Forgive the shameless advertising, but it's almost upon us and we are hoping to be in good voice and on song for this Saturday evening's Vocal Harem Annual Gala Concert, 7.30pm in Tavistock Parish Church. A non-auditioning community choir and the culmination of a winter of schlepping out in rain, sleet and snow every Tuesday evening since last September, and under the tutelage of our musical director Rosemary Turner and our rehearsal accompanist Jaemus Downing.
Final rehearsal in the afternoon with our performance accompanist Mary Mazur Park, but first the hilarious task of organising ninety of us into seating on the tiered platform. And we'll have a grumble about being squashed and not being able to see Rosemary properly... because we're always in trouble for 'not watching' and all thus ensuring the gradual elevation of her conductor's plinth to the point where it will most likely give her vertigo. Then we have to sort out how we stay in seating order whilst filing in from the Church Centre on the other side of the main road, taking our seats in a sedate and orderly fashion rather than looking like a rabble about to do battle.
We will be looking resplendent in our black with gaily coloured scarves (moi cerise) as will our elite band of accompanying Sultans in their black with gaily coloured ties (Bookhound jade). The Sultans all partners of Vocal Harem members who have plucked up the courage to sing and who add in a very welcome bass and tenor line to several songs...try singing The Toreador's Song without them.
Lots of new numbers in this year's programme as well as a few old favourites and several that, if we get them right, promise to be magical.
Howard Goodall's Lead, Kindly Light, from his Eternal Light: A Requiem, sends the right sort of shivers down the spine. John Henry Newman's Victorian text is achingly beautiful...
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!
and originally sung to the hymn tune Alberta composed by William Harris as he crossed the Canadian province by train in the 1920s. Howard Goodall's twenty-first century arrangement utterly complements the words and he says this in the frontispiece to the sheet music
'Why is this Victorian text still so powerful...the perfect expression of the comfort of compassionate faith, filled as it is with human fragility and the doubt that we know Newman was grappling with at this stage of his life... I wanted my 'Lead, Kindly Light' to evoke the turbulent waters of the sea, serving as a reminder of the fact that its words were written by a man who believed himself to be confronted with the possibility of death, stranded as he was at sea and critically ill, and also of the metaphor of troubled waters, for anyone who has looked despair in the face, sought and found a kindly light to lead them on.'
I have read that countless times as we've sat and hummed our line whilst the attention has been on the altos perfecting theirs, and then that amazing evening when the basses and tenors joined us, added in their parts and suddenly the whole comes together...and your spine tingles with the power of four part harmony singing. Believer or not I feel those words still have that power to move... especially the way we sing 'em.
Other favourites for me, Catch a Falling Star, the first song I remember learning and singing along to the radio (was it Perry Como?) with my mum when I was about four, and of course the wonderful Bring Me Sunshine. There's some Chopin and Ivor Novello too and plenty more, and this year, just to be sure I don't sing the wrong line in the heat of the moment I have resorted to a great deal of...er...this.
Our guests will be the Loveny Male Voice Choir and if you live within a one hundred mile radius of Tavistock, if not two hundred, nay if you are a resident of the British Isles, then surely if you set off now you could get there in time?
Tickets a whopping £5 on the door, you'll be sorry to miss it.