Good News! (but it might change)

September is here and time to look forward to a new season!

I wrote this on 8th September. This morning (9th September) Government have given notice of new restrictions which may affect this.

In the light of changed guidance and advice your committee met (on line) last week to discuss how we might resume singing together.

THERE IS A PLAN!

Timeline:

8:00 pm Friday, 11th September – Choir members Zoom meeting, open to all 7:45 pm Friday, 25th September – Proposed first live meeting at Woodborough Village Hall

We will start with a choir members’ Zoom meeting this Friday at 8:00. This will be an opportunity to chat together to clarify any questions and issues. I hope that as many people as possible will be able to join us. The link to the meeting will be sent separately. 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.

At this stage 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. 

Mary has worked hard on everyone’s behalf to produce a choir risk assessment which you can all access here. If there is anything that you want added please raise it on Friday or contact Mary.

Our biggest problem to resolve is that of venue. Neither of our regular venues is large enough to maintain social distancing. Fortunately Cathy has secured us Woodborough Village Hall for our first few meetings. It is a large, well ventilated room with a spacious entrance foyer and facilities. Thanks to Cathy, Mary and John Pope who have helped research possible venues.

Initially my proposal is that we meet for no more than an hour; that we maintain a minimum of 2 metres distance; stand/sit in a straightish line 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.) We will have to forego our post rehearsal fellowship so bring your own refreshment if required. There should be no sharing of music, pencils or anything else. Only one person in a toilet at any time. Woodborough Village Hall has its own risk assessment ensuring that everything is clean before we go in and when we leave there are things that we have to do to help keep it safe.

I also propose that we meet fortnightly. There are reasons for this. Several of us are in high risk groups so two weeks between meetings will give opportunity for any Covid issues to resolve. Not all of you will attend so in the intervening weeks I will provide a lockdown-style Nick’s Notes that everyone can access. I am looking into cost effective ways of recording or live streaming rehearsals so that those who are unable to attend can remain connected.

There is 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”. This last weekend we had an Association of British Choral Directors virtual Festival at which we heard at length from respected authorities on this issue. I feel that I am personally well informed to help keep us all as safe as possible.

Everything is in place for us to enjoy meeting and singing together even if it is not as we knew it yet.

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.

We’re all going on a Summer Holiday

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 Nick’s Notes of the season. I am taking a few weeks off to assess the situation and come up with a plan for 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 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.

The Long Bennington on Concert is still in the pipeline but no further in the planning. A reminder that the proposed dates are 8th May or 22nd May. So far three people have indicated unavailability for one date or the other; if anyone else becomes unavailable please let me know as soon as you know please – we may have to negotiate another date.

Thanks to those who sent recordings of April is in my mistress’ face which has come out better than the last one. It includes contributions from Nick Milburn on both the tenor and bass part plus Catherine, Mary, Rhoda, Ruth, Vicky (twice), me, John Hardcastle and John Draper. Well done everyone.

April is in my Mistress’ face

Vicky and I went down to Cheddar for a week to catch up with Matthew and his family. Next week we are spending a few days in York to see Edward who, being an actor/musician has not worked since January.

Jane Poat has sent a link to video of Underneath the Stars featuring Lizzie. They are allowed to sing, socially distanced, in Ireland. The arrangement is lovely, and available. More suggestions for repertoire please.

Have a good summer and I’ll be back in September.

Locus Iste

This week we are looking at Locus Iste by Bruckner. It was written for the dedication of the votive chapel of Linz Cathedral in 1869. When he wrote this Bruckner was a professor of harmony in Vienna. As a piece it is often compared to Mozart Ave verum. The notes of Locus Iste are not difficult but it is not so easy to sing.


I have selected a performance by Tenebrae for you to watch. This performance is a bit slower than I would like, it is marked Allegro moderato which implies to me a little more movement. The virtue of this video is that the way that it is shot affords excellent opportunity to examine the technique and mouth shapes of the singers. In my video I refer explicity to the bass in bars 8-9 and the section at 2’ 38.

Here is the text:

Locus iste a Deo factus est,inaestimabile sacramentum,irreprehensibilis est.This place was made by God,a priceless sacrament;it is without reproach.[1]
Iris – Vicky’s latest painting.

Something to look forward to

Another week goes by and more restrictions are being lifted so please be careful. Rhoda, Nancy and Ruth live close to Leicester, but not in the lockdown zone, so we hope that they can stay safe.

Congratulations to Dominic Pierce-Brown on obtaining his MSc.

The people from Long Bennington Church have been in touch asking if we can rearrange the concert that we were to do in March for Saturday, 8th May 2021, with a reserve date of 22nd May. I have replied positively with the proviso that we will be meeting before then. It will be good to have something to aim for. The good thing is that we can use most of the programme that we were preparing.

