“Sing, then. Sing, indeed, with shoulders back, and head up so that song might go to the roof and beyond to the sky. Mass on mass of tone, with a hard edge, and rich with quality, every single note a carpet of colour woven from basso profundo, and basso, and baritone, and alto, and tenor, and soprano, and also mezzo, and contralto, singing and singing, until life and all things living are become a song.” – Richard Llewellyn
I remember going on journeys with Mums and her sister, Libby.
Our two families sang!
What a wonderful choir we made. It was brilliant because we had about three harmonies going and the sound that emerged from that car was both musical and true. My brother, Patch, the sole male amidst us eight cousins, did not participate. I would see his head nodding along in time and I would think: Any moment, he’s going to open his mouth and join in. He never did!
It is marvellous singing by yourself and I do it all the time. But singing with others is something else. It has a power that is extraordinary. I have felt it with casts onstage, with congregations in church, with choirs at school. Whenever two or more people sing together, an almost magical bond is momentarily formed. According to the English dictionary, a choir is: a group of people that sing together. I have sung in ‘choirs’ then for a large part of my life!
Recently I went to listen to a choir singing in St Peters Church, Sheringham. I wasn’t really in the mood for church choir music. I wanted to delve into my Michael Connelly book that I was finding thoroughly engrossing. B said the choir singing would only take an hour. Ok, I could stomach an hours church recital.
I was in for a surprise!
The audience were treated to a variety of a cappella numbers that made your heart soar. From Bohemian Rhapsody, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling to the beautiful Maori song Pokarekare Ana. That Maori song has become a family one, taught to us all by Mums and Libby. I sat there, aching for those two wonderful women who had passed their love of music on to me.
I also rejoiced in this choir of women and men who just relished what they were doing. You could see it in the way they watched their conductor and her baton move. She would say a few quiet words to them, flick her tuning fork, and the moment her fork came down from her ear, they were off.
Ten years ago, I would have missed out on that glorious choir in St Peters. For eighteen years I had been totally deaf due to a fall. I would have seen happy people, opening their mouths and an utter jumble and cacophony of sound would have emerged. I would not have been able to make sense of Pokareka Ana and that would have devastated me!
That evening, I sat there in St Peter’s Church and revelled in the sound that is now able to swirl around and through me. I am now able to hear!
In George recently there was Cantamus, a national choir competition and festival. My old school, Durban Girls College, was participating and that was certainly a draw card. The fact that my two nieces were in the choir clinched the deal!
Over 1000 choristers, members of 14 choirs from all over South Africa participated in the competition. They spent time together, sang together, laughed and joked together. They got to sample a taste of each other’s choral attributes.
I was treated to a magical two days. The choirs were utterly sublime. Each one possessed an individuality that was mesmerising in itself. I will never forget the one conductor. She had the biggest choir by far. And yet she knew where each person’s voice was and used them accordingly. It was her conducting that made me catch my breath in awe. She seemed to paint the sounds that she wished to appear before her. She appeared to be digging the sounds out of the air. She unearthed and presented incredible beauty.
Durban Girls College were not the best singers but they had a vibrancy and aliveness that other choirs lacked. And that for me, is what choir singing is about. Of course the sound is important but so is what is put across. College seemed to have a vivacity that sparkled!
At school, I was fortunate to belong to a choir run by Ann Hamblin. In the seventies, she had been part of the stage show: Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris. As a teacher, she was able to lavish the choir with all of her musical knowledge. I remember the choir did a production of Jacques Brel’s songs. We put on this incredible show. The heart clenching lyrics of If We Only Had Love have lingered in my mind:
……….If we only have love
We can melt all the guns
And then give the new world
To our daughters and sons
If we only have love
Then Jerusalem stands
And then death has no shadow
There are no foreign lands
If we only have love
We will never bow down
We’ll be tall as the pines
Neither heroes nor clowns
If we only have love
Then we’ll only be men
And we’ll drink from the Grail
To be born once again
Then with nothing at all
But the little we are
We’ll have conquered all time
All space, the sun, and the stars.
Jacques Brel’s material is glorious. I got to sample a taste of his mastery through singing with others. Through sharing the incredible gift of music together. ‘When two or more people are gathered together…’ to sing, an incredible thing is formed:
A choir of sorts!