This week we should have been in the final preparations for a concert on Saturday. It would have been the B minor Mass by Bach. We will be listening to this recorded performance sometime on Saturday. (I would love to have the confidence to conduct from memory!)

At this time of year our thoughts turn to remembering departed loved ones (All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance etc.) so this week we are looking at a movement of the Requiem by Fauré. Hold in your thoughts Christine Franks (wife of Terry Franks, one time chairman of the Society) who died this week.

Last Saturday we watched on BBC a broadcast from The Coliseum, London of the Mozart Requiem. You can catch it on iPlayer, it is well worth watching to see how professionals cope with social distancing and encouraging that one day we can get back to performing.

In this week’s technical work we are focussing on Breathing. Experienced singing teachers tell me that most vocal problems are solved by correcting posture or breathing so it is very important. Here is the video, please watch.

Fauré is my favourite setting of the Requiem. It is the first major work that I remember singing at the age of 9 with the school choir; conducted by Kenneth Beard with Don Fox playing the organ and my father singing the solos. I have sung the Pie Jesu as a treble, all four parts of the chorus, conducted it several times and played the accompaniment on the piano. I particularly remember the “come and sing” performance that we hosted to raise money for the victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami several years ago.

It was quite an early work of Fauré’s. The composer said of the work, “Everything I managed to entertain by way  of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is  dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in  eternal rest.” He told an interviewer, “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby  of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an  aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience.  The music of Gounod  has been criticised for its inclination towards human tenderness. But  his nature predisposed him to feel this way: religious emotion took this  form inside him. Is it not necessary to accept the artist’s nature? As  to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from  what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying  burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write  something different.”

I have selected a performance with French performers for you to listen to. Please listen carefully to the Latin pronunciation; the French have a slightly differing approach to the “e” and “u” vowels and some of the voiced consonants. The Agnus Dei is at 22′ 36″. It is, however, worth listening to the whole performance – it is very good.

Here is my rehearsal video

Have fun.

“He that shall endure to the end.”

So Frustrating!

So we’ve been locked down for a month-it is very frustrating.

We have been working very hard to try to get some of you singing live. The stumbling block has been finding a suitable venue willing to accommodate us. Thanks to Peter and Alison Sutherland we have negotiated use of the Southwell Scout Hut and had arranged to have a rehearsal next week! Good news is that everything is in place so that we can pick up the baton after 2nd December (DV). The Scout Hut is a well lit and ventilated space with parking. There are one or two downsides in that it is only available on a Tuesday evening and there is only room for 16 singers plus Brian and me.

As we go into lockdown we will have a choir zoom meeting at 7:30 pm on Monday, 9th November so that we can see and talk to each other. The invitation will be sent separately later in the week.

In the mean time we’ll keep singing. For the next few weeks I am picking choruses from the standard oratorio repertoire to examine. This week I have chosen He that shall endure to the end from Elijah. There are a number of reasons for the choice. It is an appropriate text as we go into restrictions that will necessitate endurance for many and we need reminding that there will be an end. Secondly, it is short and very approachable for those who may not have sung Elijah. Thirdly, it will remind us of that memorable occasion when Sir Willard White sang the title role to a packed Minster.

If you have your own score it is number 32 (page 155 in the Novello edition), if not here it is.
Start by listening to a performance by The Gabrielli Consort conducted by Paul McCreesh. If you need help with the notes here are some audio files.


Over the next few weeks in Technical Work I will be focussing on one aspect of technique. This week it is “posture”, next time it will be “breathing” etc.

Now watch the rehearsal

I know that some of you enjoy singing remotely and for some of you it is not what you want, but I ask that you watch the videos at least so that when we do get back together I can refer back to them and you won’t be left behind.

Have fun and keep safe.

Retrograde Inversion

Next time: Faure Requiem

Free the Lockdown Voice

Welcome to your first vocal work out of the “season”.

I have entitled this Free the Lockdown Voice as I am aware that many of you won’t have sung for a long time.

There are two videos for you to work through this week. The first one is technical work to enable you rediscover your voice; it concludes with a sing through of Every Time I Feel the Spirit that you learned in the Summer.

