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sjf1967

Choral Tone Revisited

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Unfortunately it is that and the word 'commitment' is the thing that keeps young people away from traditional church choirs these days.

 

Yes - but in my experience, it is often the parents who have more of a problem with commitment. I am not criticising such parents out-of-hand, here - I do understand that we all work hard in this country and that there are precious few moments each week in which families can do things together (or visit relatives, etc.); however, I am also amazed at how little some parents seem to grasp with regard to what we are trying to do and the effort - and commitment - needed to achieve this.

 

In one parish we did manage to get a good balance between and traditional and modern music.  As a carrot to encourage the participants to take part in choral and music training and services we organised DJ'ing, rap creating, computer music production, 'pop-idol' sessions which drew a lot of children in.  We even had this ridiculous 'mat' with four arrows on it which the kids 'danced' onto accompanied by dance music in a sort of competition from a Playstation.  It was very useful for teaching them about rythmn and timing.

 

Well, this may have worked for that particular parish. However, it depends on what one is attempting to achieve - and how high sights are set.

 

I am concerned when I hear people talk of certain types of church music as 'elitist' or 'high-brow' - there is currently in our society, far too much evidence of 'dumbing-down'. Sadly, this attitude has also made inroads into mainstream church music for many years.

 

It has often been my experience that if one tells a child that something is boring, or old-fashioned, the child will then usually be influenced by that thought. However, it is refreshing to see children, un-encumbered with pre-conceived notions, react very favourably to cathedral-style repertoire (for want of a better term). A case in point was one of our choristers; the first full Evensong in which he sang had as the setting Stanford, in C. Immediately after the final chord of the second Gloria, he let out an almost involuntary 'Phwarrrr!' (or however one wishes to spell it.) Just looking at the natural thrill and rapt expression on his face convinced me that some of our churches are doing a great dis-service to our younger members.

 

I think the secret is to make music relevant to the children and to make it not too academic and just an extension of school.  It was unbelievable how loyal and commited this made the children for the choir rehearsals and services.  Some of the stuff they put together in the session got used in  the Sunday evening 'Youth Praise' services.

 

I would say that the secret is to encourage them to look up. By this, I mean, to raise their standards of expectation.

 

I realise that cathedral-style worship is not necessarily suitable for every parochial situation. However, I think that its application could be far wider than that which is currently prevalent.

 

Interestingly, when we have a service at my own church which involves modern music (again, for want of a better term), it is the one item of 'traditional' fare which our choristers go out humming - every time. We do not tell them what to like (unlike some of our number, who try to push choruses and rock-band-type accompaniments). Food for thought.

 

A final point: When I have directed an RSCM course (for example), with children from many different church backgrounds, one of my aims is to give them a taste of something which they may never get in their own churches. I do not regard this as 'elitist' - but I do think that it is vital that we raise their levels of expectation.

 

The programme for these courses (as some of you are no doubt aware) is to sing a cathedral-style Evensong (or Mass), usually in a cathedral each day for a week or so. This means that children who have never even heard of this wonderful music, get to learn a new Psalm, setting and anthem (together with responses and introits) each day. I have never yet met a group who were not equal to this challenge - or did not welcome it.

 

So often the problem lies in us ourselves. We do not expect nearly as much of these children as they are able and willing to give.

 

In return, it is enough for me to see the expressions of wonder and pleasure on their faces as the last notes of the service die away - and they are able to consider that which they have achieved.

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Yes - but in my experience, it is often the parents who have more of a problem with commitment. I am not criticising such parents out-of-hand, here - I do understand that we all work hard in this country and that there are precious few moments each week in which families can do things together (or visit relatives, etc.); however, I am also amazed at how little some parents seem to grasp with regard to what we are trying to do and the effort - and commitment - needed to achieve this.

Well, this may have worked for that particular parish. However, it depends on what one is attempting to achieve - and how high sights are set.

 

I am concerned when I hear people talk of certain types of church music as 'elitist' or 'high-brow' - there is currently in our society, far too much evidence of 'dumbing-down'. Sadly, this attitude has also made inroads into mainstream church music for many years.

