Who would have thought there were so many people in the world wasting their time as the most advanced product of evolution by writing stuff like this on the net? I know, I know – I’m one of them. But. But. Just look at some of the things I've found so far this week while inadvertently hitting buttons linked to different things on my computer. For instance, there’s a chap in the United States (where else) who lists his interests as 'The Lord, Holiness, forgiveness, and rock-climbing...' Another fellow I seem linked to by virtue of our mutual admiration for the works of Thomas Tallis claims his interests include '...Backpacking, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Their Strategic and Tactical Uses in a Post-Coldwar Geopolitical Climate'. I ask you? What manner of person is one rubbing electronic shoulders with? Would you, for instance, choose to be associated with the man from Colorado who describes himself as a devotee of 'Aquinas, Roman Catholic Natural Law Theology and early Church History'? The worst thing about it is that I can see little alternative, short of reducing the list of my favourite composers to those likely to be known only to a bass lay-vicar at an unfashionable Anglican cathedral. On the other hand this blogging mularky seems to do wonders for one’s longevity. Did you know that there is a 271 year-old Australian gentleman by the name of Pete posting regularly on his blog ‘I’ll Drink to That?’ And a 342-year-old lady from the States who seems to attribute her great age to a succession of younger husbands? In fact blogging even seems to promise proof against the grim reaper if the site of Cardinal Wolsey is anything to go by, although you'd think by now that he'd have better things to do than 'Pleasing the King and Outwitting France.' On the other hand, there are clearly some of us in blogging-land of taste, culture and discernment. What a pity the Most Honourable Irving Reginald Eustace Talbot Mountbatten, who lists his interests as ‘Gentleman’s Advice’ and ‘Governing Natives’ seems not to have posted since 2006 (although as his age is given as 105 there is probably an innocent explanation). And there seems to a rather sweet 26 year old Gemini from California called Kate who lists among her favourite music Osbert Parsley. I think I might send her a message.
Half-term, a long lie-in, the Sunday papers (well Sunday paper - I could only afford to buy one so I went for the biggest, heaviest of the lot only to find it stuffed full of fashion tips and gardening advice. Given that I live in a basement flat without so much as a yard to house my dustbin the latter sections were completely useless; the fashion sections weren't much better either, although I managed to find a small piece on the latest trend in cottas). The trouble is, once you've done all that, you're stuck. There are no lessons on a Sunday and I've given myself the week off anyway, largely because none of my dwindling list of pupils is around for the next seven days. In fact, nobody's around. The choral scholars have retreated to their mothers for the week complete with bin-bags filled with dirty washing; my fellow choral vicars are mostly spending time with their respective families; the informator choristorum has just started his sabbatical (thank God) and the Chapter to a man is on retreat with the exception of the elderly sub-Dean who is literally left minding the shop whilst a succession of dismal visiting choirs attempts, unsuccessfully, to live up to our great building's acoustic. What does one do in such a situation? Watch the telly, I suppose. Except, of course, there's nothing whatsoever on. Listen to the wireless? The third programme, perhaps? Maybe for a while until the tone is lowered at six-thirty by that obsequious snivelling adenoidal Welshman Alan Jones. Dear Lord above, it's desperate, and it's only Sunday. It's enough to make one wish the choir were singing. Almost.
So far this tiresome blogging thing has yielded a grand total of one invitation to sing the Nelson Mass and a solitary, tone-deaf singing pupil. Time to take matters in my own hands, so-to-speak. Either that or else be sucking up to Anthony eternally to stand me for a half of mild and buying up the out-of-date stuff in the local supermarket. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. And so the other day I thought I'd try my new responses on the DoM. 'Had a chance to look at them?' I asked, as casually as I could manage and without a trace of any of my usual hostility towards the over-talented imposter. And, blow me if the blighter didn't say that as a matter of fact he had! Having girded myself to fight the good fight on behalf of my compositional inspirations, I was somewhat nonplussed by his response to my responses. 'Yes' he went on. 'And the Precentor thinks they could be very useful.' Well, I thought - at last some recognition of my talent. 'He thinks they'd be extremely good as sight-singing exercises for our choral scholar applicants, although I had to tell him that - as completely unsingable nonsense - forcing them on anyone of talent would be rather unfair. We don't want to frighten off the youngsters, do we? The Precentor is completely unmusical, you know. Knows nothing at all about these things.' I resisted the temptation to add that he was not the only one in the cathedral suffering from such epistemological deficiency and snatched back the autograph copy of my masterpiece. So if anyone out there is looking for a set of new and challenging responses - only slightly torn - please let me know. Far from being 'unsingable' they represent to my mind a genuis of musical synthesis, drawing inspiration from the great mediaeval plainsong tradition, the flowering of early polyphony, and the choral works of Giles Swayne. As such, it must surely be unique among the canon of Anglican church Preces and Responses. Imagine the opening of Swayne's Magnificat, combined with the Kyrie from Missa Papae Marcelli and - quite frankly - you're still nowhere near the mark. Hmm - on second thoughts, perhaps the pompous ass of a Precentor has a point. Sight-reading stinkers, anyone?
