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Good Choir, Or Just Good Acoustic?


IanCrabbe
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I don't know whether it's true or not, but it is said that Marmaduke Sidwell and John Dykes Bower used to have frequent arguments about who had the best choir. One day, Marmaduke suggested that in St Paul's Cathedral, all one needed to do was stand underneath the dome, break wind and you got a seven-fold amen.

 

The question which arises is this: is Kings College Choir really good, or do they get away with murder with their superb acoustic? I am prompted to start this topic having endured 30 minutes of 'Carols from Kings' on BBC2. Is it a repeat from last year? I accept that the BBC have broadcasted the afternoon service since 1928 and tradition probably states that they should continue to do so. But in the evening, is is not time to let another choir have a go for a change? Any nominations?

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Guest Barry Williams

[quote name='Ian Crabbe' date='Dec 24 2006, 06:24 PM' post='17987']

[b]"I don't know whether it's true or not, but it is said that Marmaduke Sidwell and John Dykes Bower used to have frequent arguments about who had the best choir. One day, Marmaduke suggested that in St Paul's Cathedral, all one needed to do was stand underneath the dome, break wind and you got a seven-fold amen."[/i][/b]

 

The full quote is: " If you burp it sounds like the Sevefold Amen; if you fxxt it sounds like the Hallelujah Chorus"

 

Barry Williams

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I heard it and thought they sang really well on the whole - though that very nice and atmospheric last piece tested the boys a bit, I thought. (Not that I like the modern King's sound as I have said more than once before, but that's by the way.)

 

I wasn't at all impressed with the hymn playing though. It's all very well taking no prisoners, but it just wasn't together a lot of the time.* But maybe that's better discussed in the hymn-playing thread.

 

Incidentally, did you mean Martindale Sidwell? Don't know a Marmaduke.

 

* I'm not suggesting that this was necessarily the organ scholar's fault. For all I know he was just acting under orders. But that's what happens if you choose speeds that are too fast for the building and size of congregation.

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I wasn't at all impressed with the hymn playing though. It's all very well taking no prisoners, but it just wasn't together a lot of the time.

I can't understand why the hymn playing was so poorly coordinated. I've heard it said that that organ's a devil to play but it didn't seem a problem when accompanying the choir.

Incidentally, did you mean Martindale Sidwell? Don't know a Marmaduke.

I did mean Martindale Sidwell - sorry. I must have been thinking of Marmaduke Conway - author of that fine tome Playing a church organ. Obviously been having too many vinos.

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I watched the "service" on BBC2 yesterday evening, something I have rarely done in previous years. I thought the organ came over superbly well but would agree with comments re. tempo in the congregational carols. I thought some of the other carols were taken too fast too.

 

Whilst on the whole I enjoyed the singing, and was pleased to see so many carols by distinguished former masters of music were featured, what struck me more than anything was how artificial the whole thing was. I really can't imagine such an event as a successful liturgical experience when its so clearly staged. The cameras must have been incredibly intrusive to get so many close ups of the boys.

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People have been debating whether the acoustic lets them get away with murder for decades. I can't remember which record it was, but one of the reviewers made a comment about it to the effect that it was mediocre singing made good by the King's acoustic. It turned out that LP hadn't been recorded in King's, but down the road at Trinity.

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The first time I heard King's live was under David Willcocks when they gave a carol concert for the Queen and invited guests in the Great Hall at Windsor Castle - the one that burnt down along with a quite nice 4-manual Father Willis organ. As might be expected, the acoustic was a cruelly revealing one. The singing was totally superb. Tone, blend, balance and tuning left nothing to be desired.

 

With the BBC broadcasts the reverberation is not too intrusive while the choir is singing so I would have thought that we are getting a fair representation of what the choir actually sounds like. If we can hear the choir clearly - which we can - how can the acoustic be covering up sins? I don't follow this argument. But that may just be because I don't know anything about recording. Tomorrow I'll try to ask my son what he thinks.

 

I thought the hymns on the radio broadcast were far more together than the ones on the TV programme. This prompts me to wonder whether the TV crew used a different set of microphones to capture the sound of the congregation in the communal carols.

 

Re speeds, the one that really got my goat was Villette's Hymn à la Vierge. The sumptuous, hot-house chromaticism was given no time to speak and the piece came over virtually as a madrigal. To my ears it sounded quite unmusical. Why the obsession with speed? I sometimes wonder whether it is due to some notion that indulgent romanticism = sentiment = intellectual sterility. But I doubt it's really that. After all, fast speeds are hardly confined to King's: they are an all-too-prevalent disease. I merely ask: Where are today's Barbirollis and Boults - the men of the grand Romantic gesture who allow music time to speak and fill the soul?

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Guest Andrew Butler

I thought this year's radio service was very good - partly because I have a new hi-fi system that proves how bad my last one was. I was not actually aware that the hymn playing/singing was badly co-ordinated for such a size of building and congregation.

 

What did strike me, and has made me re-think my own accompaniments, was the predominance of reeds in the hymns - more so I thought than on other occasions.

