Mass in B Minor
by Annette Mann
I love singing Bach - the mighty St Matthew Passion, the St John
Passion, the Magnificat which I would willingly sing every Christmas.
I have sung all his Motets for double choir (I can't decide which
is my favourite - 'Furchte Dich Nicht' or 'Der Geist Hilft'?)
I have not yet sung his Christmas Oratorio apart from the lovely
chorale (which is in the green carol book) 'Break forth, O beauteous
heavenly light', but hopefully that joy is to come.
But Bach's B Minor Mass is a work of such scale and intense expression
and I am lucky to have sung it twice before - at Codsall Methodist
church in December 1985, conducted by dear Dennis Powell and
accompanied by the Daemon Orchestra.
But more memorable was the first occasion - at Walsall Town Hall
with the Walsall Choral Society in May 1976. We were to sing
with them again in 1977 - a performance of Elgar's 'Dream of
Gerontius' with Robert Tear singing the part of Gerontius and
Anne Marie Wilkens, a tiny blonde in a long white dress who looked
like the Angel and sang like one too.
For the B minor, the soloists were Alison Jack, Shirley Thomas,
Declan McCusker and Michael Underwood. The continuo was John
Engleheart, the Orchestra de Camera played and we were conducted
by Walsall's conductor, Peter Barlow.
I clearly remember that he took the work much faster than we
had done in rehearsal with Dennis but nevertheless I revelled
in the splendour of the 'Gratias Agimus', the dark introverted
character of 'Qui Tollis' and Bach's unshakeable faith which
is revealed in the 'Confiteor'.....and of course the emotional
climax of the work - the 'Sanctus'.
I first sang the B Minor Mass when I had a young family. Now
they are grown up and I am a grandmother. But the music of J
S Bach never ages.
to build the choir
Our society is a real opportunity for people to get the most
from singing. We have a great musical director, immensely skilled
and fun to sing for. Every rehearsal gives us something to discover
about the music of all kinds of different styles, how to sing,
communication with the audience , keeping time, tuning, rhythm
The choir works with musically trained people and singers entirely
new to singing; some read music and some not.
We give great concerts, sometimes of classics such as Elijah
(Nov 2012), madrigals, anthems, and lighter music such as the
delightful Noah and his Floating Zoo.
Like all choirs however we need more singers to keep the choir
progressing. We are therefore expanding the ways we reach out
to people who might like to give singing a try, or who would
like to return to singing after a break, perhaps to have a family
or because of a house move. Everyone is welcome (tenors are especially
You will now find
the choir has a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/wombournechoral)
on which you can find details of concerts past and future, photos
of the choir, entertaining conversations between choir members,
features for example about the musical director and so on. Click
'like' to join us,get updates about activities and add to the
fun by sharing your thoughts.
Better still, come
and join us at our next rehearsal at 7.30pm on Monday at Ounsdale
High School, Ounsdale Road, Wombourne, Wolverhampton.
with our retiring Musical Director, David Parkes, 2006
have an earliest musical memory, or a piece that first got you
hooked on music?
The earliest I have is, as a 3 or 4-year-old, hearing a trio
of violin, cello and piano playing at the old 'Cadena Café'
in Worcester during World War II. I was entranced by that.
Did you always
want a career in music? What might you have done otherwise?
Yes. My other main interest has always been in literature, so
that an academic career in that field would have been tolerable.
MD of WDCS some 13 years ago ? what did you do before that?
I devoted myself exclusively for over 20 years to the music of
the school at which I taught: we ran an orchestra, Junior Choir,
Senior Choir, Folk Group, Madrigal Choir and Sixth Form Production,
not much spare time!
What do you
think has been our finest performance? And our worst?!
The performance of the Verdi Requiem at the Civic Hall was excellent
and I doubt we can beat that. I can't think of one that was particularly
If you could
wave a magic wand instead of a baton, is there anything you would
like to change about the choir?
That all members could sight-read, thus cancelling the need for
Do you recognise
any particular strengths of the choir?
The choir is now making a lovely sound in all sections almost
invariably, and there is great enthusiasm and desire to please.
If you could
direct any choir in the world, which would it be?
European Voices, a professional choir I heard do the Brahms Requiem
with Rattle in London.
Do you prefer
conducting choral or orchestral works?
I enjoy both enormously.
Is your taste
in music confined to the classical and choral, or do you enjoy
any other styles?
Very occasionally I have enjoyed lighter music such as Abba or
The Carpenters provided, but it's rather like comparing the Beano
with Trollope. I enjoy some 'musicals', and have directed many.
your retirement as MD at the end of this year, is there any lasting
legacy you hope to leave us with? How would you like to be remembered?
