stapsdoes101things: detail of a hymnbook page showing hymn no. 101, tune 'St Bernard' (101music)
St James, Reading - St John the Baptist

After Mary, Mother of God, the saint who gets the most screentime in the Church's year is St John the Baptist. He has a Sunday in Advent dedicated to him, as well as his death - and his birth. This is good news for the alto in the church choir, because this gives you three, possibly four, opportunities over the course of the year to sing Gibbons' fantastic verse anthem This is the Record of John.

Traditionally this is countertenor territory, but over a number of years a variation has evolved in our choir in which the solo line is split between two altos, one male, one female, in which the narrative parts ('This is the record of John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?, and he confessed and denied not, and said plainly...') are sung by the contralto, representing John the Evangelist, and the parts that John the Baptist says ('I am not the Christ') are sung by the countertenor. This sounds as if it should be terribly awkward, but it actually works very well, giving the anthem the feeling of an oratorio in miniature.

I should have sung this in Advent, at the Advent Carol Service and then on the third Sunday. I'm not being bolshy: I actually was down to sing it, but I got the 'flu and had no voice until Christmas, which was immensely frustrating. This, however, is where John the Baptist and his plethora of festivals come in handy. Today is the feast of the birth of John the Baptist; it's a major saint's day and he gets a collect and appropriate readings. And an anthem.

I was terrified, and, unusually for me, became more terrified as the piece went on. I fluffed most of my entries but the director covered those lapses, and made a fairly decent sound on the whole. I have received a number of compliments, anyway, so I think the congregation didn't notice the bad bits. On balance I'm feeling reasonably good about how I did. And what better piece than this to end this goal?
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a rose window (101church)
Church = Theatre

February in our church is a month of mixed frustration, curiosity and wonder. It's the month when the Guildford Shakespeare Company moves in and transforms the building into a theatre. For three weeks the vestry is full of velvet and lace and metal crates, choir practice happens in the parish hall, huge lights appear in unexpected places, and half the church is inaccessible. Seventeenth century English crops up a lot. Depending on the sort of church you're used to, some of that might be normal. Some of it, not so much. It is all par for the course when every day of those three weeks, Sundays excepted, is going to see a performance of some Shakespearean tragedy.

Anyway, I do make a point of going to the performances. (I keep meaning to go to GSC's summer performances, too, which are outdoors, but I've never yet got round to it.) This year's tragedy is Richard III, a play I had a passing acquaintance with. (Read it twice, spent a couple of hours teaching time on it at university, seen the Ian McKellan film.) This was a convincing performance, set in goodness knows when (Richmond appears in desert combats and a pristine white trench coat crawling with gold braid, sometimes both at the same time) and that not mattering at all.

What struck me particularly this time round was the extent to which Richard makes the audience complicit in his plot - and it is his plot, in more ways than one. He is the only person who seems to be able to tell us what is going on in this twisted mess of Woodvilles and Plantagenets, and so we cling to him almost gratefully, no matter that we know exactly who he is and what he's in it for. (Except, of course, we don't.) Because, to tell the truth, none of the other characters is a paragon of virtue, not until they're dead. Even the young Duke of York is a horrible little brat.

And then Richard loses us. He has to, and then poor old Richmond has to do his best not to look like a deus ex machina. In this performance it happened in the scene with Buckingham and the crowd (enter Richard between two priests and all that). It was clever. They made us the crowd. It's all very well to watch other people being manipulated, but when it's happening to you, and you can see it happening, they tend to lose your sympathy.

If it sounds as if this was all about Richard, well, it was, really. He was made, as I've hinted, a very engaging character - a relatively young actor, with a wonderfully twisted sense of fun about him. After him Queen Margaret stands out most in my mind, and then Elizabeth Woodville. (There is, after all, a small advantage to female underrepresentation, and those two really are fantastic characters. I would love there to be more about Margaret.)

The church setting lends itself very well to use as a theatre. Though it's two hundred years later than Shakespeare, the subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) use of the church fixtures and decorations works helpfully to frame the action within the Christian-centric society that Shakespeare portrays. (I will be impressed, though, if they ever do Antony and Cleopatra in there.)