During the Summer I experienced a webinar led by Will Todd, the composer of Mass in Blue and our Margaret Austen Singing Day leader in 2021. The second video is a result of that workshop introducing you to his Modal Doodles. I hope that you enter into the spirit of the videos and enjoy taking part.

Here is Free the Lockdown Voice. You will also need the music of Every Time I Feel the Spirit.

Here is Modal Doodle: Dorian. You will also need this sheet of Jazz Modes.

Many thanks to those who completed the Return to Singing survey. There were 47 responses: 13 of you wanted to return; 6 maybe and 28 said that weren’t ready yet. Since then the situation in the country and locally has changed; some of you may have altered your response.

For those that still want sing together the good news is that whether we remain in Tier 2 or go into Tier 3 the regulations allow for organised, covid secure activities to take place in covid secure venues, subject to obeying guidance and advice. I was hoping that we could meet in the Methodist Church but they have revised their position and can’t let us in now – so you will have to watch this space.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in for the A.G.M. to ensure that we have a Society and a committee for the next year.

Enjoy a sing this week and I will be back weekly (more or less) through November and the first two weeks of December.

Ready to return?

Many thanks to the 25 or so members who took part in Monday’s zoom meeting. A lot of interesting, relevant discussion took place. Here is a recording of the evening for anyone who wants to watch. My multi-tasking skills weren’t up to managing the waiting room and recording so the beginning of each meeting is missing.

Here is the current regulation regarding amateur singing:

Confirmed that from 14 September non-professional performing arts activity, including choirs, orchestras or drama groups can continue to rehearse or perform together where this is planned activity in line with the performing arts guidance and if they can do so in a way that ensures that there is no interaction between groups of more than 6 at any time. If an amateur group is not able to ensure that no mingling takes place between these sub-groups of no more than 6 (including when arriving at or leaving activity or in any breaks or socialising) then such non-professional activity should not take place.

The meeting decided that all members should be surveyed to find out how many would like to return to singing. Please complete this simple four question survey, especially if you are keen to return, before the committee meets on 30th September. If you don’t respond it will be assumed that you are not ready to return but the more responses that we get the more informed we can be.

I refer you to the last Notes from the Podium and stress that nothing will be put in place until all risk assessed measures are in place and we can be sure that our activity is as safe as possible. It was also decided that we wouldn’t meet on 28th September.

The plan for the foreseeable future:

30th September – committee meeting followed by communication of the relevant decisions from the Chairman. 

w/c 5th October – resumption of singing through Notes from the Podium. I am aware that some of you won’t have sung for long time and will be losing “condition”.

12th October – A.G.M. online

19th October – Choir Zoom meeting which may include some singing activity supported by off-line material for those who don’t zoom.

Keep safe and try do some some vocalisation of some sort.

A light on the horizon?

Welcome to a new season of Notes from the Podium. I hope that everyone’s Summer was as enjoyable as circumstances allowed. It has been a difficult Summer for all of us, not least your committee who have been working hard on your behalf. My personal thanks to them all.

You will have received Eileen’s letter earlier this week in which she said that the committee had met last Monday. At that meeting a plan for the resumption of some singing was worked out. Since then the government has issued new guidelines and restrictions that appear to disrupt the plan along with a marked increase in infections nationwide that has affected people’s confidence.

The Association of British Choral Directors and Making Music have informed us that the new restrictions may not apply to leisure groups meeting in covid secure venues with detailed risk assessments. More information will come out on Monday that may well give us the flexibility to make our own decisions or tie our hands even further.

In spite of all that I wish to share with you the plan so that we can discuss it and be prepared to implement it as soon as circumstances allow.

Here is the plan:

We will start with a choir Zoom meeting at 7:30 on Monday, 21st September giving us opportunity to inform, question and comment on whatever the situation is at that point. (It can’t be earlier as Vicky and I are away 13th to 20th September). I hope that as many people as possible will be able to join us. The link to the meeting will be sent separately. The meeting will be recorded and made available to everyone. If you can’t attend please pass any questions, comments etc. to a member of the committee or me. Some of you are desperate to sing “live” again; some of you are understandably reluctant to take the risk at the moment and some will need reassurance that measures are put in place to minimise risk before committing.

I must emphasise that each of us has responsibility for our own safety and to the rest of the group and must make our personal decisions in that context. 

Monday, 28th September the first live meeting. (This will probably have to be reviewed/postponed).

