Choral Holidays - Singing in wonderful locations

Posted under: "General Blog Post"

Apr 16, 08:37 PM

Milton Abbey 2012 - A Wonderful Weekend

We’ve just returned from this year’s Milton Abbey weekend, and what a wonderful weekend it was.

Twenty five guests joined us for a weekend of music making in Milton Abbey, a hidden gem of a venue: wonderful countryside, fabulous food, great atmosphere, lovely grounds and, of course, the Abbey Church, with its amazing acoustic.

We began with coffee on Saturday morning and began work at 12.00.
Rehearsals took place mostly in the Abbey, but even with the glorious sunshine and clear blue skies that we are becoming accustomed to in an English April, the Abbey can get a bit nippy, so we also has some rehearsal time in the Kings room, surrounded by portraits of Kings and nobility who have a connection with the Abbey’s past.

It is the intention of both Choral Holidays and of Milton Abbey that this should become an annual event, and with this in mind, it was heartening to see the numbers so much increased from last year. We had 11 sopranos, 6 altos, 4 tenors and 4 basses and, there were some strong singers in each voice part, which was, I know, much appreciated by the less experienced people.

Some of the music was tricky, some of it simple. All of it sounded glorious. The Preces and Responses by Alan Knight are largely based around a simple formula which enables people who are less confident to pick it up easily. The simple variations, as they move on, allow everyone to develop their confidence by having a go in small steps.

The introit, This Joyful Eastertide, in this arrangement by Charles Wood, was known by quite a number of the singers. But with use of simple variations, according to text and the mood we wanted to create, it became new and thrilling.

The magnificat and nunc dimittis were by T. Tertius Noble in the Key of B minor. I must admit, I had some misgivings about using these because they are probably the most over used set of canticles for church choirs, other than Stanford in Bb. They are however wonderful pieces with a chance for each voice part to shine. Luckily, only a couple of people with in the choir had sung them before, and so we were able to approach them in a new and fresh way; using all the drama that Noble has worked into his music.

The anthem was C.V Stanford’s stirring “Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, your sweetest notes employ” which seemed appropriate both for the holiday and for the Easter season. It allows everyone to have a good old sing but has it’s tricky moments too. Everybody rose to the challenge.

In many ways the highpoint was the psalm. We used psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, to the famous chant by Thomas Walmisley. When sung well psalms can be the most beautiful part of the liturgy. This was especially so in this acoustic. I’m tempted to try to run a holiday on psalm singing and plainchant at the abbey.

During practice, we tried an interesting experiment. Within each vocal line we had a number of people who would consider themselves leaders in their own choir. This was marvellous as confidence inspires confidence. However, especially within the psalm, there was a slight tendency for people to naturally try to lead rather than work with their fellow singers. So, once I was confident that everyone had got the psalm learned, I got them to sing it, facing each other, with no lead from me. The change in the tone, the harmony and the warmth of the sound was wonderful to behold. This was psalm singing and music making as it should be, with everybody working together.

The service finished off with the hymn, The day thou gavest Lord is ended, which is fast becoming an appropriate end theme to our holidays.

I really enjoyed working with this group of people. We all made new friends and we all enjoyed working together. The feedback has been lovely.

Look out for dates for next year’s Milton Abbey Holiday which will be advertised soon.

 

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