Your committee is meeting on Tuesday next week; if you have anything to raise contact Rhoda, Mary or Cathy.

Thanks to those who have submitted recordings of April is in my mistress’ face. There aren’t enough to put together yet so I’ll wait a bit longer.

For this week’s singing we’ll revise Elgar Happy Eyes and Serenade. The notes of these were secure so there is only a full audio track of each one. A reminder that Elgar is meticulous with his markings so please pay attention to those. Although the notes are repeated from verse to verse the words are not and have different emphasis and mood.

Happy Eyes
Serenade

And July in her eyes

Some really hot days this week, I hope everyone managed to keep cool.

People are beginning to see relatives and friends that have been off limits since March; we had an appropriately socially distanced visit from Ed and his girlfriend this week.

More activities are being sanctioned but singing is still off the agenda for the moment; as soon as we have the green light something will happen. (Let’s hope that it is before harvest!)

I spent a pleasant hour or so compiling the recordings that have been sent in so here is Newstead Abbey Singers first virtual recording of Nada te turbe featuring Catherine, Mary, Ruth, Rhoda, Vicky, John D and me.  

Something different this week, a little madrigal – April is in my mistress’ face. It is page 24 in the Oxford Book of English Madrigals, which most of you will have somewhere. For those who don’t have it (Nancy, Marguerite, Ruth?) and those who can’t find it here is a copy

An Elizabethan love song with a bit of a sting in the tale it needs to be sung lightly with a sense of the changing seasons. Just sing it for fun but I would like to do a virtual recording of this. Here is the audio track. You know the routine and hopefully more of you can pluck up the courage this time.

Have a good week.

To a Wild Rose

Haec Dies

Hope that everyone is safe this week.

The weather this week has affected some of us. Rhoda and Ellie have reported floods; relatively minor but inconvenient none the less. We have, optimistically, booked a caravan site for mid-July near Matthew so that we see them.

As restrictions begin to be eased our thoughts turn to how and when we might be able to meet again. Cathy has offered to host a sing in the open air or in one of their spacious and airy barns, which we went and inspected on Friday. When we feel it is safe we’ll organise something. Hopefully we will be able to get together regularly in the Autumn but will have to assess risk and maybe rethink some of our procedures. Fingers crossed.

Some more Nada te turbe recordings have arrived which I have started to stitch together. Altos, don’t be shy it would be nice to have some company. It is, however, showing how much we need the physical presence of others to sing together!

This week we look at Haec Dies in a bit more detail. Here are the relevant links:

Rehearsal video

Performance video

Have a good week and enjoy the return of the sun.

Wake up, Sun . . . . you can reappear!

 I’ve had enough of this cold weather now.

Cathy and John have wecomed the rain, but it has come too late to save the crops apparently.

Catherine has sent this link to face masks that  Imogen is involved with, they are reusable, cotton, reversible and £5 each, please support if you can.

Rhoda is still marking like crazy, Mary has been helping Ellie with PPE and Vicky has been getting very frustrated with technology.

Thanks to those sopranos who have responded to the Nada the turbe challenge, but I haven’t any alto, tenor or bass contributions yet.

I want to get Haec Dies by Byrd back into the repertoire. It is in Tudor Anthems p.84. 

S1- Catherine, Cathy, Mary; S2 – Ellie (I think you sang this part before), Rhoda, Ruth; A – Jane, Vicky, Nancy, Marguerite; T1 – David, John H (it is lower than T2); T2 – Renwick, (Nick); B – John D, John P


The text is a Gradual response for Easter Day and is an expression of joy.

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus:exultemus et laetemur in ea,alleluya. This is the day which the Lord hath made:let us be glad and rejoice therein.Alleluia

There are three distinct sections to the piece. The first section bubbles with excitement; with a change of meter the second section dances with joy and then you get a long, stately Alleluia section. Notewise it is relatively straightforward but there are rhythmic challenges in the second section, especially bars 39-41 when the excitement appears to overflow.

There are lots of performances to listen to. I have chosen one from The Sixteen

which is a reasonable speed and is not over stylised. I leave you to have a look at the notes this week and we’ll look in more detail next time. Here are the usual audio files:

Full Soprano 1 Soprano 2 Alto Tenor 1 Tenor 2 Bass

Have a good week, I hope that it warms up.

Sicut te turbe

Another week goes by and we are still here. The change in the weather over the last couple of days has been a bit extreme. It should have been the Gate to Southwelll Festival this weekend, they would have been cursing.

Two different things for you this week. 
Firstly Sicut Cervus by Palestrina. (European Sacred Music p. 270). You will also need this analysis sheet. Video playlist.

Read John Rutter’s note at the bottom of p.374 then listen to his performance of this edition with the Cambridge Singers.