In other news, I've just received the programme for the retreat I'll be going on in March. It looks good. And I had a solo verse in a responsorial psalm on Sunday.
stapsdoes101things: detail of a hymnbook page showing hymn no. 101, tune 'St Bernard' (101music)
28 April 2011

The Girl Choristers did their first Evensong with us this Sunday. They haven't yet got to grips with chants and pointing and all that sort of thing, so we did a responsorial psalm. (These are much easier: the congregation learns a response, which is the same every time, and the hard work is done by a cantor or cantors.)

The way solos work in our choir, at least for little things like verses in responsorial psalms, is that the musical director asks for volunteers, and there are about six people who are usually up for it. That's how I got my last solo. The director of the Girl Choristers is new, though, and hasn't got to grips with this system, so she didn't ask.

It so happened that when I was hanging around in the vestry after the service, minding my own business and waiting to sign up on the absence sheet, there were four people left, three of the usual suspects, and me. And there were four verses to the psalm, and well, it just seemed easier...

Well, it's the asking that terrifies me, not the singing. Once my partner had helped me out with a jump up to a D (just where there's a break in my voice) it was dead easy. I've got my head around the way the organist accompanies responsorial psalms now, and it felt good. I had a few compliments, too, which was pleasing, and one was from one of the girls, which was particularly nice.

On the one hand, this hasn't helped my conviction that if people really wanted me to sing, they'd ask me. On the other, every time I sing in front of people I grow in confidence, and maybe it'll become easier for me to volunteer as time goes on.
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101travel)
17 March 2011

It took me three years to work up the nerve, but: on Thursday, when our musical director was handing out solo verses in the responsorial psalm, I asked for one. And I got it. And, on Sunday morning, I sang it. I actually have no recollection of what it sounded like, but various parties assure me that it was OK.

In the sanctuary I come to you
To behold your glory and might
To know your love is better than life itself
Therefore my lips will praise your name.


I rather suspect that the remaining three will be considerably less terrifying.

On Sunday I also gave my father a ring, and got some advice from him as to what I should go and look at when I'm in Leeds. (When am I in Leeds? This weekend. I'm going up on Saturday, have Sunday and Monday to do what I like with, and then have a course on Tuesday and Wednesday, going home on Wednesday night. I can do quite a lot in that time.)

It turns out that most of the interesting stuff (houses my ancestors lived in, and so forth) is in Leeds, not Bradford, though I should be able to go to Bradford and find what used to be the works pretty easily. I could also, if I have the time, go to Harrogate and see if I can find 'Melcombe', my great-grandparents' house.

I hadn't realised how terrifyingly wealthy my great-great-grandfather must have been. He seems to have owned a lot of the city at one time (Harehills, the park) and then given it to the city. This gives me a reasonable chance to get a proper look at some of it.

I may find a church to mystery-worship on Sunday morning. I'll certainly take a train over to York at Sunday lunchtime and meet up with a very dear friend. It will be a busy few days, but, in between panicking about how ill-prepared I am, I'm really looking forward to it.
stapsdoes101things: detail of a hymnbook page showing hymn no. 101, tune 'St Bernard' (101music)
David, Miriam

What's this about?

I'm a committed member of my church choir, singing (in a typical week, in termtime) two services on Sunday and a practice on Thursday. Our repertoire covers most of the standards of the [Anglican] English choral tradition, not to mention a few things that no other church choir in the country is known to have touched, swinging happily between about 1550 and 2010. Occasionally there's an opportunity to sing a few solo lines or a solo verse. I'd like to take up such opportunities.


Why do I want to do this?

Singing is an important part of my life in both sacred and secular contexts. I'm not a great singer - but I'm not actually a bad one; I'm just very underconfident (it comes of living all your life with people who sing your own part better than you do). I want to force myself out of my comfort zone.


How will I know when it's done?

I will have sung a stretch of music at least four bars long, either alone or in an ensemble small enough that my voice can be clearly distinguished and attributed to me, in the course of worship, four times.


I'll record this in this journal, probably on this post.

August 2013

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