The lasting legacy I would hope for: belief in choral music as
a group activity which brings spiritual refreshment and satisfaction
as no other can, and unifies people in seeking after artistic
excellence; that it is our job, as performers, to try to realise
fully the composer's intentions and that we are only the intermediary
between composer and listener.
I'd like to be remembered as someone who always demanded high
standards and (hopefully) achieved them from time to time. I
do believe that our country is bedevilled by acceptance of mediocrity
in too many respects (the arts and sport, for a start).
If this were
'Desert Island Discs', what would you take as your favourite
piece of music, book and luxury item?
I should be unlikely to survive on a desert island long enough
to have time to listen to music or to read but, if the expected
rapid demise did not happen, I would choose Palgrave's Golden
Treasury (poetry is easy to dip into and to re-read and would
remind me of the splendours of our language); certainly not Shakespeare
or the Bible, which is so full of blood, vengeance, and disaster.
As for music, though I think the Verdi Requiem the most perfect
work I know, it would not do for a desert island.
I would choose my favourite CD, which is of Murray Perahia playing
Chopin's Ballades and assorted other pieces - a pianist with
superlative technique and the most poetic musical imagination
playing music which has an astonishing range of emotion in a
unique and beautiful style. As for a luxury - am I allowed my
wife? If not, a hot-water-bottle (with ample hot water) would
help me through those chilly desert island nights - but the whole
idea fills me with horror!
One of our altos confided in me that she was like a dizzy schoolgirl
in anticipation of our VIP visitor. So when John Rutter exhorted
greater attack at the opening of It was a lover and his lass
- "I like my altos fiery!" - I feared for a fainting
We'd been well drilled
already in John's Birthday Madrigals, our own Musical Director
Ian Clarke guiding us through the jazz-influenced rhythms and
doo-ba-doos, oo-oos and cuck-oos of these five songs based on
Elizabethan poetry. It was challenging close-harmony stuff, but
the prospect of the composer himself leading a rehearsal, shortly
before our concert, added an extra incentive. What on earth would
this globetrotting celebrity, a huge name in contemporary British
choral music, make of a bunch of amateurs like us?
The fact of the
matter was, the atmosphere from the first note, though displaying
unprecedented best behaviour from our members, was thoroughly
relaxed. Considering he'd never worked with us before, the maestro
had the measure of us straight away. During the hour or so that
sped by, he managed the dual achievement of reassuring us that
we were in with a chance of pulling off a reasonable performance
and pinpointing areas where we could add more polish. And he
made us want to shine.
I had an inkling
we'd be in for some musical gems, of course, but what took me
by surprise was the wicked sense of humour. This came out in
the composer's evident relish for the language and meaning within
the texts, full of the innuendo and double-entendre typical of
the era. Metaphorical light bulbs pinged on around me as some
of my colleagues, listening to John's emphasis and explanation,
realised for the first time just what Shakespeare, Marlowe and
Raleigh were going on about.
In Come live with me John urged us to focus on the dialogue,
which conveyed a story in this 'words-driven' movement. With
intense concentration in his eyes, and metronomically clicking
fingers, he helped us get into character - namely the gents were
shepherds making multifarious promises but doubtless after one
thing only, and the ladies seeing right through it and likely
to have none of it ... although there was no harm in leading
them on a bit. Offering a spot of 'retail therapy', the men sang
A gown made of the finest wool, Which from our pretty lambs we
pull; Fair lin-ed slippers for the cold, with buckles of the
purest gold', answered cynically by the ladies, Thy gowns, thy
shoes, thy beds of roses, Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten, In folly ripe, in reason
rotten. All the ladies sang the last phrase in unison, right
in the basement of the sopranos' range, hovering around and below
middle C. Ian had encouraged us to adopt a chesty tone and shout
it out with vehemence. John's reaction? A genuinely impressed
When daisies pied
called for even greater bawdiness, but before John graphically
illustrated how he wanted this story of bucolic adultery told,
he highlighted the importance of correct balance between voices.
The sopranos, with the tune, weren't to be drowned out by everyone
else's fa-la-la-ing underneath. It was a question of realising
whether at any given time you were the icing or the cake.
To carry his analogy
a stage further, I can honestly say that John Rutter's rehearsal
gave us not only the cake and the icing, but a generous helping
of cherries and birthday candles on top. Surely it would light
up our performance, give sustenance to our audience, and the
overall winner would be the music, just as it should be.