Or rather, I don't but he did. Who? Isaiah of course, in the year that King Uzziah died. Being Trinity Sunday yesterday, we had the big guns out so to speak - Sir John Stainer and his magnificent musical rendition of the day's Old Testament Lesson. 'I Saw the Lord' pom - pom -pom 'sitting up-on a throne' pom - pom - pom. Ah, they don't write them like that anymore! What a masterpiece of genius, second in importance only to the great man's beloved Crucifixion. And, of course, the piece ends with the plaintive hymn 'O Trinity, O unity'. For once, the combined efforts of Precentor and the Organista Magistratum succeeded in providing a most worthy and appropriate musical offering as part of the service. And what an offering! Nobody - especially that Austrian automaton Mozart - could have done it better. It was just a pity that the rest of the music at evensong was so unworthy by comparison. Watson in E, I ask you. Well I did, actually. I asked, nay, I demanded that the DoM explain. He waved me away with some drivel about the choir needing to conserve their energies for the anthem, but I caught sight of the oleaginous Precentor looking rather shifty at the pertinence of my enquiry. And we all know that the real reason was to make sure that the clergy were home in front of their tellys in time for Alan Ditchmarsh's programme from the Chelsea Bloody Flower Show. Couldn't do without their Sunday sermons though, could we? Couldn't spare us twenty-minutes incoherent quasi-academic ramblings? Oh no. No. If only we'd done something long, like the Howell's Westminster Service, and maybe sung an introit too. We might have limited the sub-Dean to about five minutes.
'Since it is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing.' So said William Byrd. But being a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and living in the sixteenth century he clearly hadn’t had the dubious pleasure of trying to instruct Kayleigh. For those of you new to this blog, allow me to explain. Kayleigh is so far the only person to present herself as a result of this shameless self-publicity for singing lessons. And I rather wish she hadn't. 'Just sing the note that I play on the piano, Kayleigh' I began by asking, adding that it might help if she removed her chewing gum as well. I played her middle 'c', then we tried 'g' and 'a' and then went down the octave - nothing, not a sound, which you'll understand was not a very promising beginning. 'I can’t sing those notes you’re playing' Kayleigh muttered, sullenly. 'They're just, like, not the notes I sing?' 'So what notes do you sing then, Kayleigh?' I asked. 'Ones like this' she told me, demonstrating what might pass to somebody completely tone-deaf as a reasonable approximation of a person actively engaged in the noble art of singing – someone, that is, in extremis due to acute asphyxiation and a lifetime's smoking. 'Kayleigh - are you sure you want to come to me for singing lessons?' I demanded. 'Oh yeah' she replied, 'cos I’m, like, gonna be a singer.' Dear Lord Above - the creature wants to be a singer! My repeated 'why-oh-whys' had been intended for the ears of the Almighty, but they seem inadvertently to have been made audible to Kayleigh. 'Cos you're cheap' she told me as a bubble of gum popped in my face. Cheap! Cheap, I ask you! I immediately informed her that my fees were set in strict accordance with the current I.S.M recommendations, but she seemed to think that I was talking about driving lessons. ‘Not BSM young lady – ISM – the Incorporated Society of Musicians. My, er – my union, I suppose.' 'Oh, cool' she said. 'So you’re, like, in a union.' 'No, I'm not - 'like' - in a union, I am in a union.' 'But aren't you - sort of – self-employed?' she asked. 'So what d’you do, like – have negotiations with yourself?' 'Aha. Very funny. Well, you see now Kylie – ' 'Kayleigh.' 'Kayleigh. Sorry. Well you see now Kayleigh, really – in a way – it is my pupils who are my employers. If I agree to take you on, then for half an hour each week you will be my pay-master.' 'Cool' she said. 'Quite so, and now I’m afraid my other pay masters will be getting rather annoyed if I keep them waiting any longer.' 'You got other pupils then?' 'No – I mean yes, of course I have. But not right now, no. Now I’m singing evensong.' 'Eh?' 'Evensong – you know - one of the great offices of the Church of England, sung daily in the Cathedrals up and down the country.' But the creature clearly hadn't the first idea what I was talking about. I did think of suggesting she attend the service with me, but good sense prevailed. Dear God, can you imagine what the Precentor might have made of her?
