Chanctonbury Chorus Blog

Sing and get FitStudy Materials

Posted by David King Sat, September 22, 2018 20:52:15

WHY JOINING THE CHANCTONBURY CHORUS COULD BE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH!

Steyning is very fortunate in having several community groups dedicated to the enjoyment of music, one of the most established of which is the Chanctonbury Chorus. This is a mixed choir of about 30-40 people who meet one evening a week to prepare a concert performance of some of the great classics of the choral repertoire.

The Chorus was founded by Siobhan Denning over 30 years ago and started life as a small chamber choir. However, the popularity of the Chorus grew and grew, bringing in more people interested in singing, and this enables the Chorus to perform some of the larger choral pieces, including Haydn’s “Creation”, Mozart C minor Mass and Bach’s B minor Mass. Our repertoire also includes more contemporary masterpieces, such as Tippett’s “A Child of our Time” and music by Eric Whiteacre and Arvo Part.

As a music teacher and a conductor, Siobhan is committed to promoting young composers, and over the years the choir has given premieres of several commissioned pieces, including, for its 25thAnniversary, a piece by Steyning’s then resident composer, Michael Finnissy. The Chorus also performs joint concerts, including Verdi’s “Requiem” and “The Armed Man” by Karl Jenkins with the Shoreham Oratorio in Lancing College Chapel and Brahms’ Requiem with the Hurst Singers at Hurstpierpoint College.

When asked why she thinks Chanctonbury Chorus continues to be successful after all this time, Siobhan replied: “I think, first and foremost, it’s because everyone in the Chorus is dedicated to ensuring that each performance is of the highest possible quality. We work hard in rehearsal to learn the music well and we make sure that we use orchestral players and soloists of the highest possible calibre, even if it means we have to pay a little more. We’re very fortunate that several of our instrumentalists return their cheques, because they enjoy playing with us so much, and I’ve been told by some of them that this is because of the high standard of performance.

However, we also value the sense of community that the Chanctonbury Chorus represents. Rehearsals are fun, as well as hard work, and there’s a thriving social side to the choir. We have an interval in the middle of each rehearsal, and sometimes it’s very hard for me to get everyone back in their seats and ready to continue with the music, they’re so busy chatting with friends! This sense of community extends to our audience – we’re very proud to perform in St Andrew’s, our local church, which has a lovely acoustic, and to a regular and loyal audience. Every concert is followed by a social in the Steyning Centre, to which performers and audience are invited. It’s a great opportunity for the audience to meet and talk to the performers. The soloists also tell me that it’s really useful and immediate feedback – something they value.”

So is singing really good for you? “The only thing better than singing is more singing," said Ella Fitzgerald. The research available on singing identifies some key physical benefits: it exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, is an aerobic activity that improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system and encourages you to take more oxygen into your body, leading to increased alertness.

Aerobic activity is linked to stress reduction, longevity and better overall health. Improved airflow in the upper respiratory tract is likely to lessen the opportunity for bacteria to flourish there, countering the symptoms of colds and flu. Singing also aids the development of motor control and coordination, and recent studies have shown that it improves neurological functioning.

Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, who has studied developmental and medical aspects of singing for 30 years says, “The health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour.”

Singing is a great work out: regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in West London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart. Not only that, your body produces ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins, which rush around your body when you sing. It’s exactly the same when you eat a bar of chocolate. The good news with singing is that you don’t gain any calories! Not only can it increase lung capacity, it improves posture, clears respiratory tubes and sinuses, and can increase mental alertness through greater oxygenation. It even tones the muscles of your stomach and back, if you’re singing correctly.”

So have we whet your appetite? Hopefully the answer is yes. It doesn’t matter if the last time you sang was when you were at school – there’s no audition for Chanctonbury Chorus: “I’ve found over the years that people are “self-auditioning” and they stay if they enjoy it,” says Siobhan. “Luckily, we have very few drop-outs. I’m very proud of the fact that several of our members joined us not knowing how to even read music – they’re still with us and enjoying every moment. I make every effort to ensure that the rehearsals are accessible to all, without “dumbing down” for the serious musicians. There’s no age-limit – at either end – and people are welcome to come along for a couple of rehearsals as a taster, before deciding whether singing is for them.”

So why not give it a go? Chanctonbury Chorus meets every Wednesday from 7:45 – 9:45 and are currently preparing for a performance in November. Want more details? Check out the website and get fit singing.



Britten Hymn OverviewStudy Materials

Posted by David King Mon, September 10, 2018 18:59:31

Repertoire Note

Choral level of difficulty: Level 4 (5 greatest)

This work had a long gestation as Britten had problems finding a suitable text. Auden was eventually asked and produced the poem in 1940. Britten’s setting was immediately recognised as a major addition to the choral repertory and has since become one of his most enduringly popular choral works. It is a nice coincidence that Britten was born on St. Cecilia’s day (22 November). Cecilia is, of course, the Patron Saint of musicians who is supposed to have sung praises to God as she was being martyred. The story of her manner of death makes gruesome reading and the act of singing in extremis something of a miracle!

Britten responds to Auden’s extraordinary imagery with relish. The poem’s division into three ‘movements’ gives Britten his musical structure, and the provision of a refrain (‘Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire...’) gives a point of reference marking the end of each section, and of the work. The three ‘movements’ are completely different from each other. The first has a kind of ‘ground bass’ moving through it started by the tenors in the first bar and passing between them and the basses. Over this bass, the upper parts sing flowing compound time phrases which are almost hymn-like. The refrain at the end of the verse is a unison version of the initial flowing melody sung by the sopranos.

The second section is a scherzo which gives Britten his ‘middle movement’ contrast. This is marked to be sung extremely quickly. Dotted crotchet 152-160 is almost frighteningly fast! It needs also to be pianissimo and have absolute clarity of words. A feeling of the ‘ground bass’ from the first section returns as a binding motif throughout this section in long notes. All highly effective if well sung. The refrain is a slightly different form of the same melody as before.

The final section is more extended and begins with an ostinato bass which feels slightly menacing. Over this, Britten builds contrapuntal phrases in the upper parts with longer note values. Four solo voices are featured in the next section, most of which are recitative-like to be freely declaimed over held choral chords. The final refrain uses the familiar melody from the opening and brings the work to its quiet end through some challengingly low notes for second basses.

This is a challenging work which should not be undertaken lightly. It needs sympathetic and careful preparation, understanding of the words, a readiness to accept the issues raised by the speed of the ‘scherzo’ movement and an ability to maintain pitch over this time-scale so that the very low notes at the end of the work are not made even lower through a general flattening. Having said all this, it is perfectly approachable by an amateur choir of reasonable attainment providing that enough rehearsal time is allowed for its preparation. The choir also needs to be able to field five confident soloists. Short as the solos are (except for the first soprano one which is more extended and different from the subsequent ones) they present issues which can test a less-confident singer.

The hard work is always worth it as a successful performance of this work is rewarding and memorable.

Repertoire note by Paul Spicer

Winter 2018 ConcertStudy Materials

Posted by David King Mon, September 10, 2018 16:48:56

Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia

The Bach motet, Jesu, Meine Freude

Byrd Mass for Four Voices

Rutter A Gaelic Blessing

Vaughan Williams Lord, Thou has been our refuge