It’s not Christmas without a Messiah

Messiah-titlepageI had two major concerts to finish off the year. The first, with A Capella Singers, was Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. This was my first choral performance of it, having only previously sung the ‘Echo’ aria (Ah, My Saviour). The solos were shared around the choir members, and I was given the soprano/bass duet ‘Lord Thy Mercy’, the Angel’s recitative ‘Be Not Afraid’ and the echo in the Echo aria.

We sang it in English which, while easy on the audience and those choir members who have difficulty learning anything in another language, means that the vowels and consonants do not always fall comfortably. A perfect example was in the duet where I had to sing the word Free sustained on an F whereas in the German it would have been the much more open Frei. Breathing for long phrases was sometimes more challenging due to the words (and meaning) falling differently. However it is all a good learning experience. And of course it’s Bach, where you can’t relax your concentration for a second or you slip on a musical banana skin. I was reasonably happy with my performance after putting in a fair bit of effort. I find recitatives difficult and often feel I spend twice as long on a 20 bar recit as I do for a 5 page aria!

The second concert was one I had been looking forward to for ages as I hadn’t sung a Messiah for quite a few years. This was quite a special one. Organised by Dr White (conductor of our St Mary’s choir) the soloists were bass Jonathan Lemalu, soprano Rebecca Ryan, mezzo Sandra Martinovic (also Jonathan’s wife) and local tenor Clive Thompson. The choir was handpicked from local choirs and combined with members of Dunedin’s Cantores choir. The chamber orchestra consisted of members of Southern Symphonia led by Sydney Manowitz and Gregory Peyroux and Raymond shared the conducting duties.

The Basilica was packed, the soloists were great and the ringing of the third-last Amen around the dome was electrifying. We had two moments in the choruses where we were a whisker from coming unstuck  (no, not in All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray) but we pulled it together. My teacher who was the soprano soloist deserves extra kudos for performing magnificently 7 weeks after giving birth – by caeserean no less.

So now there is a lull (I’m still on holiday, neener neener). Lessons aren’t resuming till March. Choir rehearsals don’t start till the beginning of February. This year I plan to start working on repertoire for my LTCL (Recital). I’m also getting to sing for the first time in concert the Flower Duet from Lakme. I have decided that my New Year’s Resolutions – yes, yes I know I’m 10 days late – are musical ones:

1. Work on my coloratura – specifically the ‘runny bits’. I seem to veer between lead-footed thumping and laughing hyena.

2. Learn to place the sound forward while maintaining that yawny space thing (apologies for being overly technical).

Only 2 resolutions but I’m thinking they might be enough!

Yes. Yes I Can.

This photo was taken after I got home from the concert. Because if my dearly beloved had tried to take this photo beforehand, I would have a) most definitely not been smiling and b) snapped at him for…oh I don’t know, taking too long, not taking long enough, not finding a better place to pose…heck I would have found something. I was wound up tighter than a badly-tuned lute.
So to the concert. I was second last on the schedule. There were some lovely items before mine. At least I’m sure they were lovely because they were all by people I know and love who would have sung/played beautifully. I have no idea really, because all the time they were performing the little voice in my head was going “You have to sing the Alleluia! You have to do all the runs without ending up in the rose bushes! You have to sing a top C at the end. Fleeeee!!!”  Except I couldn’t flee because I was sandwiched in the middle of the row between all the other performers.
As the singers among you will know (Hi Sarah! Hi Amanda!) singing without a warm-up is far from ideal. As a soloist in a choral work, you can usually do some humming exercises under-cover of a loud chorus but no such opportunity here. The first word I was due to sing was ‘Es’ so not even the assistance of a  consonant to get me started.
So finally the moment arrived. I stood up, moved gracefully up to the stage in my new posh frock (if it was going to be a disaster at least people could say “Never mind dear, you looked lovely” as I sobbed into the folds of my chiffon skirt). First up ‘Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen’. At least the tessitura was nice and low to middling. I probably mangled the German but all in all it went well. Next up was what the organisers had described in a newspaper article earlier in the week as a ‘highlight of the concert’ – the hymn written by the late Russell Cowley ‘Sweeter Sounds Than Music Knows’. Apart from a bit of a tight-sounding ‘sweeter’ at the start, I think Russell would have been happy with my rendition.
And then, old Short-and-Deadly, the Alleluia. I’m going to go a bit stream of consciousness on y’all here and channel the voice in my head. Accompanist starts at a nice comfortable pace. First few phrases nice and firm and clear. Here comes the first run, big breath, muscles supporting and……away we go! Nice and even, no mistakes – bit tight on the A at end of the run but not bad, not bad. First half down, no dramas. But uh-oh, second section, the big runny bit and……. hey no worries, all in one breath, no mistakes, niiiice smooth singing on the offbeat accented bit. Woo I can do this!! Settle petal we’ve still got that top C. Open throat, here it comes, take foot off pedal to prevent yodel…..oh bit over-excited there, small yodel, don’t care IdiditIdiditIdidit!!!
And there you have it, a mountain has been scaled and I can’t tell you what a weight off my chest that is. Next up a whole bunch of lovely Mozart for Easter church services and then into Dido & Aeneas. Thanks for putting up with my drama queen-ness darlings 🙂

I can do it. No, I can’t!! Well, maybe I can?

