After much soul-searching, and five seasons with them, I have left all my friends in the back row of the sopranos of Vocal Harem and joined a new choir. A non-auditioning (thank goodness) mixed community choir, just across the border in Cornwall, who, though not church-affiliated, specialise in singing four-part choral music. They have been so welcoming, and I knew I was in the right place when they launched into Zadok the Priest at my very first rehearsal, and when someone thrust a well-thumbed copy of the New Church Anthem Book into my hand, well, I couldn't have been more delighted. I never thought I would say that, having given up the church choir twenty years ago, but the John Rutter 'Come and Sing' day ( that John Rutter couldn't make through illness so Christopher Robinson led instead ) backalong in July, was all it took to convince me that I wanted to go back to singing purely choral music. I've had great fun with Vocal Harem but my heart had leapt as I flicked through the book we were loaned on that day, and I spent the rest of the day wondering if maybe they wouldn't miss just one copy. Of course they would, and of course I handed it back.
The new choir were preparing for a Harvest Festival, and to my amazement I remembered Thou Visitest the Earth and Blessest It from Holy Trinity Church Choir, Wallington, sung when I was about sixteen. I'll be made up if we do Fling Wide the Gates because I still sing that at the drop of a hat to Bookhound when I need to drive the car out and can't be bothered with all that opening and closing on my own.
The Chris***s music quickly followed the anthem book and as I leafed through my copy of Noel I couldn't believe how excited I felt at the thought of singing them. Singing still gets to a bit of me that nothing else does.. I can drag myself out on a winter's evening nursing every ache and pain known to mankind, yet I always come home with a spring in my step. It's the best therapy I know.
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost though know who made thee
Give thee life and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Give thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice...
I have heard The Lamb countless times but never sung it before. Fortunately everyone else had and standing in the middle of it all as this gentle sound just launched I almost forgot to sing. I was alongside the 'buddy' I was introduced to on week one back in September and found myself singing as if I had known it all my life.
I hadn't known The Lamb was written for ' Simon's 3rd birthday'.. but what depths of meaning that brings to those words.
As I drove the six miles home, up and over Kit Hill and back into Devon, with a waning gibbous moon (I looked it up) looking enormous and reachable ahead of me, and with a planet hovering nearby, and by chance Mozart's Requiem playing on the car radio, I thought about John Taverner, who had died on November 12th.
How sad it is when a true appreciation of someone only really comes after their death, I could kick myself sometimes. Now I almost wish I could write to John Tavener and tell him what an experience it was to sing his music, an unforgettable first for me. I can't claim to be an afficianado, I probably knew little of him before that day in September 1997 when half the world watched as Princess Diana's coffin was carried down the aisle of Westminster Abbey as the choir sang Song for Athene. I certainly didn't know that he had been signed by the Beatles Apple record label way back in the 1960s.
There was a superb tribute to John Tavener on The Choir on BBC Radio 3 last week, enough to have me turning the house upsidedown looking for the one CD I knew I had, Chris***s Proclamation. When I eventually found it I was delighted to find it was conducted by none other than Christopher Robinson, who had unwittingly started this return to my singing roots in the first place.
That programme is on Listen Again for a few more days, and if you listen to it for one thing only don't miss the stunning performance of John Tavener's last work. A setting of Shakespeare's sonnets that he had still been working on the night before his death, and which was due to be premiered two days later. The performance went ahead, with his widow present, and there is a stunned and incredibly emotional silence at the end, where the music just hangs in the air before the audience comes back down to earth and remembers to applaud. John Tavener's funeral will be held at Winchester Cathedral on November 28th, and what a magnificent and well-deserved choral send off he is bound to receive.
Also featured on the programme (which I caught by chance at 4.30pm on a Sunday and will now make a point of listening to) are a composer I had never heard of Carlo Gesualdo, more beautiful choral work to seek out, and in complete but wonderful contrast a piece by Bobby McFerrin, Say Ladeo, from his CD Vocabularies, which was utterly captivating.
So anyway, how's the singing going out there...
Anyone else practising for Chris***s...