 

It has often been my experience that if one tells a child that something is boring, or old-fashioned, the child will then usually be influenced by that thought. However, it is refreshing to see children, un-encumbered with pre-conceived notions, react very favourably to cathedral-style repertoire (for want of a better term). A case in point was one of our choristers; the first full Evensong in which he sang had as the setting Stanford, in C. Immediately after the final chord of the second Gloria, he let out an almost involuntary 'Phwarrrr!' (or however one wishes to spell it.) Just looking at the natural thrill and rapt expression on his face convinced me that some of our churches are doing a great dis-service to our younger members.

I would say that the secret is to encourage them to look up. By this, I mean, to raise their standards of expectation.

 

I realise that cathedral-style worship is not necessarily suitable for every parochial situation. However, I think that its application could be far wider than that which is currently prevalent.

 

Interestingly, when we have a service at my own church which involves modern music (again, for want of a better term), it is the one item of 'traditional' fare which our choristers go out humming - every time. We do not tell them what to like (unlike some of our number, who try to push choruses and rock-band-type accompaniments). Food for thought.

 

A final point: When I have directed an RSCM course (for example), with children from many different church backgrounds, one of my aims is to give them a taste of something which they may never get in their own churches. I do not regard this as 'elitist' - but I do think that it is vital that we raise their levels of expectation.

 

The programme for these courses (as some of you are no doubt aware) is to sing a cathedral-style Evensong (or Mass), usually in a cathedral each day for a week or so. This means that children who have never even heard of this wonderful music, get to learn a new Psalm, setting and anthem (together with responses and introits) each day. I have never yet met a group who were not equal to this challenge - or did not welcome it.

 

So often the problem lies in us ourselves. We do not expect nearly as much of these children as they are able and willing to give.

 

In return, it is enough for me to see the expressions of wonder and pleasure on their faces as the last notes of the service die away - and they are able to consider that which they have achieved.

We did a fantastic piece of Patrick Gowers recently - Veni Sancte Spiritus - and next morning most of the boys had programmed the theme into their mobiles......

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We did a fantastic piece of Patrick Gowers recently  - Veni Sancte Spiritus - and next morning most of the boys had programmed the theme into their mobiles......

 

I cannot decide whether that would be a vision of Heaven - or Hell....

 

:)

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Guest Lee Blick
I would say that the secret is to encourage them to look up. By this, I mean, to raise their standards of expectation

 

Yes, perhaps within an academic instutionalised setting. But outside a school environment many children have choices what to do with their time. I have found if activities mimic what happens in school then they are less likely to take part.

 

What we did in our parish was to get the youth workers and the music staff to put together a strategy which involved a programme of social and musical activities centred around a drop-in cafe (the reception area) where there was a pool table, video games and refreshments/snacks. The side rooms were used to for the popular musical sessions. The kids could drop in and out at will, after a while a following of participants started to grow for each activity and out of that we began a junior singing group which eventually became the treble line for the choir.

 

We offered some incentives for participants in the junior singing group:

 

1) 'choir pay' - I know, it's old fashioned but it does concentrate children's minds, particularly as this was a church in a poor council estate.

 

2) 'scholarships' - help towards musical tuition costs, or they got free instrumental/singing lessons from me and my two staff.

 

3) Singing scheme. I dumped the RSCM Voice for Life Scheme and developed my own. It was more of a treasure hunt of things and activities to do which lead on to something else, rather than a ticking off a prescribed list . It also involved having to do tasks within some of the other popular musical activities, for example: make a dance track using ACID (a music programme) using a sample taken from a choir rehearsal or, MC a 'Rap' about Mary & Joseph etc.

 

What the youth workers and music wanted to do is to avoid it making it like school or seem like a church choir. Our central ethic was to encourage 'social interaction' and the drop-in cafe became a focus for the children and parents and was used by over 150 children over the week every week.

 

And believe me, these children WERE looking up and were 'raising their standards of expections'. The difference was it was more about encouraging the children to give them the control to make their own choices and to give them to tools to achieve their potential rather than making them feel they have to fit into a system run by someone else.

