On Tuesday 17th April, members, together with their friends and relatives, put their general knowledge to the test in the Blackburn Music Society Quiz. The venue was Blackburn Golf Club and the evening included a potato pie supper. Margaret Crane and Mike Waters not only provided a wide ranging set of questions, but also very ably hosted the event and maintained order throughout the evening. A very entertaining and enjoyable evening.
Our other Babylonian number – Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – is just about the easiest thing in the repertoire. Belshazzar’s Feast is just a brute.
Some fifty of us gathered to resume battle with Belshazzar in the unlovely but homely Salesbury Village Hall on 10th March, most of us trailing bruised egos from the previous Monday’s rehearsal (think Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow). Expectations were not high. The high pitch of merriment and excitement as we assembled had something of the febrile nature of troops about to go over the top.
Oh we of little faith! Our young Captain, exuding his customary energy and confidence rallied or flagging spirits, cha-stised us for our timidity and had us hurling ourselves at Walton’s barbarous ramparts with no thought for the morrow. Of the small clutch of tenors – who by the way strenuously refute (sic) any suggestion of clutching and the like – it may be justly said that never in the field of human endeavour has so much been so wrongly sung, with such gusto, by so few.
Joy’s performance was simply superhuman (not to suggest for a moment that a pact with the Devil or anything of that sort has been entered into).
Flawless it was not but those who arrived as the crotchety and quavery strode out with a whiff of victory in the nostrils and a bond of comradeship forged in adversity (think Relief of Mafeking).
What did our eight or so visitors make of us? Surely they can have been in no doubt of our friendliness, enthusiasm and esprit de corps. Their verdict on our musical prowess may be ambivalent but word of the refreshments is surely winging through the north.
O the cakes!
Welcome to Joseph Judge who will be taking some of our Belshazzar’s Feast rehearsals in March. Joseph has a number of choral conducting jobs including Director of the Hallé Choral Academy. He is also much in demand as a Countertenor and is frequently engaged as an oratorio soloist. We are delighted that he is able to join us.
Have you visited the BMS Archive Exhibition yet? If not, read on to see what you’re missing…
Swathed in my woolly hat and piano scarf, I blew in to see our Archive exhibition yesterday. I stayed for ages, enthralled by the material, especially from times before I joined BMS nearly 60 years ago.
How marvellous to see how, over our history, people have had the confidence to strive for the heights of achievement to the point where such renowned conductors and soloists were happy to bring their talents out of the major cities and sing with an amateur choir from a Lancashire cotton town. I was amazed to see the correspondence with the great Paul Robeson, whom I so wanted to hear.
Mike’s stunning display in the foyer really hits the spot in its interest and humour. Thank you, Mike, and thank you to Margaret and her dedicated team who must have devoted endless hours in the presentation of this wonderful exhibition. We must talk to our friends and encourage them or accompany them to enjoy this fabulous portrayal of an enduring part of the history of Blackburn.
Live for ever, BMS!
The Archive Exhibition continues at Blackburn Library until February 28th. Mike Waters’ marvellous art-work can be seen on either side of the entrance to the Library and you will find material on the history of the choir on the first floor outside the Hornby Theatre.
The complete archive is on permanent loan to the library and it should be possible to access items on request.
This term’s rehearsals have got off to a good start as the choir gets to grips with Elgar’s Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands, a charming set of six songs inspired by a holiday the composer and his wife Alice enjoyed in Upper Bavaria in 1894. Each song is a setting of a poem written by Alice, sub-titled with the name of a place they had visited together.
As we shall be performing this piece in our summer concert, during this current month we welcome back Helen Harrison, who will be conducting us in June.
She says it’s a pleasure to be working with the choir again and she’s looking forward to the concert. A massive Elgar fan, she also said that, having met us during rehearsals of Gerontius, it seems fitting that she is joining us again for this trip through the Highlands!
We have also been delighted to welcome Ed Rugman, who has been accompanying us while Joy has been indisposed. Ed, who lives in Lytham St Annes, studied at the RNCM and was later an Organ Scholar at Blackburn Cathedral. Not only is he adept at the keyboard, but he is also a composer – his work includes documentary music for the BBC – and a conductor who is sought-after in musical theatre. Some of you might have seen Ed in action recently when he conducted a ‘Last night of the Proms’ concert at Preston Minster in aid of The Rosemere Cancer Foundation.
