24 October 2020
This is an unusually long email, but you only need to read the sections applying to you. As a one-off it is being sent to everyone on our mailing list, whether they have signed on for this term or not.
Link to recording of rehearsal of 22.10.20:
For details of the timings, see Online Rehearsals on our website.
Music for next week, 29.10.20:
Vaccaj Lesson 5, Half-steps Delira dubiosa…
Bach Wachtet Auf Chorale
Brahms Requiem Movements 3 and 4
Duncan has also chosen a short piece by Clara Schumann, who, as is well known, was very close to Brahms: Abendfeier in Venedig. Hear it here. The score is here.
For those who have followed the online rehearsals so far:
Singing at St Michael’s. St Michael’s allows in theory up to 12 to make use of the North Transept where we currently Zoom from. There are seven in that space each week at the moment. We think there is actually room for just two more, allowing for social distancing, and we wonder if two people would like to come along. You would stand at the back of the transept and not be audible to microphones and you would not necessarily be of the same voice. Places would be allocated on a first-come first-served basis, with a rota if necessary. Any level of singing ability is fine. If you are interested in taking up this chance to sing with others, contact Jackie Weaver, our Membership Secretary, and we will get in touch with you.
The Chat worked well this week, so we will leave it open, solely and privately to Sally Prime, at future rehearsals. Let Sally know (using my name, as Sally is on my laptop) any observations or comments about the sound, as she can make adjustments via the mixer. The mixer allows for tweaking the voices, with controls for high-, mid- and low-range sounds: so if the soprano is relayed as shrill, this can be modified, or the same for bass rumble, and so on. The balance between the voices can be altered, as can the balance between the voices and the piano. The overall volume can be altered too. So this tells you what is worth commenting on and expecting. We would reiterate that if you are going to comment, please be sure that you have the optimal sound settings on your receiving device and, preferably, are listening in with earphones or good speakers external to the computer.
For the technically-interested:
We are using an Allen and Heath ZED12FX Mixer. For the four soloists we are using Shure SM58 microphones and for Duncan and Julian two very sophisticated microphones lent to us by Sally Prime. The video is coming via a Logitech C920 webcam.
For those who started the online rehearsals but are no longer following them:
Do consider returning to them. It has taken us six weeks, but we think we have improved the quality of the sessions considerably, as regards format, content and sound quality. There are clear voices to sing along with during the rehearsal, thanks to the present set-up of a quartet singing in St Michael’s and being relayed via Zoom with the help of relatively sophisticated audio equipment. Listen to the recording via the link in this email and judge for yourself.
For those who have been members in the past but who did not sign on for online rehearsals this term:
You may wish to reconsider now the format has changed. We have room for a few more people on our Zoom link. Read the previous paragraph, which gives details of the current format of online rehearsals. Listen to the recording via the Zoom recording link provided above. If you are interested, see the website’s Home page and the various pages in the Members Menu and contact Jackie Weaver, our Membership Secretary, who will also be happy to answer any questions.
7 September 2020
Online rehearsals of the Brahms Requiem will be starting this Thursday at 8pm. If you have expressed an interest and paid your subscription (almost 100 have so far), you will be sent a Zoom link on Thursday morning. Meanwhile this email is going out to everyone on our mailing list and it is still not too late to join up and take part. Just contact our Membership Secretary, Jackie Weaver, who will also tell you where you can pick up your copy of the Brahms (yours to keep).
After Thursday an email Zoom link will be sent to paid-up members for each subsequent rehearsal. Rehearsals will be recorded and a link to those recordings will also be sent.
This Thursday we will be rehearsing the first movement of the Brahms and also the Rheinberger piece, Abendlied. The music for the latter can be downloaded for free here. Note that the first Alto line should be sung by the second Sopranos and the Tenor 1 line should be sung by the second Altos (so SSAATB). If you are a newcomer to the Choir and perhaps to Choral singing altogether and don’t know what voice you are, experiment. At this point it doesn’t matter which you choose. (And if you are an Alto2 and would prefer to read your part as you are used to reading it, you can download a SSAATB version here for a modest fee.)
