Summertown Singers 2014
Sant Miquel del Port, Barcelona
18 – 24 August
This was our fourth Summertown Singers choir tour – so why do we keep coming back?
A smaller group has more chance than the full choir of getting a consistent, blended sound. We came in couples (in some cases both singers, some one singer plus accompanying audience), some groups of friends and some singles who were well integrated into the other groups. Noone knew everyone beforehand, so everyone made new friends. Duncan invited us to a rooftop party looking out over Barcelona with wine, olives and almonds. We had a picnic in the park and held an impromptu sing in the central bandstand, “accompanying partners” finding themselves needed to hand out fliers for the concert to intrigued tourists and Barcelona residents.
This year, the site was again the parish church of Barceloneta, a planned suburb jutting out into the Med from the main city of Barcelona, built as a fishing village in the 18th century. Barceloneta is surrounded by sea on three sides, with tall and narrow apartment blocks and shaded streets. The church was a haven of cool and peace – remember to bring a head torch!
As before, we performed a mixed programme of sacred and secular music. There were three undoubted highlights. One was the wonderful “Psalm tunes for Archbishop Parker” by Thomas Tallis. Those who only know one side of Tallis – say, his extraordinary motet in 40 parts, Spem in Alium – may not see his genius in the round. These psalm tunes, written for the new Protestant church which Tallis did not support, are plain and chunky – the parts do not soar off in polyphony but all move together in the most marvellous and profound modulations to make music perfectly suited to the words.
Another highlight was our selection of Catalan folk songs, which we bravely decided to sing in Catalonia, with most of us not knowing a word of Catalan. When we gave our concert, the audience loved them – definitely the most popular thing we did, a good link to our fiercely patriotic Catalan audience.
Thirdly, Duncan did his own setting of a Beuna Vista Social Club number called Orguillecida, with a memorable solo. We did one practice every morning, and the result was sufficient to get a standing ovation and an encore.
Activities included the unparalleled National Museum of Catalan Art (Iain furtively walking around barefoot on the cool marble floors), trips to the numerous Gaude creations around the city (striking and reminiscent of so much that has copied him, including Disney), Tibidabo, walks in the Forest of Vallvidera, and of course bus, train, cable car and funicular rides. Many of these are illustrated in the photographs.
We strongly recommend this to new and old choir members: getting to know more of the choir really enriches the regular Thursday practices for both of us.
Iain and Jo McLean
In August 2014 The Summertown Singers spent another week in Barcelona preparing for a concert in the baroque edifice of St. Miquel del Port in the charming sea and city side village of La Barceloneta. How would time be found for choir practice in what The National Geographic describes as the best beach city in the world!?
The Priest, Padre Oriel again showed himself to be amazingly kind and helpful with zero fuss. But he couldn’t disguise his incredulity as we almost perfected Tallis anthems, a Lassus “Hunting” Mass, English part songs, a setting of “Steal Away” composed for the concert, the first ever choral arrangement of a Cuban Jazz number and a selection of beautiful Catalan folk songs provided for us by La Palau de le Musica Catalana. The Catalan music produced the noisiest standing ovation I’ve ever heard and the encores could have gone on and on. The trip coincided with an internationally reported incident; outside the Church were huge protest marches against drunken tourism triggered by three Italians streaking in a grocery store. There are still laws against this “freedom of expression” and the locals were up in arms trumpeting and chanting and almost drowning out the Catalan folk songs we sang so sensitively and soberly!
In La Parc Ciutadella our choir picnic was followed by a short impromptu performance of some of our songs in the pretty family bandstand dedicated to Sonia, the transsexual murdered in 1991. After a morning’s singing, it was long lunches exploring (for example) Catalan cuisine, roof terrace vistas of the sea and the mountains, Picasso, Gaudi and Miro, remarkable Gothic architecture….or just sipping a mojito on one of the seven sandy beaches, trying to get “La Balanguera”* out of our heads!
*The Mallorcan National Anthem about a mysterious spider spinning the
thread of our lives.