 

For me, it was rewarding to see, in many cases, illiterate children with quite appalling backgrounds making musical achievements, obviously not at a cathedral level, but in a way that they feel proud of.

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Guest Roffensis

Richard - I wonder how wise it is to copy another choir's sound and impose it on another group of singers, however much you admire it.

 

Oh it is not a particular choir that I copy, but I mentioned choir(s)masters simply as examples of a particular style. That style is certainly not in fashion now, but it is ever the style I refer to. At one time not so long ago at all, practically all cathedral choirs and the rest tended toward the traditional English tone. You are right about an acoustic etc having an effect, one church I play at has in excess of five seconds reverb, and the same boys now sing in a much drier acoustic, but it is still possible to get a good sound using the same technique. I certainly have not had to tailor anything they sing.

All best,

R

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Guest Roffensis

It is perfectly easy to get boys to sing with some vibrato. If you want to hear what it is, then again, as an example..... listen to Kings/Willococks, try the Gardiner Evening Hymn, it's there lakrksong clear, and that is exactly the sound. Call it vibrato or what you will,it sure puts a real passion and sincerity into the sound. Note also how the boys tone "sit" with the men, and how they all sound like an ensemble. It's magical. Yes it's true about the Abbey and cathedral at Westminster being very different, and well said. But in this country there is not at present a single Willcocks style choirmaster, and let's not confuse "it" with him....it was THE style up to a few years ago. Listen to the 1960s and 70s "Abbey" label recordings and you will hear it. It was nothing new, but there were certain choirmasters who simply wanted it rid of, and that "continental" ideal spread, I know, because I heard and saw it happening. I also manage to get practically all my boys to sing with the same tone, one or two are still learning but doing well eaven so. I have also never turned a single boy away, but persevered.

R

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It is also interesting to compare the sound at St Albans now with that when Barry Rose was in charge. Very much a personal thing maybe but I prefer it now now!

 

AJJ

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It is perfectly easy to get boys to sing with some vibrato. If you want to hear what it is, then again, as an example..... listen to Kings/Willococks, try the Gardiner Evening Hymn, it's there lakrksong clear, and that is exactly the sound. Call it vibrato or what you will,it sure puts a real passion and sincerity into the sound. Note also how the boys tone "sit" with the men, and how they all sound like an ensemble. It's magical.  Yes it's true about the Abbey and cathedral at Westminster being very different, and well said. But in this country there is not at present a single Willcocks style choirmaster, and let's not confuse "it" with him....it was THE style up to a few years ago. Listen to the 1960s and 70s "Abbey" label  recordings and you will hear it.  It was nothing new, but there were certain choirmasters who simply wanted it rid of, and that "continental" ideal spread, I know, because I heard and saw it happening. I also manage to get practically all my boys to sing with the same tone,  one or two are still learning but doing well eaven so. I have also never turned a single boy away, but persevered.

R

That's my point Richard - it's not vibrato, it's tremolo which is not the same thing. I know exactly what it sounds like... I've got the recording! However, I'm not sure that there really are that many great recordings of choirs in general from the 60s and 70s. It does seem that there can be a danger of extrapolating a general standard from the work of one or two exceptional ensembles.

Best wishes S

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Guest Roffensis

Well tremelo then, it was certainly used up to recently. If you want a list of exceptional singing then let me know how many you want!, I have scores of records to prove the point!

All best,

Richard

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Well tremelo then, it was certainly used up to recently. If you want a list of exceptional singing then let me know how many you want!, I have scores of records to prove the point!

All best,

Richard

Thanks Richard - I've got quite a few exceptional choral recordings too, from the last 20 years or so- maybe we could swap.....Best S

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Guest Roffensis

There's an offer I can't refuse, I'll message you or vice versa!

All best,

R

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That's my point Richard - it's not vibrato, it's tremolo which is not the same thing.