We are lucky to be able to call on two such talented musicians and we have enjoyed a chance to experience a fresh approach as we begin the new year. Of course we’ll also be glad to see Tom and Joy when they return!
Last Monday evening was bitterly cold and the remnants of the earlier snowfall had turned to ice making travel a worry for many. Even so, Blackburn Cathedral was once again filled to capacity with a congregation ready to celebrate the memory of their loved ones.
Blackburn Music Society had the privilege of supporting the service carols, adding flourishes of harmony and soaring descant which lifted the usual Christmas melodies to the heavens. Then, as each member of the congregation received a lighted candle, the atmosphere became still as the lights were dimmed and BMS choir, conducted by Tom Newall, offered a moving performance of Morten Lauridsen’s Sure on this Shining Night. The music and the heartfelt words of James Agee’s poem created a poignant moment.
Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.
James Agee 1934
The choir followed up with Rutter’s Angels’ Carol, sung with a brightness and aplomb that brought a lighter mood, following which the two massive Christmas trees were officially lit by supporters of East Lancashire Hospice, Allan Poyner and Emma Wharton.
After prayers and blessing by Canon Andrew Hindley, all were charmed by the children of Salesbury CE Primary School who performed That First Christmas Day by Paul Field. Conducted by Gill Fourie, whom the children clearly adore, they brought touching hope for the future. They closed with a very accomplished rendition of Carol of the Bells by Peter Wilhousyky (arr Dean Jones) which caused Canon Hindley to query, “How do you remember all those words?” and some BMS members to ponder, “Could we do that?”
Soloist Ella Constantinides followed with a moving performance of For Good by Stephen Schwartz; the words, so clearly delivered by Ella, had many dabbing away tears. Then Josh Hindle stepped in to remind us all of the joy of Christmas with Let it Snow and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
Conducted in the presence of visiting mayoral dignitaries from Ribble Valley and Blackburn with Darwen, this was a service that brought both smiles and tears. It ended with Sam Hudson leading the congregation into Hark the Herald Angels Sing, with an organ sound that pushed at the rafters and lifted everyone’s hearts.
The annual performance by BMS of Handel’s Messiah is always popular and last Saturday’s concert was no exception – the Cathedral was filled to capacity with an enthusiastic and attentive audience.
An annual occurrence it might be, but the choir’s rendering of this well-known work was by no means routine. Under Tom Newall’s masterly direction and with the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra playing as always with skill and verve, ably supported by Samuel Hudson on the chamber organ, the choir combined passion with precision; heads were up, diction was crisp as the singers conveyed the drama of the familiar but always moving story with energy and conviction. So thrilling was it that a member of the orchestra said it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
The performance was made all the more memorable by the contributions of the four exceptional soloists. Soprano Charlotte Hoather, in her first public performance of this work, mesmerised the audience with the beauty of her singing (for Charlotte’s take on this experience, see her blog post.)
Helen Anne Gregory’s rendering of the contralto arias was powerful and compelling. and the male soloists were equally impressive: Alexander Grainger brought a freshness and vitality to the tenor solos while baritone Matthew Mannion’s arias were supple and expressive.
As the strains of the final amen died away, it seemed as though everyone in that splendid building had been drawn together, united by an experience that for many truly expresses the spirit of Christmas.
While praising this performance, let us not forget the originator of this great work, here celebrated by a member of the choir:
Messiah: Handel With Us
All week he is bound
in orange or blue by his acolytes,
Watkins Shaw, Prout or Burrows.
Tonight he comes with me,
does not remark on the wind, the rain
or the traffic, slips beside me
into the bright hall. None
can see him, not shepherds,
not angels, sopranos nor foundlings
yet he shall purify, for unto us
a composer is given; and he speaks
as if the ink were yet wet
on good will toward men; and
every time, in bar 42, the violins
conspire with the angels,
carry him off,
On Saturday a loyal band of music-lovers struggled through gales, rain and flood to reach Westholme School. They had come to hear BMS perform an exciting programme of music by living composers, though at one point it looked as though the evening might be cancelled – there were deep floods in Meins Road – and there was a danger that those who made it through might be marooned for the night!
Nevertheless the concert, conducted with his usual energy by Tom Newall and ably accompanied throughout by Joy Fielding, went ahead, and after singing John Rutter’s Look at the World, the choir plunged into Bob Chilcott’s A Little Jazz Mass which they performed with an infectious enthusiasm, more than one singer being unable to prevent themselves swinging with the music. No wonder. The beat was ably provided by Trish Ferrain on keyboard and Eden Longson on drums, while Joy laid down the groove on the piano.