The Minster have informed us that the State Chamber will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. The plan is that we will use the Methodist Church to start with. When we can go ahead we will have to check that the Methodist Church would still be happy for us to go in and that it is covid safe. There will be a restriction on numbers. Personally, I would be uncomfortable with anything over 30 (although current regulations allow more). We might have to consider two “sittings”.

Initially my proposal is that we meet for no more than an hour; that we maintain a minimum of 2 metres distance and not sing at full volume; wear masks on arrival but make an individual choice when singing.  (I won’t wear a mask in rehearsal but will be 3 metres away from the nearest singer.) There should be no sharing of music, pencils or anything else. Only one person in a toilet at any time. The venue will have its own risk assessment ensuring that everything is clean before we go in and when we leave there will be things that we have to do to help keep it safe.

There are other things to think of:

There will have to be system in place to record who is present.

How do we (I) react if more than 30 people want to come?

Repertoire and copies.

Not everyone will be allowed to come and there will be those who don’t want to come at the moment. Rehearsals will be recorded; I am looking into cost effective ways of live streaming so that those who are unable to attend can remain connected. I will also provide lockdown-style Notes from the Podium, but perhaps not every week.

We need to remain alert and flexible.

There will be no completely risk free solution; everyone is free to make their own decisions. Your committee is risk aware but not risk averse.

Over the past month I have lost count of the hours that I have spent reading guidance, advice, scientific research papers and all sorts of “fake news”. The other weekend we had an Association of British Choral Directors virtual Festival at which we heard at length from respected authorities on this issue and I am attending a webinar on the latest developments on 12th September. I feel that I am personally well informed to help keep us all as safe as possible.

Everything will be place for us to enjoy meeting and singing together, even if it is not as we knew it, as soon as possible.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions and comments.

I am excited at the prospect of meeting you in person and making music, I hope that you are as well and that it can be soon.

In the Summer Time

We are now into holiday season, even though it doesn’t seem much changed from the daily routine at the moment, so this will be the last Notes from the Podium for the season. I will take a few weeks off to assess the situation and come up with a plan to keep us all connected in September.

It doesn’t look like there has been much progress towards singing together in person so I have to devise something that will keep us interested from week to week but will have the flexibility to adapt to an ever changing situation. Any suggestions, ideas etc. are most welcome, it is a new situation for us all.

In the meantime there is plenty of material in the Notes from the Podium since March for you to revisit and to keep your vocal chords in trim. There is also lots of material on line to explore, if you find anything good let me know.

Your committee met by Zoom on Monday evening. Eileen will be communicating with you at the end of the month but there are one or two points to mention.

The Minster and the State Chamber will be closed to all musical activities until at least January; which includes our rehearsals, concert and Carols for Everyone. At the moment we are planning to resume singing in the New Year …but….we will have to be alert and flexible. We can’t go ahead with anything until government guidelines permit. As soon as we can we will start to meet in small groups for short sessions in spacious, well ventilated venues (any ideas?). My hope is that we can at least meet for some socially distanced open air informal Carol Singing in December. There will be another members zoom session in September for a catch up and pooling of ideas.

The A.G.M. will be held online on the second Monday in October. Three committee members will reach the end of their term of office and will need replacing.

Vicky and I went down to Cheddar for a week to catch up with Matthew and his family and this week we are spending a few days in York to see Edward who, being an actor/musician has not worked since January. I hope that you all are managing to keep in touch with your loved ones and that you have a good Summer.

Keep safe, keep healthy, keep singing and smile.

See you soon.

Where do we go from here?

It was great to see so many of you at our zoom meeting on Monday. The discussion as interesting and I came away very encouraged that so many of you are keen to get back singing as soon as possible even if in reduced circumstances. For those of you who weren’t able to join us it was recorded and can be viewed here. There were about 25 attendees all told; thank you all for your interest and contribution.

We discussed the possibility of meeting to sing in the open air or in a large barn space. There was some confusion as to what was allowed. I have since studied the government guidance on the performing arts. The relevant statements are:

Organisations have a duty of care to volunteers and non-professionals to ensure as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
It is against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces).
Singing and playing wind and brass instruments, especially in groups, are considered higher risk activities because of the potential for aerosol production and the absence presently of developed scientific analysis to assess this specific risk.