If I've understood accurately what singers have told me, you don't teach/learn vibrato. It's something that comes naturally once you are producing your voice in the right way (which, I suspect, begs some questions about whether there is only one "right way" - some early music singers would probably have something to say about that) and, once it's there, the singer needs to develop the technique to control it at will so that it can be minimised where necessary.

 

A forced chest tone will in time wreck a voice, it is really a form of shouting and the strain can be heard, and it causes a voice to break faster. The tone is not natural in the way head tone is.
Hi Richard. Whilst I agree that any form of forcing a voice is going to do it damage - if by "forcing" we mean "straining" - are you suggesting that the head voice is more natural than the chest voice? Both are perfectly natural and there is nothing unnatural about training a boy to develop his chest register fully any more than it is to develop his head voice. They are just different styles of vocal production. Or have I misunderstood your point?

 

I would also be wary of demonstrating something which you wish your choristers to sing, in falsetto - which is, arguably, confusing, since (for the adult male) this involves a different technique.
Eh? Explain, please! When I was a treble the technique I used to get my top notes was quite definitely the same falsetto I used to sing alto when I was older. I know I'm a bit peculiar, but... :)

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If I've understood accurately what singers have told me, you don't teach/learn vibrato. It's something that comes naturally once you are producing your voice in the right way (which, I suspect, begs some questions about whether there is only one "right way" - some early music singers would probably have something to say about that) and, once it's there, the singer needs to develop the technique to control it at will so that it can be minimised where necessary.

 

Hi Richard. Whilst I agree that any form of forcing a voice is going to do it damage - if by "forcing" we mean "straining" - are you suggesting that the head voice is more natural than the chest voice? Both are perfectly natural and there is nothing unnatural about training a boy to develop his chest register fully any more than it is to develop his head voice. They are just different styles of vocal production. Or have I misunderstood your point?

 

Eh? Explain, please! When I was a treble the technique I used to get my top notes was quite definitely the same falsetto I used to sing alto when I was older. I know I'm a bit peculiar, but...  :)

Vox - yes, vibrato in the proper sense comes naturally. In the three cathedral choirs with which I've been associated some boys developed it and some didn't - the ones who didn't were still singing healthily. If it's natural vibrato then it shouldn't need too much reining in. On your other point - chest voice is perfectly OK, yes, and is perfectly natural - it's what you do when you speak. It's getting the transition from thick fold to thin fold vibration ('chest' to head') that's the trick. If you try to force the thicker speech quality beyond a certain point your vocal folds will adopt the line of least resistance and only the outer mucosa - not the body of the folds themselves - will vibrate, which results in that hooty breathy sound with no dynamic range you get from many children in the upper register. That transition can't be managed in isolation from other aspects of technique - like any other aspect of singing it's a continuum in which posture and breath management and many other elements play a crucial part. Would you agree, Richard?

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Yes, perhaps within an academic instutionalised setting.  But outside a school environment many children have choices what to do with their time.  I have found if activities mimic what happens in school then they are less likely to take part. 

 

Our church choir is neither overly academic, nor institutionalised. I have found that children like to be part of something good, something in which there are clearly-recognised standards and achievements. I am not suggesting that your sessions were not good, merely making an observation. I doubt that any of my football-playing pupils would bother to belong to a team which spent most of its time on the sort of things which they themselves can do already. In addition to winning reasonably often, they would wish to have their skills developed to the highest standard of which they are capable.

 

What we did in our parish was to get the youth workers and the music staff to put together a strategy which involved a programme of social and musical activities centred around a drop-in cafe (the reception area) where there was a pool table, video games and refreshments/snacks.   The side rooms were used to for the popular musical sessions.  The kids could drop in and out at will, after a while a following of participants started to grow  for each activity and out of that we began a junior singing group which eventually became the treble line for the choir.

 

We offered some incentives for participants in the junior singing group:

 

1) 'choir pay' - I know, it's old fashioned but it does concentrate children's minds, particularly as this was a church in a poor council estate.

 

2) 'scholarships' - help towards musical tuition costs, or they got free instrumental/singing lessons from me and my two staff.