Talking of food,
John had accepted my invitation to a pre-rehearsal dinner. In
a fit of public-spiritedness I'd opened this up to the choir
committee, which meant I didn't get much chance to talk to our
guest about his composing; as a wannabe writer, it would have
been fascinating to hear his views on the isolation of the creative
process. Hugging my glass of sparkling water, I asked what he'd
like to drink. "Just a sparkling water, please." I
must be doing something right then, I thought, conspiratorially
but completely irrationally. And the choir and I are sparkling
Crotchety? Join a choir! by Katherine Dixson
Conduct a straw poll of choral colleagues to find out why they
decided to join the choir and what they get out of it, and they
all start turning into creative writers. Pause. Hang on a minute,
who's supposed to be the feature-writer round here. Must be something
to do with artistic temperament and an innate compulsion to communicate.
Many members of Wombourne and District Choral Society, a 100-strong
mixed-voice amateur choir in the Midlands, have been singing
for years and years, but for others it?s a fresh interest that
opens up new horizons and gives tremendous, perhaps even unexpected,
satisfaction. Choir Webmaster, Anthony Rathbone, who sings in
the bass section, finds the experience reminiscent of when he
leant his tall frame to a rowing eight. The whole is only as
good as the sum of the parts. Most of the time one person is
slightly out of time, but just occasionally all eight oarsmen
get into a rhythm, the boat starts to run smoothly and actually
lifts out of the water, the next best thing to flying!? With
a slightly unfortunate mixing of the metaphor, he enjoys the
fact you can become totally immersed in singing, and all the
other worries of the day seem to disappear.
Another sporting analogy comes from one of the newest members,
Robert Ely, also a bass. I'm no sportsman, so perhaps the rugby
scrum does it for some, but for me there?s no experience to compare
with that of making music for the pleasure of others in the company
of like-minded singers. And yet another from Stage Manager, Mike
Hayward (you guessed it, a bass): It's like playing squash; while
you're singing, you can't think of anything else, it provides
spiritual and emotional release. Singing is, in fact, physically
demanding in its own way, with an emphasis on good breathing
techniques, in addition to the intellectual challenges posed.
As soprano Linda Cox puts it my knowledge is stretched and my
lungs are too!
Linda goes on to say sometimes we come up to standards way beyond
our own expectations, which means that choral singing can give
an enormous boost in the self-esteem department. This is especially
so for those who aren?t sure what to expect when they join ?
which they can do without audition, although they need to be
fairly confident they can at least hold a tune, and find the
learning curve, or the climb up the musical stave, rather a steep
one. Lesley Cook, in the alto section, admits to finding it daunting
at first. Everyone else seemed to sight read with ease and I
couldn't even work out which line we were on! However, what a
feeling when you've mastered it, when you see the conductor grinning
back at you happy with the performance, I guess there's a certain
amount of 'pleasing the teacher' , even from a 50 year old! The
conductor in question, Musical Director Ian Clarke, comments,
I love the music we perform, and if some of that is transmitted
to the choir and communicated to the audience, then something
worthwhile has been achieved.
Doug Graham, another bass and ex-Treasurer, jokes that he joined
the choir at 44, to find out whether his voice had broken. Age
is largely irrelevant. Although it's always good to welcome younger
singers and why on earth wouldn't they enjoy the beauty of the
classical music that we tackle, the more elderly contingent are
an audible advert for the fact that choral singing is good for
Perhaps most important of all is the social aspect. Stella Walsh,
an alto and fundraiser for the choir, suggests joining a choir
is a great way of meeting people when you move to a new area
for work. There's the feelgood factor, too, it gives you some
good tunes to sing while washing up and driving the car, says
Stella, but be careful at traffic lights where the driver in
front can see you in the rear view mirror. How about an ambulance-style
reverse-print banner across the bonnet to let that driver in
front know how to join in if he wants a piece of the action.
Generation Game by
So what's it's like being conducted by your little brother, then?
Terrible!? joked Adrian Clarke, after our performance of Rossini's
Petite Messe Solennelle. A family spokeswoman (our MD's better
half) said it gave Ian an opportunity to have the upper hand
for once. Then, more seriously, that it was a welcome chance
to work together, which they hadn?t done for a while.
Back in civvies, Adrian was completely relaxed and looked as
though he'd just had a stroll in the park rather than a leading
role in a demanding choral work. His rich baritone was delivered
with true professionalism and appeared as effortless to produce
as it was to listen to.
Sarah Pring, incidentally Adrian's wife won the audience over
with her command of the mezzo-soprano role. She told me the Agnus
Dei is her favourite of all arias, and it showed.
