Playing for pantomimes: bad jokes, lead sheets… and beer

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This morning I heard Andrew Gold’s ‘Thank you for being a friend’. Now – as Obi-Wan Kenobi might have said – I haven’t heard that for a long, long time. It instantly brought up memories of playing in a 5-piece band for pantomimes when I was about 20; in one of these, the last song was the aforementioned ‘Thank you…’ (I can see them now “stand up and take a bow”).

With 19 performances in 15 days (three on Saturdays, at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm) at Erith Playhouse, Kent, each lasting well over 2 hours, it was a non-stop, wonderful feast of a range of music, combined with terrible jokes (I remember one of the principal protagonists was Patty O’Dors).

In between numbers the band would nip under the stage for a beer served from those 7-pint cans with the gas pump widget to keep it from going flat (little CAMRA influence in those days!). It was both good fun, and another important influence on my musical life.

As well as the beer and some welcome pocket money, these gigs brought a number of other benefits, including tight ensemble and the discipline (and thus inherent freedom) of playing from lead sheets with just guitar chords, e.g.

D | G | e A7 | b | f# e | Asus–A7 | Eb ||

only kidding 🙂

Good grounding for playing from guitar chords for “modern Catholic” music and from figured bass in continuo work later on.

So thanks to Terry Wogan for playing that disc. Hasn’t music got great power for memory?

By the way, Keith and Stella Jarman, are you out there?

Comments, as always, welcome. 🙂

Mozart ‘Requiem’ at Dunblane Cathedral

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Well, my first term with Stirling University Choir has now come to its conclusion with a lively performance in Dunblane Cathedral of Mozart’s final work, together with two other works by the Master, rounding off with Justorum animae by Lassus.

The concert, on the 218th anniversary of Mozart’s death (5 December 1791), brought together two works from that fateful year, together with a work honouring fellow Freemasons. The Requiem is an interesting work to approach, as it was unfinished at the composer’s death, and had to be completed by Süssmayr; for all the faults of this version, we owe a debt of gratitude to Süssmayr for completing it. (It would be interesting one day to prepare and perform the work in one of the other completions – perhaps the one by Maunder.)

Although it’s probably inappropriate for me to comment on how the concert went musically (that privilege has to be left to others), I’m really proud of the Choir for all their hard work and focus, that enabled what I think was an excellent performance. Well done!

The four soloists (Clare Tucker, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Warren Gillespie and Michel de Souza) blended well, and were a delight to work with, as were the orchestra, guided by its leader, Bernardus Buurman.

The programme began with Ave verum corpus, accompanied by strings and organ, chosen as a link to the last concert by the Choir’s previous conductor, David King. I’ve often thought of this as “perfection in 30-odd bars”. Gorgeous.

The City of Glasgow Symphony Orchestra performed Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, a delightful piece that’s worth getting to know. Although financial constraints meant there was a rather small string section (43221), with four of the wind parts having to be taken by the organ, played by the Cathedral’s organ scholar, Steven McIntyre, it was definitely worth doing, if only for the gorgeous sounds from the wind and strings.

Basset horns were employed again in the main piece of the concert, the unfinished Requiem, and these provided the dark colour required for the opening movement.

This work is definitely one of contrasts, and not only in its composition. String bows almost caught fire in the ‘Dies irae’, with what must be one of the fastest performances of all time! The ‘Recordare’, described by Mozart’s widow, Constanze as one of his favourite compositions, was beautifully sung by the soloists – and it’s still going through my head!

At the end of the Requiem, soloists and choir joined together to sing Justorum animae by Orlando di Lassus (“The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God… they are at peace”).

So how do I think the choir’s performance went?

  • They responded really well, with conviction and passion, and sensitivity to the texts.
  • I think there were good fugal entries and generally well-supported singing.
  • The weakest moment was probably the beginning of the Lassus, with momentary insecurity, but it quickly recovered. And having only seven tenors meant that the “ne absorbeat” entry was a bit weak (although they were giving all they had!).
  • The best bits, I think, were the exciting ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Dies irae’, and the Offertorium movements, ‘Domine, Jesu Christe’ and ‘Hostias’, which portrayed a range of styles and emotions from dance to terror to confident hope.

Performers

Clare Tucker soprano
Rebecca Afonwy-Jones mezzo-soprano
Warren Gillespie tenor
Michel de Souza baritone
Stirling University Choir
City of Glasgow Symphony Orchestra (Bernardus Buurman leader)
Alistair Warwick  conductor

Was anyone reading this (if anyone is reading this!) at the concert? Please comment below.