 

3) Singing scheme.  I dumped the RSCM Voice for Life Scheme and developed my own.  It was more of a treasure hunt of things and activities to do which lead on to something else, rather than a ticking off a prescribed list .  It also involved having to do tasks within some of the other popular musical activities, for example:  make a dance track using ACID (a music programme) using a sample taken from a choir rehearsal or, MC a 'Rap' about Mary & Joseph etc.

 

Then this obviously worked well for you. However, it is not at all the same point that I and some othere were discussing previously - your description sounds more like outreach sessions in order to encourage youngsters to attend their local church. This is an excellent thing. It is just that we are talking at cross-purposes.

 

My point was regarding the recruitment (and training) of choristers for a choir which sings more 'traditional' music.

 

 

What the youth workers and music wanted to do is to avoid it making it like school or seem like a church choir.  Our central ethic was to encourage 'social interaction' and the drop-in cafe became a focus for the children and parents and was used by over 150 children over the week every week.

 

And believe me, these children WERE looking up and were 'raising their standards of expections'.  The difference was it was more about encouraging the children to give them the control to make their own choices and to give them to tools to achieve their potential rather than making them feel they have to fit into a system run by someone else.

 

For me, it was rewarding to see, in many cases, illiterate children with quite appalling backgrounds making musical achievements, obviously not at a cathedral level, but in a way that they feel proud of.

 

This is all well and good. However, it still seems to me that the music you describe is too close to that which they get every day. I doubt that they want to sing Stanford - yet, at the same time, I cannot believe that giving them rap, etc, is effectively raising their sights.

 

However, as I said, I think that the situation which you describe is more of a 'missionary' event. I do not doubt that this was entirely appropriate to the situation with which you were presented. Notwithstanding, we appear to be talking of two different things, though they are undoubtedly both facets of the same overall desire.

 

The bell has gone - I am now teaching. I will finish this later.

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pcnd's comments throughout this discussion match my own views and experiences very closely.

 

I feel very strongly that not only parents, but also a great many teachers, influence children by effectively telling them they will not like things. Children are born with open minds, why can we not allow them to make their own choices and discoveries?

 

I think it is vital that children in our choirs should be taught to sing using proven Bel Canto techniques designed to stay with them throughout their life, whatever voice part they end up in. To my mind learning these techniques oneself from a respected singing teacher is essential - having been brought up through the cathedral system may be useful but is certainly not essential.

 

In the state sector, most junior and infant schools are very poor at teaching singing. Their level of expectation is very low. Frequently music is picked (if at all) on the assumption that children can not possibly sing higher that the D a ninth above middle C. I too have assisted on RSCM courses and always ask the children whether they do scales and exercises in their own choir practices. Very few do, and when you start to do a few scales with them many struggle from E upwards. They need the thrill, excitement and pride of unleashing their upper registers, and can also recognise the thrilling nature of many passages of music.

 

pcnd (I think it was) referred to Stanford in C. Quite recently I have introduced my own choir to Sumsion in G, you should hear how they sing when we come to the Gloria of the Nunc, its a natural reaction to the build up of the music. We've just done Joubert's "O Lorde the maker" in concert, not my favourite piece, but the kids just love singing those repeated high and loud "laud and praises" at the end.

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We've just done Joubert's "O Lorde the maker" in concert, not my favourite piece, but the kids just love singing those repeated high and loud "laud and praises" at the end.
Reminds me of the completely opposite reaction I once got. I rather like the piece myself, but the boys complained, "Oh Sir, not that one: it's so slushy!" Cue organist's jaw thudding onto the practice room floor!

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Reminds me of the completely opposite reaction I once got. I rather like the piece myself, but the boys complained, "Oh Sir, not that one: it's so slushy!" Cue organist's jaw thudding onto the practice room floor!

 

Oh my God!

 

In that case, please re-assure me that you have not got copies of I will lift up mine eyes*, by Ernest Walker, in your music library.

 

* A better title might have been: I will lift up my breakfast....

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Oh my God!

 

In that case, please re-assure me that you have not got copies of I will lift up mine eyes*, by Ernest Walker, in your music library.

