Event review: The Sopranos – a workshop with Croydon Bach Choir

By - Wednesday 11th March, 2015

Liz Sheppard-Jones hits a high note with Haydn at a one day rehearsal-and-performance workshop

In rehearsal.
Photo author’s own.

I’m rusty, but I can sing. As a teenage soprano I was solid back row material, pumping up the volume, but it was fun and I featured at the Three Choirs Festival (a music event involving choirs from the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire) and in Worcester Cathedral with both church and school ensembles. There’s nothing – and I really mean this – that I enjoy more than a full-on requiem mass.

But that was last century, and in the days preceding my one day workshop with the Croydon Bach Choir, I suddenly got butterflies. These dudes can really sing, and we are talking about a full musical score here, with directions like ‘mezzo forte’ and ‘tutti’. It’s decades since I learned that stuff and I’d never heard, or even heard of, Haydn’s Harmonie Mass so there was no memory bank to tap. This would be sight-reading with the pros.

Photo author’s own.

I’ve reviewed the choir before and been impressed. Everyone was welcoming when I arrived and registered: the day began at 10:00am at St Matthew’s Church, Chichester Road, with rehearsal all day (you take a packed lunch) and show-time at 5:00pm. Many present were choir members but the workshop was also attended by members of other choirs, former members and enthusiasts who can’t fit in a regular commitment to rehearsals. Cost for the day is £14, and teabreaks come with flapjack.

Director Tim Horton (also Director of Chapel Music at the Guards’ Chapel London) was reassuring – it was clear from the off that whilst standards are high, this was about having fun and there’d be no alarming ‘Right! Back row on your own!’ kind of stuff which I remember from choir practice with a slight shiver. Tim was great – he does Latin jokes whilst remaining very down-to-earth and kept the rehearsal moving with skill so that we covered a lot of ground quickly but still very enjoyably.

It’s completely uplifting to stand in a wall of sound

The Harmonie Mass is beautiful, but it’s hard music and I know that I staggered through the difficult patches and relied on my far superior neighbours to keep me on track. Still, singing with others felt good, and once I’d got a few simpler passages nailed I managed to lift my eyes from the score – I was terrified throughout of losing my place – and take directions from Tim so that we could put some colour into our performance. There’s something completely uplifting about standing in a wall of sound. Best of all, at no point was anyone critical – I giggled with my fellow sopranos when we came unstuck and Tim was good-humoured about our mistakes: ‘Altos, you were out of tune when you came in there. Or else you were wrong’.

Photo author’s own.

Our four extremely accomplished soloists arrived at 4:00pm for final flight checks: Belinda Evans (soprano), Rebekah Jones (alto), Adam Tunnicliffe (tenor) and Julian Empett (bass). The performance at the end of the day was to be casual, with tickets £5 for anyone who fancied it and no-one dressed up – but that actually made it even more impressive when people in jeans with sunglasses on their heads strolled in, laughed and chatted then stood up and sang like that. They were serious concert standard: for the choir and we workshoppers things were rather more ragged, but it went off well and the sense of achievement at the end was terrific. I sometimes lecture my children about how great it can feel to challenge and stretch yourself and this is going on my list of examples, which I’m sure will delight them. We deserved a bigger crowd.

My final comment here is that Saturday’s enthusiastic workshoppers are real Croydonians. They’re as real as the troubled, out-of-control children with knives, and the fly-tippers, and the people who are clearly just desperately poor and marginalised. Our borough is diverse and, amongst other things, a place of cultured enjoyment where many love and value the arts. Somebody – write this about us. And if you won’t – well, I will.

The Croydon Bach Choir, and other local choirs, run a regular programme of workshops like this one. I can’t say enough to encourage people to join in and I’m going to go regularly. Take a look here for contact information.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Terry Coleman

    A side of Croydon that never seems to hit the headlines but an important part of our town nontheless. Exhilarating stuff indeed and well described by Liz.