The words:
Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

This motet is an absolute gem, fitting the words perfectly. I want to show you some of the skill that Palestrina uses in this piece. Bear in mind that the original singers would only have the notation of their own line in front of them.

The more that I examine Sicut cervus the more I find. The rather crude yellow, green and red scribble is a diagram of the polyphony of the first 23 bars.

Now watch the video. Then sing along with the Cambridge Singers.

Second thing: I have made a very primitive multi-tracked version of Nada te turbe for us to have some fun with.
There is a full version and four versions each with a part missing. You can sing with the full version or put in the relevant missing part. You can just sing for fun or to practice …….but……I would like to replace my voice in the recording with yours, especially sopranos but I am not proud of the other parts either. Listen to the recording through headphones (on high volume); record yourself singing on a computer, tablet or phone and send the recording to me (audio or video but the final version will be audio). I suggest that you don’t listen to the recording, you won’t like the sound of your unaccompanied, solo voice.
Nada te turbe audio files:
Full: Soprano: Alto: TenorBass:

Have fun, and let’s see how it sounds – it must be an improvement!


Keep safe, keep singing.

Northern Lights

I hope that you are enjoying this beautiful weather that we are experiencing at the moment, but spare a thought for Cathy, John and other farmers who really need rain.

A couple of things have been sent to me this week. Mary sent the Sinfonia Choral Newsletter which includes “an interesting adaption of Now is the month of Maying” https://www.sinfoniachorale.uk/the-choir-goes-virtual

Cathy forwarded an email about a concert being live streamed “from” St. Martin in the Fields on Sunday that you may e interested to listen to: https://mailchi.mp/899af655ab3f/you-can-help-us-keep-our-doors-open-4447840?e=ea3ecd2e5b

Ellie had been having fun with garden furniture and the WhatsApp group had a very interesting “visitor”. As a consequence I have had to reset the joining link. It is now: https://chat.whatsapp.com/CLGK3TM9SkVDQcNe8pf3Ra

This week we are looking at Northern Lights. We have done well with it and our performance back in the Autumn was reasonably successful, There is, however, a lot more that we can do with it.

I have sourced a couple of performances that are interesting. The first is by the eight voice group Voces 8. They are one of my favourite groups for a number of reasons; one of which is that they are very good. The blend and balance that they achieve is remarkable, obtained through personal practice and detailed, thorough rehearsal. There are things that we can learn from them.

The other performance is by an American University Chamber Choir with an improvised piano accompaniment by Gjeilo himself. 

You will need to warm up before tackling the rehearsal video. It might also be useful to look back over God so loved the world videos as some of the points are the same. Listen to the Voces 8 performance first, warm up, watch my video then sing along with Voces 8 and at some point watch the other performance.

All the videos can be found on the Newstead Abbey Singers playlist

Voces 8 performance

Central Washington University Chamber Choir with Ola Gjeilo

Rehearsal video

Have a good week.

O Lord in thy wrath

After last week’s long missive, I’ll try and make this week’s a bit shorter.


As predicted this week has been a lot warmer. I’ve got a few bedding plants out so we’re looking forward to a bit more colour in the garden.


Only one person has sent a positive reply to the virtual video so I’ll tell Michael to loo elsewhere. thanks to those who responded.


This week we are looking at O Lord in thy wrath – Oxford Tudor Anthems p. 231. 
Orlando Gibbons was one of the last English polyphonists, succeeding people like Byrd, Tallis, Weelkes and Tye. His church music was written for the recently formed Church of England and is exclusively in English. O Lord, in thy wrath is regarded as one of the gems of the period.

The text is the first four verses of Psalm 6 and often performed during Lent.

O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not: neither chasten me in thy displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak: O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore troubled: but, Lord, how long wilt thou punish me? O save me, for thy mercy’s sake.


Here is a recording to listen to in the same key as our version, so you can sing along to it.

Search for recordings and you will find them in various keys. There is a good reason for that. The original manuscript is down a minor 3rd – the first note is a D. It is known that the church choirs in the early 17th century consisted of young boys and men. Boys with unchanged voices would not be able to sing that low in our modern pitch. There is oodles of research on early pitch but no-one knows for certain exactly what the pitch was in any region of Europe. it varied from country to country, and even from city to city. It gradually became unified that the A above middle C was 440 vibrations per second, but even today certain German orchestras tune to 445 and some American to 436.  It is generally accepted that Tudor pitch was approximately three semi-tones lower but contemporary professional choirs choose whichever pitch suits them best.

For those of you who wish to learn notes here are audio files as per previous weeks:

Full  Soprano1  Soprano 2 Alto 1  Alto 2 Tenor Bass

Have a good week.

Buttercups and fish
A sea of buttercups!!