I'm a (lay) choral-vicar in a 'not-too-bad' cathedral choir. That means I sing for a living. And when I'm not singing, I'm trying to teach others how to sing. It pays the rent. Ho hum.
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
Why, oh why?
I've just attended evensong. No surprises there, I know. But I've attended as a member of the public, rather than the choir; as an observer, rather than as a participant; as a member of the congregation, required merely to mutter 'amen' periodically and join in (if I so wish) with the Office Hymn and the Apostles Creed. I know, I know. I do this for a living almost every day of the year. I should be glad of an opportunity to avoid the Dean and the Precentor for a while. But, well... I had to pay a visit to the vestry, just to leave a little billet-doux in Felicia's pigeon-hole, and whilst there I happened casually to glance at this week's music-list and saw 'Beati Quorum Via' as the introit (it's a Solemn) 'Walmisley in D minor' for the mag and nunc and Elgar's 'Spirit of the Lord' as anthem - all held together with a healthy dose of Kenneth Leighton's Preces and Responses. My musical antennae started twitching; my choral curiosity was aroused; I was interested, I must admit. I did just double-check to make absolutely sure that it wasn't one of the usual inadequate parish choirs that fill in periodically. But no, it was an ensemble with a perfectly sensible name (you should see what some choirs call themselves!) which I had better, in the circumstances, keep a secret. I should have known from the first note of the Stanford what I'd let myself in for. Suffice to say the introit started (just) in the original key, before migrating through several not-so-subtle but unanimous tonal shifts and thence splitting into two completely different keys which slapped against each other like two elderly all-in wrestlers on the erstwhile Saturday afternoon tv show World of Sport. ('Sport' indeed! I ask you - that was a trade descriptions violation, if ever there was one! And as for Dickie Davies's moustache...) The wreckage that was Kenneth Leighton's angular responses was actually something of a slight improvement, but why, oh why with just a couple of under-age baritones and an adolescent tenor or two would a choirmaster want to inflict the Walmisley in D minor on even the least musical of congregations? Suffice to say that far from being magnified, the opening sounded as if it were being viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. And when they started re-composing the Elgar... well I made my excuses, as they say. Please don't get me wrong, dear reader: I am no musical snob. I am as appreciative of other people's efforts as the next man, mostly. I do not blame the singers for yesterday afternoon's debacle, at least not personally. I welcome visiting choirs in our cathedral (it gives us plenty of days off). But why oh why do the people in charge of such an undertaking have to choose such ridiculously inappropriate music? It's like asking the local school recorder group to 'have a go' at Shostakovitch. Or teaching the kindergarten 'Otce Nas' instead of Old MacDonald. It looks good on the music list. That's the trouble - it looks too good. Maybe that's the reason that they do it? But I feel let down, rather, by the whole experience. And I haven't even heard back from Felicia.
I'm a choral vicar in a not-too-bad cathedral choir although it could be better, if you ask me, if the Dean and Chapter bite the bullet and dismiss the lamentable failure of an organist. But that's another story...