 

* A better title might have been: I will lift up my breakfast....

Alas, I haven't. I'd really, really love to do that piece, but I've always had to shy away from it because I've never had sufficiently hooty altos. A sugary bun does need a good dollop of sticky icing on the top, I think. :)

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pcnd (I think it was) referred to Stanford in C. Quite recently I have introduced my own choir to Sumsion in G, you should hear how they sing when we come to the Gloria of the Nunc, its a natural reaction to the build up of the music.

 

Yes, I've had a similar experience with a young choir - they particularly latch on to the idea of "Have a banana" ...

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Guest Roffensis

No. Shouting can strain a voice, and so can certain types of singing. It takes a fair amount of power to fill a large church, and a head voice will carry clearer than a thinner chest voice. Boy's chests are not sufficiently developed to be any where near as powerful as an adults, and you can hear the strain in them trying. But this is all by the by. Yes the head voice is really a boy falsetto, but the tone is not like an adult trying to sing very high notes, because the boys voice is still a boys voice. QED! The use of vibrato, or tremelo can be taught, and it also increases power without strain. Try it.

This discussion is however, supposedly about the type of tone commonly found today, and I am simply making the point that the sound these days is often erring very much along a forced continental side. And a forced technique it is. You would also strain your voice shouting loudly, and in essence the modern tone is "shouty". I have no doubt in certain traditions it has A place, though what beats me. I do not find it attractive. It is thin, brittle and reedy, and quite frankly at times a boy's top line is made to sound like a battery of primary age girls, with the added bonus of poor diction, a silly sweetness, and almost acrid preciousness that sounds really most ridiculous. The boy voice is something to treasure. All the arguments here quite baffle, and to a degree, amuse me, not least those questions from those who really should know for themselves techniques and answers, particularly when in higher positions than I am. And, I still await someone to inform me what exactly George Malcolm's continental training technique was. It is from that period that things changed, and, like the Emperor's new clothes, a lot of people thought it all really quite wonderful, when all it was, was different.

Again I say to everyone, listen to older recordings of the 1960s, and even 70s, and yes, even to Lough, and ask yourself what has happened and more improtantly, why. Where is the passion to the words now, and do your boys "fill up" with tears singing like mine do? It's like organs, it's what's in fashion at the time. In the meantime vocal techniques are lost, and this thread sadly proves this.

All best!!

R

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Yes, I've had a similar experience with a young choir - they particularly latch on to the idea of "Have a banana" ...

hi Ade - you've lost me. How does "have a banana" fit in with Stanford in C?

 

Perplexed of Winchester :wacko:

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hi Ade - you've lost me. How does "have a banana" fit in with Stanford in C?

 

Perplexed of Winchester :wacko:

 

I wish this board had threading - we were talking about Sumsion in G Nunc, I thought.

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Where is the passion to the words now
Well, now, there's a thing. I guess it depends on what we understand by "passion" and what turns us on, but personally I'd say that "passion" is the notable thing that the traditional English head voice entirely lacks. And that's what I like about it - in the right place.

 

The only time I've ever done Mendelssohn's Hear my prayer was when I had a boy who had a sufficiently dramatic voice and sense of musicianship to deliver "The enemy shouteth" with some real iniquity and hatred. I'd never dream of doing it with an Ernest Lough type voice. Refined purity is quite out of order here. In my view, of course. Mind you, Mendelssohn himself got it totally wrong with that unbearably smug final section. For heaven's sake, didn't he read the words? It's a cry of anguish from a tortured soul desperate for escape! His focusing on the gentle image of the dove missed the point entirely. If I ever do the piece again I'll make sure it's with a thoroughly operatic soprano soloist. And in German.

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Yes, I've had a similar experience with a young choir - they particularly latch on to the idea of "Have a banana" ...

As did the choir I sang in 50 years ago.

 

Paul

(Whose piano grade 4 examiner was Sumsion)

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I wish this board had threading

To get threading, just click on "Outline" at the top of the root message.

 

Paul

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