I'm not quite sure how this happened, but it seems I've had an e-mail. From somebody called Kayleigh. I'm not quite confident of what it says, but I would hazard that the young girl wants some singing lessons. 'Hi dude' the missive opens, 'cool blog. I wnt a sngng tchr. Ru cheap cos i cant afford much lol ;-). See ya.' James, the choral-scholar, cracked the code for me after evensong on Sunday. (Sumsion in G, in case you're interested - which I'm sure you're not - followed by the mighty and unnecessary noise that is the anthem, God Omnipotent Reigneth, by Charles Wood. If He really does then I feel sure that he's got better things to do at four o'clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon than listen to that cacophony.) Anyway, back to Kayleigh. I've invited her to my flat for a voice trial and I'll let you know, blog, how it goes. In the meantime I must dash - I've got the deputy head-chorister's cello practice to listen to, if you'll excuse me. Not a Cambridge doctoral supervision I know, but it pays me for a pint or two.
Right - I think I've got it sorted now. I was musing during Dross in D or some equally unmemorable setting the other evensong on what my technie friend had told me. Apparently I must inform everyone that the blog exists in order for them all to look at it and comment. 'But that's the whole point of the blog' I said to him. As usual, he didn't seem to understand. I assumed that putting something on the web or net or into cyberspace would be enough. But no! I've already had to sign up to an e-mail that I didn't want in order to register the damn thing; now I've got to send a message to my friends to tell them all about my blog. 'And if I haven't got any?' I asked, not quite sarcastically. 'Oh, I'll give you some of mine' he told me. So, everyone he knows has now been sent an e-mail telling them about my new blog and suggesting that they read it. Apparently there is a lay-clerks web-site too, through which such things can be disseminated (although by all accounts they spend their days debating pointing or else arguing about the finer points of Sarum chant and the correct liturgical positioning of the Kyrie - I ask you?!). So anyway - word has gone out, and from now on I'll no doubt be inundated with requests for lessons, concert bookings and commissions. Come on now - you can't all like that Philip Moore stuff, can you?
Well, I must say I'd expected more than this! forty-eight hours after sending my first missive into cyber-space and I've received a total number of responses of precisely - zero. Zero. Being bank holiday Monday we weren't even rehearsing yesterday, but at evensong today I'll certainly be having words with my choral-scholar friend. Well, I say friend: colleague. He stands next to me and sings, rather well for one so young. He helps me find the right page in the hymn book and he knows these fancy setting that the organist insists on introducing - Otce Nas by Janacek, and the Kodaly Missa Brevis; Flor Peeters' hopelessly mis-named Missa Festiva, for God's sake. Anyway I was assured that all I had to do was start a blog and people would come running to my door. Of course, they don't know where my door is yet. But then I don't want all-and-sundry finding me, for goodness' sake. There has to be some sort of filter - like an electronic version of the casting couch, maybe, for my prospective students and an e-audition for the choirs. I shall have words this evening, serious words about where this blogging-thing is leading. Is it the fifteenth evening? No. Well, maybe the Old Testament lesson will be long enough. I'll keep you posted. (Posted - get it? As in, posting to the blog! Oh, never mind.)
Hmm... just getting the hang of this blogging thing, at least I think I am. Let me introduce myself. I'm Can Bass 1: that is, Cantoris first bass, as in one - the most senior, indeed - of two Cantoris basses, not just bass 1 as in 'sings the higher of the two bass parts'. Which, of course, I do, being on Cantoris. That's the way it works. Cantoris - that is, the side of the choir sitting on the same side of the chancel as the cantor (or Precentor, as they now refer to him) - always takes the higher of the two parts. The other side - Decani, where the Dean sits - that's, well, for all the elderly who no longer seem to have an upper range. But enough of tall hat. Back to my blog; the blog about me. Well I'm here in a provincial city, 'somewhere in England' as they say. And apart from the daily grind at the cathedral, things...well, things have been a bit tight recently. You know the kind of problem - frequent inability to stand one's round in the pub after evensong; buying fishcake with my chips instead of cod or haddock. Anyway one of these young, attractive and sickeningly talented new choral-scholars - who happens to be a bit of a whizz with computers - suggested that I might start blogging. Of course, I cuffed the little whipper-snapper firmly round the ear! But once I'd picked him off the floor he told me all about it - writing on the internet and drumming up some interest in my faltering career as a soloist; maybe even adding to my list of pupils, too (especially young sopranos, and by young I mean anything under 60 which seems to be my present lower age-limit). So here I am then, world wide web - Can Bass 1. Available for concerts, large and small - it doesn't matter if the choir can't sing because I can and provided that you've paid up-front, I will. So what are you waiting for?
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...