On rehearsing our new commission, Part 1: “I, Choir”
Lara: One of the most exciting elements of our 30th Anniversary celebrations this season that Mina and I share with you now, is the commission piece, being written for us by Richard Thomas, the artistic evil genius behind Jerry Springer, The Opera. After having worked previously with this notorious potty-mouth of a composer, there has certainly been an air of curious hubbubadry within the choir over the last few weeks. It was only recently that the first part of Richard’s 3-movement work was completed and released ‘unto the hounds’ as it were, much to our insatiable intrigue. Finally we were to discover the meaning behind numerous post-it note exercises used to write the piece itself, in which we were asked by Richard to answer several specific questions about being in a choir.
Part 1: I, Choir seems indeed to offer an extension of just that: an introduction into the choir as an entity, including what it can express, explore, create, and what it can draw out of an audience. In a style that reminds me somewhat of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Mr. Thomas has laid down his own simple yet effective modern day highway into the heart and soul of what it means to be a choir.
Mina: Our first taste of this slice of what looks set to be an epic tower of musical gateau was at the rehearsal directly after Choir Strategy Day (future planning, idea-storming and Victoria Sponge), where our hallowed MD Murray introduced it as “brilliant… very funny… a little bit rude… but not very”.
Upon distribution of sheet music and a few sly glances at what was to come before we started to sing, the room rapidly filled with a ripple of appreciative titters, mutters of, “Oh… i can can see the ‘f’ word already…” followed by shouts of laughter when the ‘c’ word was spotted in all its glory. (No, dear reader, not that ‘c’ word. You’ll just have to wait till the concert on the 13th of July to find out!)
We spent the entire first half of our practice on it, negotiating its peculiarities, twists and turns (of which there are many, believe me) and flinching when some of us altos hit a high F we barely even knew existed. By 3:30, break-time, it was already sounding pretty good, though at this point many Pinkie minds were drifting somewhat, mainly back towards the tea and cake left over from the morning’s brain scratching and waiting for us in the other room… no names mentioned.
Opinions bandied around over caffeine/sugar-based refreshments and maybe the odd fag break (who would have suspected there’d be smokers among such a crowd of sweet-voiced angels, eh?) were a little divided but overwhelmingly delighted. However, after a few more goes at it, both that day and the following week, most found that the piece was growing on them (rather like notational warts, or perhaps some kind of bizarre key-changing fungus).
It’s certainly a daring piece and one which combines a new style with new techniques, but this season is all about trying new styles, flavours and hues (of pink, of course) after all!
Lara: Indeed, it seems that already members’ opinions are continuing to evolve as we familiarise ourselves with its unique little quirkisms, and there seems to be a lot of positivity and excitement.
Simon ‘you’re-the-one-that-I-want’ Harrison, the Big Daddy-O-Isn’t-She-Lovely of the tenor section, told us that the piece ‘captures so much of what we are: cheeky, funny, a bit showy offy, really really talented and a bit competitive.’ Whilst Rachel I-Bet-That-You-Look-Good-On-The-Dance-Floor ‘Sparkle Fairy’ Sparks of the awesome Artistic Team added that she was finding it easy to learn, plus she giggled a lot and ‘found even more funny things on the second reading.’ There are certainly a lot of little jokes hidden both within the text of the piece, and in the actual musical structure itself, including a fine demonstration of our extremely skilful ability to chatter endlessly in rehearsals…truly a rare and well-crafted gift.
Mina: Further comments extracted from Pinkies now range from how much they’re enjoying it, loving how “pedestrian yet utterly outrageous” the lyrics are and its witty simplicity that will appeal to the musically knowledgeable whilst remaining accessible to unmusical audience members, to whether there will/should be cake at future rehearsals (and whether a certain ukulele-twanging ne’er-do-well would scoff most of it again), to what the next bite of the commission will be like. Joyfully anarchic and bonkers as I, Choir? A stepping-stone to an entirely new level of madness? A sombre, doom-laden polar opposite? Epic and anthemic? Or… something completely different?
Whatever it is, yours truly suspects it will be nothing short of fabulous; but we all know by now to “expect the unexpected” from Richard. (Yes, sometimes only such clichéd oxymorons are the only way to – ahem – “describe the indescribable”. Oh, do stop.) But we Pinkies are certainly united in our breathless anticipation and curiosity, that’s for certain, as we hope you, dear Future Member of the Audience, are too.