International Choir Festival InCanto Mediterraneo

… and leaps

  • Last Sunday, my choir sang in the Choir Of The Year selection stage in Newcastle. We’d rehearsed for about a month, and had decided to perform Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine. COTY rules say you have 8 minutes to perform - any piece that goes over that time is discounted. So, the risk was, if we went over the 8 minutes, we’d score nothing. Null. Zip.


    I’ve got two recordings of Leonardo. They’re both about 8 minutes 20. So’s that youtube link. (By the way, you should totally click on that link and listen to it while you read this - its a beautiful piece)


    I’ve been learning to conduct choirs for a couple of years, off and on, inspired by various musical directors and friends. I’ve sung in choirs longer than that and I love it - love the feeling of belonging, of excitement and making something together. When it goes well its a triumph for everyone, badly and its a shared dusting down and pick yourself up. I guess wanting to conduct is partly fuelled with wanting to share my love for music, and recreate that with a group. I try to communicate that anyway.


    I’m an amateur, a novice really. This isn’t something I’ve studied, or something I’ve dedicated my life to, but its something I’ve grown to enjoy doing once my initial terror gave way to insecurity, which gave way to nervousness, and finally gave way to something approaching confidence. I’m taking lessons, talking to other young conductors, and studying music. I’m thinking not just about how I’ve sung this before, or what happens in this recording or that, I’m starting to think: what does the music want to do? What sound can this choir make to make this as amazing as it can be?


    Leonardo dreams of his flying machine.


    Its a beautiful work, full of story and longing and rich imagery. Its perfect for our choir - we blend well, our vowels are good with not too much vibrato, and we’re all Whitacre choir geeks. I suggest it… tentatively. People want to do it. I want to do it.


    It’s hard. Its a hard piece and I throw myself into it, learning every line as well as I can. The first rehearsal goes phenomenally well - it has shape, and people are clearly enthused (and, I think, relieved - they know me, and know I’m not seasoned. Not trained). Other rehearsals go well, I have conducting lessons, and spend all my time thinking about the piece. I walk around Edinburgh waving my arms and hearing the music in my head.


    Leonardo dreams of his flying machine.


    On Sunday, all 13 singers walked out onto the stage, and I took my place in front of them. They’d learnt it off copy, and worked so hard. I was so nervous I could barely give the starting F natural. After the second go, I got it out. Arms raised. Took one last breath. 3. 4.


    The first chord rings out and fills the place, and its awesome. I forget about the audience, the judges, and just concentrate on the people in front of me. My friends. My choir. And they sing like angels. It’s gong well, and I’m excited, and can’t help but grin. I’m so lucky, to be doing this, with these people - that they let me have this much fun.


    We rehearsed the time, a lot. I figured out where we could take our time, rit and accel. and got it to a good 7:40 pretty consistently if I didn’t hang around on the end. I think we came in under that. I think we were all breathless. We all grinned at each other as the judges told us we were brave, and that we’d rolled a dice and gambled it all. ”You’ve rolled a 6,” they said.


    We didn’t win, I should say that now. We’re not through. We didn’t hear the choir who won, but I know them, and they’re amazing, and deserve it. They all give their lives to this. Our choir is made up of doctors, and teachers, architects, scientists and civil servants. And me. All of us learning, all of us loving every second. I love them so much. The train home was even more excited than the train down. We made plans, schemed schemes, and everyone wanted to do it again; wanted to do more. If I’m really lucky, they’ll let me.

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