Monday, September 28, 2009


The weekend was spent with the Chancel Choir - or a good portion of the Choir, anyway. I'm always surprised that people will give so much of their time for Choir, and then give above and beyond at a Retreat. And stay cheerful. And then be thankful for it. It is a reminder of the greatness of this work - the church choir.

Reflections on why this is so might be apt and timely, but today I am simply thankful, and here is what for:
  • A great workshop on choral musicianship, by voice professor (and bass singer in this choir), Gerard Sundberg. His overarching theme - why shouldn't a group that sings together week after week, year after year, be getting better? What a novelty! By way of introducing two of our retreat octavos, he helped us raise our game on Accuracy, Diction, Musicality. For me, it was like attending a conducting workshop.
  • A nice new anthem introduced by its arranger (and bass singer in this choir), Greg Wheatley. His setting of the Welsh hymn "Here Is Love" (William Rees) with a Robert Lowry tune (Hope Publishing) is a lovely gospel gem.
  • New octavos for Christmas - From Alice Parker's triptych Shepherds and Angels, the carol "Behold! the Grace Appears." And from Malcolm Archer, on a Timothy Dudley-Smith text, "Gold for a Manger Bed." These became instant choir favorites, and for some I think they made the weekend worth the trouble!
  • Good refreshments, a great lunch, and a chance to hang out together without the press of a late night or a huge agenda.

Now, there were also some planning blunders. In my typical fashion, I put too much repertoire on for the event. We will do two extended works for the Christmas Festival, each about 12 minutes in length: Pergolesi (Durante?) Magnificat and Conrad Susa A Christmas Garland. They are well within the choir's reach, and we have an ample 10 more weeks to work on them. But in retrospect, I should have introduced only one of them (and it could have been either one) - and spent more time on that one, with the result of making more obvious progress on something big, rather than giving a sense of - oh, I don't know, dread? - at the end of a fire hose. I wouldn't change the way either piece was introduced, I just should not have introduced both of them.

We did have two familiar Christmas pieces which provided excellent balance, relief, and sheer pleasure. In addition to learning the earlier mentioned new octavos, picking up these old favorites "rescued" our Saturday repertoire session: "What Child Is This?" (Hal Hopson, Hope Publishing) and "All Is Well" (Smith/arr. Huff). And because of the raising our game workshop, coming back to these old friends was like hearing them anew. What fun!

For many in the choir, the highlight of a fall retreat is our service of commitment and prayer. We gather in the loft, sing, read, pray and wait in silence, and incorporate our new general anthems into this service. What a rich experience, with women and men who make each weekly rehearsal an act of worship.

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