We will also be looking at the first lesson, in C Major, from Vaccaj’s Metodo Pratico di Canto Italiano (click this link). It is page 7 of 40 in the downloadable pdf version, page 5 in the book itself. We suggest you print it out. Duncan will explain on Thursday!
Given that you will be singing by yourself (or in some cases with the other person or persons allowed by the coronavirus rules) and will not have the benefit of hearing others around you, you may find it advantageous to rehearse using the various aids mentioned on our Rehearsal Aids page, particularly the John Fletcher website described there.
For any other information, have a look at the Weekly Notices page of our website, where there are more details about setting up and using Zoom (in the 24 August email). These will be simplified and reiterated in the email coming to you on Thursday with the Zoom link.
28 August 2020
Dear SCS Member,
Choir Zoom Meeting
We hope you got something out of the Choir Zoom Meeting last night. If you missed it or want to see any of it again, click here for a recording of it.
We gave out more information last night about the online rehearsals and Duncan talked (starting at 13.49) about the music we will be singing. (And, by the way, the answer to Duncan’s quiz question is Purcell’s Fantasia on one note.)
The score for the Rheinberger piece, Abendlied, that is played (at 18.32 in the recording) can be downloaded at
The version we listened to is at
Please give us any feedback on the meeting – about content or any technical issues relating to it.
The Brahms Requiem score is now available for those who have paid their subscriptions (see my recent letters for details about this). Details of where to collect your copy have been sent to you individually by Jackie Weaver, our Membership Secretary.
There was a question at last night’s meeting about whether the choir might provide some tuition about music theory. You can see our response at 25.19 in the video. If you are interested, let the Choir Secretary, Alison Jones, know, outlining what you are interested in learning, and we will give it consideration.
The online rehearsals start in two weeks, 8-9pm on Thursday 10 September. We will be sending some final details out to paid-up Members (some 90) in the next week or so, including the necessary Zoom link. It is,of course, still open to anyone else to join the Society.
24 August 2020
Dear SCS Member,
We have had a lot of interest in our proposed Zoom rehearsals for the autumn term, and we hope as many of you as possible will be able to join us this Thursday (27 August) at 8pm, for up to an hour, when we’ll talk a bit about how we hope these will be run, and will answer as many of your questions as possible.
The meeting is open to anyone on our mailing list, and not just those who have opted for the rehearsals already (currently 75 in number). Our thinking is that there might be people who have not yet committed who want to hear more.
Jackie Weaver (Membership Secretary) and Philip Booth (Chair) will be acting as ‘co-hosts’ for the meeting.
There is a limit of 100 participants, but if you can’t ‘get in’ or if you miss the meeting for other reasons, you will be able to see a recording of the meeting, a link to which we will be sending around to everyone on the mailing list afterwards. From that point of view, we are assuming that participation in the meeting means that you are willing to run the risk of your face appearing in such a recording. (If you want to attend the meeting but don’t want to be seen, you can turn off the video* of yourself in your Zoom commands.)
As you can imagine, running a Zoom session for up to 100 participants will be quite a tricky undertaking; to help things run as smoothly as possible we’ve decided on the following format
- Whether or not you can attend the meeting, we strongly encourage you to send any questions to Jackie (firstname.lastname@example.org) BEFORE 27 AUGUST.
- The link to the Zoom meeting is:https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85600583135?pwd=ZWgvV3p1L1dpZVgyU2ZxRXhqNFAxZz09Meeting ID: 856 0058 3135
Copy the whole of the URL (from https:// to Zz09 above) and paste it into your web browser and press RETURN. Enter the Passcode if asked for it. Please do this 10-15 minutes before the meeting is due to start (i.e. at 7.45pm-7.50pm on 27 August), and wait for the co-hosts to let you in.