 

I did not see the tv service as my family wanted to watch Dickens.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I thought this year's radio service was very good - partly because I have a new hi-fi system that proves how bad my last one was. I was not actually aware that the hymn playing/singing was badly co-ordinated for such a size of building and congregation.

 

What did strike me, and has made me re-think my own accompaniments, was the predominance of reeds in the hymns - more so I thought than on other occasions.

 

I did not see the tv service as my family wanted to watch Dickens.

 

I'm sure that the sort of registration used for congregational hymns in this service has been pretty consistent over quite a few years now - Great to mixture and Full Swell at the minimum. This seems to me to have been used virtually without relief and totally regardless of the style of the hymn or the meaning of the words.

 

Someone else has said it and I concur: this is more-than-likely intended to dominate and force the congregation on and (frankly) I sometimes I think the King's Carols congregation show the better taste in their choice of speed.

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I'm sure that the sort of registration used for congregational hymns in this service has been pretty consistent over quite a few years now - Great to mixture and Full Swell at the minimum. This seems to me to have been used virtually without relief and totally regardless of the style of the hymn or the meaning of the words.

 

Someone else has said it and I concur: this is more-than-likely intended to dominate and force the congregation on and (frankly) I sometimes I think the King's Carols congregation show the better taste in their choice of speed.

Are you implying that there's something deliberately antagonistic going on, on the part of either congregation, Director of Music, or both? That would add an extra frisson to such a global event.

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I thought the hymns on the radio broadcast were far more together than the ones on the TV programme. This prompts me to wonder whether the TV crew used a different set of microphones to capture the sound of the congregation in the communal carols.

 

Hi

 

The TV event was probably pre-recorded a few weeks ago - it certainly used to be done that way.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Andrew Butler

I cannot remember the last time that both voluntaries were broadcast "live". You don't suppose there was a concerted effort being made with tempi to ensure the new commision got a live airing....?!

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I watched the "service" on BBC2 yesterday evening, something I have rarely done in previous years. I thought the organ came over superbly well but would agree with comments re. tempo in the congregational carols. I thought some of the other carols were taken too fast too.

 

Whilst on the whole I enjoyed the singing, and was pleased to see so many carols by distinguished former masters of music were featured, what struck me more than anything was how artificial the whole thing was. I really can't imagine such an event as a successful liturgical experience when its so clearly staged. The cameras must have been incredibly intrusive to get so many close ups of the boys.

 

===================

 

Apart from the obvious musical comments, the one thing that struck me is how utterly miserable everyone seemed.

 

There was a time when the boys were alert and putting their hearts into it, but I didn't see much evidence of that this time around. I think the music reflected this.

 

:D

 

MM

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Guest Roffensis
People have been debating whether the acoustic lets them get away with murder for decades. I can't remember which record it was, but one of the reviewers made a comment about it to the effect that it was mediocre singing made good by the King's acoustic. It turned out that LP hadn't been recorded in King's, but down the road at Trinity.

 

 

It was Psalms of David, volume 1, and was done at Trinity. The second vol. was done at Kings, and both have been reissued, and you can hear the difference!

 

I also do not like the modern King's tone, diction and vowels are not what they were, and there is not the passion in the singing that there was under Willcocks. I find them really quite thin, and too reedy.

 

R

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I didn't listen to the radio broadcast on Christmas Eve from Kings; my comments which started this thread were made only after listening to the televised Carols from Kings which was on BBC2 at 5.15 pm. My feeling is that an obviously recorded and edited television programme cannot really conjure up the magic of this service - an opening shot of someone punting down the Cam didn't really do it for me. When was this service recorded - July?

 

I think it would be far better if they televised the 3.00 pm service - live, then we might get some real atmosphere. We might also be treated to more than one voluntary after the service if the service underruns.

 

 

PS: I don't think the choir librarian exactly needed to strain himself this year. Torches, The Three Kings and The First Nowell (arr. Willcocks) are all in Carols for Choirs Book 1.

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I'm sure that the sort of registration used for congregational hymns in this service has been pretty consistent over quite a few years now - Great to mixture and Full Swell at the minimum. This seems to me to have been used virtually without relief and totally regardless of the style of the hymn or the meaning of the words.

 

Someone else has said it and I concur: this is more-than-likely intended to dominate and force the congregation on and (frankly) I sometimes I think the King's Carols congregation show the better taste in their choice of speed.

 

I didn't mind the tempi so much - I like a bit of pace - but what did irritate me very quickly was the breathlessness at the end of lines. I think a good hymn player should be able to anticipate the length of time it takes to get a good breath and come in bang on where the voices are naturally ready to do so - this is supposed to be accompaniment and leadership existing happily side by side, not bulldozering. Also it sounds less scrappy and makes it easier to force the issue when the text demands being forced to join two lines.

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Each year I have the best of intentions of sitting through Carols from Kings on BBC2, but inevitably I either end up falling asleep after about half an hour, or, if still conscious sheepishly turn over to watch something less boring instead. Apparently King's are celebrating the DoM's 25th anniversary, but as I have previously indicated, I see signs of stagnation and complacency and feel a new broom is needed to inject some new life into the institution.

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