was rounded off with a celebratory meal at a restaurant offering regional dishes, and we enjoyed good food, good company and, of course, plenty of cheese!

Camembert

A summer wedding

June dawns and it is wedding season.  The Old Lodge Hotel in Malton was the beautiful setting for the wedding of my brother in law Steve to his long-time partner Julie and a select band of family and friends enjoyed a weekend there.

Julie had favoured something from The Sound of Music but Steve is an opera fan and we spend ages discussing options and repertoire.  At last the choice was made, and I was delighted to have the chance to prepare a duet with myself!  The choice was the Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes,  beautiful interweaving melodies, which I had only sung previously with a flautist taking the second part.  It was a great excuse to get in the studio and play around.    Once I had a backing track with piano and voice it then took a lot of practice to get the timing absolutely spot on, but it was worth it on the day.

The ceremony was very moving, the bride and groom looked happy, and despite a couple of technical hitches the duet worked and was well received.  And the sun came out later!

 

Weddings

Whilst preparing for the concert on 20th April I was also helping my son and lovely daughter in law prepare for their wedding on 14th April, and for my own on 4th May!   And as if I didn’t have enough on my plate I conspired with  the band we had booked for our evening reception, for me to sing at my own wedding.  It was fairly easy to slip in a few ‘extra’ rehearsal dates, but instead of opera in a church it was Motown numbers in a cold room at the end of a pub car park!

We stumbled on ‘‘The Northern Line’ by chance, when looking for entertainment for the wedding, and we were lucky to find such a fantastic band so close to home.  They specialise in Motown and Northern soul, and have a great sound.  But the best thing is the atmosphere they create, they are having such a fun time and it’s infectious.  I loved the chance to rehearse, laugh and sing with them.  They learned several numbers especially for us, including a beautiful rendition of ‘Falling in love again’ by Imelda May for our first dance.

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The secret was well kept, and I think my better half was suitably suprised when I joined the band half way through the evening.  I warmed up with a power ballad duet with Dawn, the lead singer, followed by a cheeky ‘Big bad handsome man’ dedicated to my new husband.  I think he liked it!

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We finished with getting the audience up to dance to ‘My Guy’.

I sang with a band for a few years, and didn’t realise how much I missed it, just jamming and making music and having a laugh with my boys.  Still, there are only so many rehearsal nights in a week, and there is so much more music to explore!

Many thanks to Dawn and the boys in the band for all  they did for us, and allowing me to join the line-up for that evening. (And thanks to Steven Bradshaw for some great photos).

We relaxed after the wedding with a week in Venice, and had the chance to hear some Vivaldi in the church where he worked.  We also caught a concert of early music – sublime unaccompanied singing of sacred songs by Monteverdi, Palestrina,  and Gabrieli among others,  in the beautiful church of  San Rocco.  Combine that with sunshine, plenty of ‘gelato’ and a romantic gondola ride, and it was a perfect week!

Catchup

So how come it has taken so long to report back on Dido?  I can only claim extreme business, and the excuse of two family weddings!  The evening exceeded all expectations, and everyone gave their best.  We gave the first ever performance of ‘Dover Beach’ by our own Colin Wolfe, enhanced by the beautiful oboe playing, and talented soloists. As for Dido – I was frustrated by a shaky start, by the fact that performance nerves can trip you up, however well things can go in performance.  But the show must go on, and I’m pleased to say the hiccup was quickly overcome and we went on to produce a most acceptable performance.

It was physically and mentally draining, and I’m glad I had spent so much time improving my fitness as well as practising the music.  After the death scene, it was easy to lie still under a shower of rose petals – I was exhausted!  And the enormity of what we had achieved only dawned on me when I heard the silence, then the applause.  It took a few minutes to come round, a fact that briefly worried the conductor!

We had really good feedback from the audience, dare I say rave reviews, with people coming up in tears, explaining how moved they had been.  I think the most gratifying quote was ‘sustained and intense’, and getting praise for the acting – such a new thing for me.  It was a wonderful experience, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented and lovely people.