The full guidance can be read here.

As a result I’m afraid that at the moment we can’t take the risk of any kind of meeting until the guidance is updated. Thans to Cathy for the offer of a venue.

In the mean time I will review all of the suggestions that came out of the meeting and with your committee work out a strategy so that as soon as the guidance is relaxed we can sing together.

Vicky and I are taking the caravan down to Cheddar, near Matthew, this week so there won’t be any Notes from the Podium next week.

Iris – Vicky’s latest painting

Sometimes I feel

Well, here we are, July already. I hope that everyone is keeping safe as restrictions begin to ease.

Those in high places have, at last, begun to address the Arts with the money announced to support professional organisations and venues. It may mean some progress on a resumption of amateur music making, but don’t hold your breath. Last week I promised a zoom session; it will happen next Monday 13th July from 7:00. It will be an opportunity to meet and share thoughts on what has happened so far and explore what may or may not happen going forward. A link will be sent out at the end of this week.

Thanks to those who have attempted to record Sing with me. I would like a few more before compiling something. You can do as much, or as little as you can. There are four repetitions on the master track; you don’t have to fill all of it. If you just do one I can copy and paste it as necessary. The final version may well be longer!

Feel the spirit is full of very resonant themes for today. This week I want to share Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. This tune has a lot of interpretations and has contemporary relevance, search YouTube and you will find some. In John Rutter’s version (pages 8 and 9 of the sample pages) the soloist features but all the chorus sings the tune at some point. 

I have concocted a “sing-a-long” version for you to learn the tune. The music is here and the audio is here.

In the audio there are the two printed verses plus an extra in which you can repeat the first verse, make your own up, join in with my improvised humming or just take a rest. The chorus is repeated at the end.


Sing a song of love

100 days of COVID-19. I hope that you are all well and doing some sort of singing. The news has been full of the beginnings of some scientific research which I hope will clarify the singing situation. I am going to set up a zoom session (non-singing) at some time during July for anyone that wants to join and chat informally about the situation.

This week we are looking at the Kyrie of Mass in Blue and there is another recording project.

Mass in Blue Kyrie is on the first four pages of the sample pages. After a couple of pages of scene setting introduction it settles into a straight jazz rhythm. The movement is based on loads of repetitions of an 8 bar chord sequence with a simple minor melody over the top. There is a change of key and mood when the word Christe is introduced. It is largely in unison with countermelodies, Christe is more harmonic.A lot of jazz is constructed like this with a repeated rhythmic and harmonic sequence over which written and improvised strands are woven with varying complexity.

The melody needs to be sung legato and sinuously with very expressive long notes. Sing the opening with the recording and then listen to how the movement unfolds. You should be able to hear the melody coming back and join at various points.

I promised you another opportunity to participate in a collaborative recording. It is a Sing with me by Ken Burton, director of the London Adventist Chorale. There are three separate melodies. Learn just one of them or as many as you like. There are two audio files; one with all the melodies and one with just the piano part. Feel free to record whatever you like, including an improvised part if you like. If you only want to record one section that will be fine.

To make a recording you play the audio track through headphones at a high volume and record yourself singing along on phone, tablet or computer then send me the resulting file.

Have fun.

Striding up the mountain

Hope that you are enjoying the return of the sun; prepare for downpours tomorrow.

You will all have received a letter from Eileen this week outlining where the committee stand after our virtual meeting last week. It is a great sadness that we have had to further postpone the Verdi Requiem. We have all invested so much time and energy on it: I am anxious to reassure you that I am determined that we will perform it at the earliest available opportunity.

In preparation for last week’s meeting I submitted my thoughts on the immediate future to the committee which informed some of the decisions. You can read it here, it may help you to better understand the situation.

Thanks to those brave souls who submitted recordings of Saints Go Marching. I have spent a happy hour putting them all together with the following result – it’s not bad for a first attempt. Some people said it was fun so I’ll put another one out next week. I hope that a few more of you will have a go this time.

I’ve not yet decided what the piece will be but there might be an opportunity to use skill learned from this weeks Improvisation session. Please have a go and have some fun.
Here are the words for the Improvisation:

Striding up the mountain Sliding down the slope Jumping in the puddles Skating on the ice

To A Wild Rose