So the Concert South 100th concert is this Sunday. You know, the one where I have to sing the Mozart Alleluia. With all the runny bits and the high C at the end. The piece I have renamed not-so-affectionately as ‘Short and Deadly’.

Rewind to Tuesday this week. I went and had a first practice with my accompanist. We ran through Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen. Fine – once we’d worked out the weird repeat markings in this particular version. We did ‘Sweeter Sounds than Music Knows’. Nothing too terrible there. And then….the Alleluia. If singing this piece was the equivalent of cycling down a straight path between two beds of rose bushes, then by the end of the first runny bit you would have found me upside down, impaled on rose thorns, bleeding copiously with bits of bicycle strewn over the pathway. Not pretty. The high C was a yodel on C/C#. I bet even the Topp Twins couldn’t manage that and I did it without even trying. Ha! 

Cue hyperventilation. And me explaining to the accompanist that it might really not be a great idea to repeat this scenario at an actual concert. Because really it would be a like a car crash you have to drive past where you don’t want to look but you just can’t help it. I said I would make a decision the following day after my singing lesson. 

Wednesday, lesson. (And an opportunity to coo at my teacher’s brand new gorgeous little girl). Me: I just can’t do the coloratura bits with that pearls-on-a-string technique-thingy!! Teacher: Well that’s not a problem, these are essentially scales, they can be done legato. Me: Oh? really? …….

Half an hour later…♫♪ Aaaaaaa, a-a-le-e-lu-u-ia aaaaaaaaaaaa ♪♫ So maybe I really can do this! Me: OK but what about the hIgh yodel – I mean high C? I can do it if  I make a really narrow pathetic sound like this *makes narrow pathetic sound* but if I try and do it full voice I do this *yodels*. Teacher:  What’s wrong with the first one? It will just ping out – don’t forget you’re in a Church which will help fill the sound out. Just don’t put any welly on it and it will be fine. 

And so here we are, two days out from the concert and there is no.turning.back.  Stay tuned for the next instalment which will either be happily triumphant or strangely echo-y having been written from the depths of the hole I dug myself. 

Alleluia, it’s 2012!

It’s always interesting, contemplating what singing challenges might be around the corner. One of the things I’ve always had a secret desire to sing in public is the Mozart ‘Alleluia’.  Two terrors lie within in its relatively short span of time – coloratura and a top C. No terrors for a professional singer, but for a more …ahem… mature, Johnny-come-lately singer, some buttock-clenching moments. I amuse myself on a relatively regular basis singing along with various versions I have on CD, turning them up loud enough so that the soloists drown out my more flagrant failures of technique.
Then a phone call the other day – ‘We’d like you to sing in a concert in March, can you pop over and chat about it with us?’ The organisers are good friends (and Mrs Organiser is an excellent baker), so I arrive with lightness of step and smiling happily at the aroma of freshly-baked muffins. I am handed a copy of the proposed programme. The concert is a special one – Number 100 in the series and therefore all participants have been asked to sing or play items which have been performed in previous concerts. I look down at the page, and leaping out at me is my name and Mozart: Alleluia. I suspect I  missed at least a couple of sentences of whatever was next said as I tried to coax my heart-rate down from 220 bpm to something approaching normality.
Part of me was touched by the fact that the organisers just assumed that I am capable of singing it, and singing it well enough to not let the side down. The other part was rapidly calculating the number of days left till concert date. I noted that I was also put down to sing a solo version of Praetorius’ ‘Est ist ein Ros’ entsprungen’ which cheered me up somewhat as I know it is something I can do well – although I will have to learn the German, having only sung it in English.
It’s the coloratura bits  of the Alleluia that worry me – I understand the concept, it’s the execution that is somewhat lacking. Nothing like a deadline though to hasten one’s learning!
And on a happy note, I have my next speech therapy session on Tuesday and have arranged to catch up with ‘Hansel’, the lovely Sarah Courtafterwards. I wonder if she will have any coloratura tips for me?