Voice type: Alto
Occupation: Priest in the Church of England
Member of the chorus for 34 years
The wonderful CBSO Chorus has been one of the main ‘constants’ in my life for the past thirty four years – through happy times and some very sad times. For most of that time Simon Halsey has been the person who has had the knack to lift me out of my ‘normal’ life in marvellously inspirational rehearsals on Wednesday evenings.
In the early 1980s my Wednesday evenings were my ‘escape to sanity’ and the ‘adult’ world away from a busy home life with very small children. The nature of our rehearsals means that you have to concentrate hard on the music in front of you – it can range from tricky sight-reading through to polishing a piece you know well in readiness for performance. The pace that we move at is very fast and as a result whatever your ‘normal’ life is throwing at you, it has to disappear into the background. I really value that! And – unlike other choirs I have sung with – there is no chatting allowed when we are working on a piece so much is achieved in a rehearsal.
Back in 1980 I had heard the chorus a number of times – most notably singing The Dream Of Gerontius very beautifully in Town Hall, Birmingham, a piece that I studied in A’ Level Music at school. It didn’t occur to me that I might try to join such a great choir. I was asked to accompany a friend who wanted to audition for the chorus – it was September 1980 and as we drove in I vividly remember our conversation along the Aston Expressway and it resulted in me agreeing to have a go also. I happened to have a hymn book in the car so randomly chose a hymn to sing – oh dear – that would not do nowadays would it?
Much to my delight I was asked to become a member – a First Alto – and so the journey began.
So many concerts and so many tours in my thirty-four years , but if you forced me to single one out as my most memorable project in the chorus it has to be the CBSO European Festivals Tour of 1992 with (the now Sir) Simon Rattle, Simon Halsey and Peter King who was our Deputy Chorus Director & Organist.
At the time I had two children of nine and seven years old and was working full time as a Primary School Teacher. My husband, Millar, had also joined the chorus by this time as a tenor so childcare had to be carefully organised.
The music was a delight:
- Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass which we had just performed in a Prom Concert in the Royal Albert Hall, London, on 19th July
- Durufle’s Requiem
- Three Motets by Bruckner
- Heilig & Kyrie by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
As I look at the beloved ‘scrap book’ of that project I am amazed to realise that the trip was for only a week – in my memory it was about two weeks in length or longer as we crammed so much in!
Even to go anywhere by plane was a great treat for us at that time – our holidays, if we had one, were very modest affairs in those days, for instance a short stay in a borrowed log cabin in North Wales in the pouring rain was typical.
Imagine our excitement when the schedule was released and the plan was to fly from Birmingham to Hamburg with coach transfer to the Forte Crest Hotel in Hamburg. Almost more exciting was the long train journey from Hamburg travelling via Nuremberg to Treuchtlingen fuelled with a lunch bag that had been provided with rather unusual food items!; then on by coach to the very beautiful minster church in medieval Ingolstadt. After what I described as a ‘magical experience’, performing the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé almost in the dark we went by coach to Munich where we stayed one night and gave a concert in St Matthew’s Church the following day.
The next day we travelled by coach through some sensational countryside to Salzburg in preparation for the highlight of the tour – a performance of Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass sung from memory in the famous Salzburg Festival. I found Salzburg to be utterly stunning – an incredibly beautiful city set in a magnificent landscape. For a number of years it became my most favourite place in the world. Millar & I returned there for our 25th Wedding Anniversary and had great time.
We performed in the amazing concert hall which is featured in the film The Sound of Music. I recall the whole experience as being totally exhilarating but also very frightening – partly because the Glagolitic Mass is a tricky work to do from memory (one is always terrified of coming in too early in a number of places in the score) but also because I was standing on the very back row with two other altos on a slightly wobbly piece of staging. We were incredibly well-received by the audience, many of whom were wearing beautiful traditional Austrian outfits. Sir Simon Rattle is the most remarkable conductor. He is a complete joy to work with and I can still remember so many very special piano rehearsals with him for many different works. He gives so much of himself and his vision for the piece that the most hard-hearted singer cannot fail to be uplifted and transported. For me it feels as if he has one in the palm of his hand.
What a fabulous trip! And that is only one of many wonderful trips with CBSO Chorus.
The CBSO Chorus marks its anniversary with a performance of the UK Premiere of the CBSO co-commission, James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, conducted by the composer himself. Tickets are still available, book now.