More jazz followed with a set played by Steve Berry on bass and his young protégé Cubby Howard giving an astonishing performance of jazz cello. A young man who is certain to go far. He certainly won over the audience – at least one listener who admitted not really liking jazz was very impressed with this duo.
The first half of the concert concluded with a brief reminder of The Vicar of Dibley, evoked by the choir’s rendering of Howard Goodall’s Psalm 23.
After the interval the choir sang Rutter’s For the Beauty of The Earth and the evening finished with Goodall’s Requiem Eternal Light, in which the words of the Latin Mass are interspersed with various poems in English. Given that at times the wind could be heard threatening to take the roof off the building, it was appropriate that ‘Lead Kindly Light’ formed part of the Requiem, and the choir rendered ‘The night is dark and I am far from home’ with particular feeling!
The solos, which comprised the poems for the most part, were sang very movingly by soprano Heather Heighway and tenor Dominic Stewart. An unexpected delight was that, in some movements, students from St Wilfrid’s Academy dance company A.D.Versity performed pieces that they themselves had created with their teacher.
One member of the audience summed it up thus: ‘The combination of the three elements – choir, soloists and dancers – was wonderful.’
In fact the whole evening seemed to go down well with its audience some of whom commented that it was ‘refreshingly different’ and ‘worth struggling through the storm for’. Given the atrocious weather that evening, that is praise indeed.
Last Monday members of the choir gathered to celebrate the end of a satisfying season with a meal at Tigi’s. A slight hitch in the number of pheasants available was soon resolved and the free garlic bread was much appreciated. A good time was had by all; an excellent way to finish the season. Thanks to Margaret Crane for organising it.
For the its last performance of the season, BMS took part in the Festival of Voice at King George’s Hall. This joyous extravaganza, which brought together various choirs in the region and the Blackburn and Darwen Brass Band, was attended by a large and enthusiastic audience.
Each group performed on its own, interspersed with songs sung by all choirs together, including ‘Mambo Italiano’, ‘Let No-one Steal Your Dreams’ (with British Sign Language) and ‘You’re Not Alone’ . The Blackburn People’s Choir’s a cappella rendition of ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘Here comes the Sun’ was impressive, The Renaissance Singers and Cathedral Choristers revealed their talent and precision in ‘Like A Singing Bird’ by Bob Chilcott and the Blackburn and Darwen Brass Band’s superb and lively performances of ‘Breezing down Broadway’ and ‘Helter-Skelter’ had everyone tapping their feet and some singers even joining in! Their outstanding xylophone player held listeners spellbound.
Our contribution, conducted by our own Tom Newall and accompanied, of course, by Joy Fielding, was Verdi’s ‘Va Pensiero’ from Nabucco and Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum’ from memory, which for some of the choir was a very special moment.
The ten Sing Together Schools choirs were amazing, the youngsters’ excitement palpable and infectious. As well as ‘The Fox’ they performed ‘Light The Candles’, a song that is particularly poignant at this time:
“Light a candle in the dark for those who must flee
Light seven billion candles
The children sang so beautifully that some listeners were moved to tears.
Altogether it was an uplifting and heart-warming event, full of energy. The audience, directed with his usual aplomb by Jeff Borradaille, who asked them to do fairly silly things throughout the evening, spontaneously rose to their feet to join in the final en-masse number ‘You’re not Alone.’
And then came a surprise ‘flash mob’ moment in which BMS joined the Renaissance Singers in a rendition of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus; this stopped quite a few of the audience in their tracks as they were leaving and raised applause.
For members of BMS who took part it was clearly a memorable evening:
‘BMS were placed central stage which, when it came to the signed songs was slightly embarrassing! However, guided faultlessly by Gill Fourie, we were able to perform the songs and even enjoy the experience.’
‘A very jolly evening…’
‘Top moment for me was coming off stage after the ‘Hallelujah’ and some of the children came out of their dressing room and applauded us back-stage. That’s a moment that will stay with me – a meeting of the generations and they appreciated what we do.’
Huge thanks must go to Gill Fourie who organised this event and to the music outreach team. The evening was a real showcase of the musical talent in our area, showing the diversity of local music making. There was a very special atmosphere of unity and happiness – more please!