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Strange beasts 3

Another lovely day in Vancouver. I am starting to forget that it rains here at all!

For this morning’s rehearsal, I lugged my digital piano to the rehearsal. I set it up so I could stand behind it and play a few notes where needed. The success rate in hitting those notes was a whole lot better than on the inconveniently located piano on my right in the rehearsal room, and my spine was thankful for the lack of twisting and turning.

We got through the most demanding movement of the Bodin suite. I can already imagine how good it will sound. Lots of work to do on both the Bodin and the rest of the program, but I reckon we are going to be good and ready by showtime (Nov 15). It is easy to see that the singers are up for the challenge and enjoying being stretched. And fortunately the music is very rewarding once you get it right.

I was pretty happy with myself after this rehearsal. With music like this, with difficult intervals, rhythms and harmonies, I feel stretched in a completely different way to tonal music, and am much more self-conscious. But I think I caught most of the mistakes, difficulties and insecurities – a few small rhythmic mistakes (in beating) and one missed bass note difficulty, of which the basses were kind enough to report. It helps immensely having worked on the piece before. You have a clearer sense of the piece: how the more difficult harmonies are constructed, where the difficulties lie and overall, what it should sound like. Maybe others are better than me in this, but most of the time I feel I am of so much more use if I have done the piece before. If only one had that luxury all the time…

I am reminded of what Bruno Walter, a great conductor of the first half of the 20th century, said in an interview (we need to forgive him for addressing only men; this was the world in his day): ”…But the poor conductor, he cannot do the same. His instrument is this dragon with 80 heads, or 100 heads, and how should he practice on this instrument, which is at his disposal for the first time when he begins his career?’ Walter was talking about the impossibility of practicing conducting before you actually begin your career, but I think it is the same in preparing new pieces: there just is no choir to practice them on. But I take solace in something he said later in the interview: “…his human qualities have very much to say in this question: if he is a man of warm heart and of sincerity, the musicians, even those who are far superior in regard to routine, will listen to him.” So, on the days when I feel I have water up to my ears and wish I knew the piece even better, I will turn to Walter and be of warm heart and sincerity. And hope to God Bruno knew what he was talking about.


Today is Halloween and I had to get out of the house in case kids started showing up as I had not stacked up on candy (although it seems there is a code: decorated houses and apartments are an invitation for the trick or treatsters to visit). Opportunely, there was an evening rehearsal with the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, a choir that I joined in September. People seem to think it strange that I joined a choir and just want to sing in the back row. But I like singing and I want to keep my singing up. I know how quickly my voice deteriorates if I don’t use it. And I get to study Anglican service music from the inside. The director of music at the Cathedral, organist-composer Rupert Lang, is a wonderful musician and lovely man, incredibly well-versed in the Anglican tradition I have always adored. The music choices are in a way old-fashioned, but I believe it is exactly the tie to tradition that makes the music the choir sings seem relevant. The whole liturgy at the church is very festive and traditional, but the doctrine is modern and inclusive. The perfect church for me.

It will be interesting to see how much of what we have learned in the choir this week will be un-learned, or forgotten before next Tuesday. I’ll take a break from these posts and come back to report on developments next week. Happy Halloween!


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