Yet another member of the Clarke clan, Ian's daughter Amy, made
not a sound on stage, capably page-turning for our own rehearsal
accompanist, Beryl Beech, at the piano. Behind them, Simon Ball
did battle with a temperamental harmonium and won. With the instrument
wedged in place, to prevent a moving performance of the wrong
sort, Simon commented on the warmth of the atmosphere created
by our choir in the otherwise chilly church.
Soprano Faye Hart lit up the church with a voice and smile as
bright as her beautiful cerise dress. Tenor Justin Lavender felt
he was in safe hands with us. Not, perhaps, because we are famed
(yet?) as a choir to be reckoned with, but because his next engagement
is at an open-air concert in, of all places, Harare. I'm sure
we all wish him well, and hope he and all our soloists will join
As for the choral contributions, the hard work seemed to have
paid off. It might not have been technically 100% accurate. I
have a sneaky suspicion we sopranos went astray (then found our
way back) in Et Resurrexit ? but from within the body of the
choir, it felt like we were offering something dynamic, with
shape, phrasing and meaning. I'd even go so far as to call the
Cum Sancto Spiritu electrifying, and would gladly have sung that
movement all over again!
Sadly I didn't get to speak to principal pianist, Samantha Carrasco,
but her dazzling display spoke volumes. My daughter, who was
envious in equal measure of the press photographer's Nikon and
Samantha's Steinway went all starry-eyed and vowed to do more
practice. My mother pronounced the concert well worth the trip
from Liverpool. My own better half was so impressed he forgot
to think about Cardiff City's forthcoming FA Cup Final match
for a couple of hours. And even my son, who would rather have
been watching Doctor Who, expressed approval with his Spanish
phrase of the moment: 'muy bien'. Or, as it was a Latin Mass,
should that be 'bonissima'.
As it happened, we could have done with a bit more 'lumen de
lumine'. Was the dim lighting in the chancel a secret ploy to
encourage learning the work by heart? Because towards the end
of the performance, looking at the music was sheer guesswork
as far as I was concerned. No matter, looking up reaped far better
results and rewards anyway, not least a sense of the enthusiastic
engagement of the audience. To those who didn't make it, perhaps
we could quote a mangled Specsavers strapline: should've gone
to the concert.
in Barcelona by
Having just returned from a stay in Barcelona, I thought I'd
recommend two amazing musical experiences, should you be in this
Firstly my husband and I were able on our first morning to buy
tickets for the concert that night in the Palau de Musica Catalana.
Recommended by Phillippa in the Alto section, this concert hall
is a World Heritage building because of its striking 'modernisme'
style architecture and as we sat below the flying hooves of a
stone horse, surrounded by mosaics, tiles and stained glass we
could see why. (There are also bookable guided tours in English
every day, but they fill up very quickly.)
The tickets in the upper tier were not cheap but the hall was
full. (Try to get a seat towards the middle of the hall for best
sight lines) Sir John Eliot Gardiner seemed delighted with the
applause. We had never heard the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et
Romantique with the Monteverdi choir before but we enjoyed the
programme of short choral works by Brahms, Schumann and Mendelssohn
followed by Brahms' Symphony number 2. (For those of you who
went to the concert in Hereford at the suggestion of David Parkes,
do you remember the viola player with the expressive face? He
was on the front desk!)
Some people seemed to have left at the interval, which may not
be surprising since the concert began at 9pm and finished at
11:30pm! Luckily we didn't have far to walk back to the hotel.
By the way you do get a free programme, but Catalan is quite
tricky to decipher.
Our second musical experience was a trip by train and then rack
railway up into the mountains to the Benedictine monastery at
Montserrat. There is a famous boys? choir school based here who
sing every Sunday in the Basilica, but this was Tuesday. However
it must have been our lucky day for as we sat marvelling at the
church, an older choir entered and sang four pieces including
'Ave Verum Corpus' by Byrd which you will remember from our first
visit to France and then Rutter's 'The Lord Bless You and Keep
You'. Wonderful! They were followed by the boys' choir in traditional
white surplices who also sang beautifully.
Montserrat is very much geared up to the tourist trade but in
a tasteful way! It is a beautiful and inspiring place to visit.
Part of the fun is getting there. You could go on a coach trip,
but it is more exciting to make your own way by the very efficient
public transport system. From the tourist information office
you can buy a Tot Monserrat card for 31.50 euros. This includes
metro to station, rail, rack railway or cable car to the monastery,
two funicular rides further up the mountain side, a three course
meal, and admission to audio-visual room and a very good art
gallery. So make a day of it!