- All participants will be muted throughout the meeting and muting will be controlled by the co-hosts. Committee Members, including Duncan Saunderson, our Music Director, will be unmuted by the co-hosts where necessary to talk or answer your questions.
- You can use the Chat* function to ask questions or make comments during the meeting. We’ll be monitoring the chat to try and make sure all questions and comments are addressed if possible.
- The meeting will start with Philip and Duncan each saying a few words, including talking about how we plan to run the Zoom rehearsals. They and the Committee will then endeavour to answer the questions which have been sent in beforehand. We also hope at some point to play a five-minute segment from one of the trial rehearsal Zoom sessions we have held recently.
- You will probably find it best to use the Speaker View* setting on Zoom, rather than Gallery View. And using earphones will improve the sound quality (especially for the rehearsals).
- You might also prefer to turn off your video* during the presentations; and in any case we may have to ask you to do so if it turns out that the large number of participants affects internet speed.
- We won’t be able to deal with individual problems people may have with their Zoom programme or Internet connection during the meeting. (If you lose contact altogether, don’t forget there will be a recording.) So please download Zoom and familiarise yourself with it beforehand. If doing that is not easy for you, contact Jackie (email above), and someone will make contact with you to help you with it.
*ZOOM FUNCTIONS (accurate as far as we know, but things vary!):
On a PC or Mac:
Speaker/Participant View: buttons on top right of screen
Chat: on the bar at the bottom of the screen
Video on/off: bottom left of screen
On an iPad/other tablet:
Speaker/Participant View: buttons on top left of screen
Chat: drop-down box at top right of screen (under “more…”)
Video on/off: top right of screen
On an iphone/Android
Speaker/Participant View: not relevant, as only four participants can be seen at a time. Swipe phone to right to change which participants are visible to you
Chat: drop-down box at bottom right of screen (under “more…”)
Video on/off: bottom left of screen
A couple of other items:
Research on singing and the coronavirus
We have referred you to recent research on this subject. This is a link to a BBC report on its results:
I think the headline is more optimistic-sounding than the research warrants.
On the basis of the numbers who have expressed an interest in the online rehearsals, we have now ordered copies of the Brahms Requiem score. Obviously you will only be able to pick up your score after you have paid this term’s subscription. (The Society’s Bank details are now on the website at the bottom of the Members Menu.) Details of where the scores can be picked up from will then be passed to you once we have the music.
14 August 2020
Dear SCS Member,
Your committee met, virtually, on Wednesday and have decided the choir should spring into life again – well, as much as is possible at the moment!
What we are proposing is weekly online rehearsals of the Brahms Requiem, in English.
These will be at 8 pm on Thursday, our usual starting time, for one hour, beginning on the date we were due to restart, September 10. They will take place via Zoom, with Duncan conducting us while Julian accompanies on the piano. You will be singing along at home, alone or with any small group you are able to put together safely. All other singers on the Zoom call will be ‘muted’ for you. It will be appreciated that with different broadband speeds a cacophony would be the only result of us trying to hear each other. You will be able to see Duncan on your screen as the sole face, with Julian in the background.
The session will be recorded and made available afterwards so you can go through any of it again. Duncan will let us know each week which movement or movements we will be focussing on, so you will have a chance to practise these beforehand using the John Fletcher website which we subscribe to.
The rehearsals will be in the usual format, but may include sectional rehearsals and also invited soloists to perform chorus parts individually or together. We may also include the occasional rehearsal of a single shorter piece such as a motet or part-song.
We have had a trial run, without Zoom, which was very successful and encouraging. Before we ‘go live’ on September 10, we will be having another trial using Zoom and a number of singers in their homes to be sure that we have got the technology right.
Subs for the term will be £30 (rather than the usual £65) and can now be paid online. This figure will include a free copy of the music (the latest Novello edition edited by Michael Pilkington, not the edition edited by John E. West) as it is important that we are all using the same edition. (You will be able to collect this from one or two centrally-located committee members’ homes, of which more details later.) Though our finances are in a healthy state, we will of course need to cover Duncan’s and Julian’s fees and those of any soloists we use. In this regard, if you feel able to forgo the £20 refund due on last term (if you remember, we said it would be deductible from this coming term’s fees), this would be appreciated. We also must reserve the possibility of charging the remainder of the term’s fee if a concert becomes feasible, in order to cover the large costs of a concert.
What is the goal? Essentially, to bring some singing-life back to the choir and to keep the choir alive until the good times can roll again. At the same time we can be ready to jump into action should a public concert in some format prove to be a possibility. But also it gives you individually a chance to do some singing – a lot of people have been saying that it is the singing in itself that they miss. We hope the structure the rehearsals will provide will help you to do this, either by yourself or with others.
Because of the huge uncertainty at the moment, we obviously cannot make specific plans. But other ideas we have had include a performance of the Messiah, perhaps on the back of a few rehearsals, as well as a come-and-sing event – all when we can get back together. To discuss these ideas and the proposed rehearsals and to answer any questions or get other ideas from you, we are organizing a Choir Zoom meeting on Thursday August 27 at 8 pm. We hope you will all join us. If you have experienced one of these mass events, you will know they can be quite chaotic, if fun, so we will be circulating the ‘rules of engagement’, along with the Zoom link, ahead of time.
It should be emphasised that in the usual way we welcome newcomers to the choir. We will make every effort to involve them. So do mention it to anyone who is looking to join a choir at the moment.
RIGHT NOW, it is important for us to know how many people are interested in doing the online rehearsals, so that we can get a rough idea of how many copies of the score to buy. Please could you email our Membership Secretary, Jackie Weaver (email@example.com), as soon as possible – and at the latest by 24 August, and let her know:
a) if you are interested in taking part in online rehearsals;
b) if you are unfamiliar with Zoom, and need help in setting up/using it. (We will arrange for someone to take you through the process and be available to contact when you first use it. But we should emphasise that it is not difficult to use once set up.)
c) if you want to claim back the £20 from last term.
We can then tell you how to pay online and how to collect the music.
A final note: you were sent most recently a reference to the research on singing and aerosols being done by Declan Costello, Consultant ENT surgeon. It has been announced that the results will be made public ‘in the coming days’. Look out for them. They may be quite influential.
14 July 2020
Another note from Duncan:
Dear SCS Member,
Today is Gerald Finzi’s birthday! Born in London 14 July, 1901. A man of music, apples, cats, Thomas Hardy poetry and trips in England. A great inspiration to those of us not travelling abroad this summer. He said to one friend “Your effusions about Venice are most dull…..Great Somerford is a tiny little English village. Pigs, fields, thatched cottages, lanes, an inn, a parson, squire and about 200 inhabitants. Perfect quiet – heavenly”.
He collected Apple tree varieties and rescued some from extinction like Vaughan Williams collected folk songs. We also have Finzi to thank for preserving a lot of Ivor Gurney’s beautiful poetry and songs. With his wife Joy, he edited and catalogued Gurney’s works for publication, while Gurney, for the last 15 years of his life was committed to an institution, having been gassed in the War.
Finzi was an agnostic of Italian Jewish descent and wrote some sublime music for the Christian Church including one of the loveliest Amens ever written, from his choral masterpiece Lo! the full, final sacrifice.
Here’s a faultless live performance from St. John’s College, Cambridge.
He studied a little with Edward Bairstow in York. The Summertown Singers had a lovely time with Bairstow’s exquisite Jesu, the very thought of thee in Riga two years ago. Here’s a beautifully paced reminder from Japan.
Gurney’s wonderful Down by the Sally gardens.
SCS has sung I praise the tender flower and My spirit sang all day.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mjgMz2IiwE4 sung by a one-to-part Dutch group.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyVEM3zNmu4 St. John’s, Cambridge, again on top form.
Here’s that Amen for those in a hurry!
It’s up there with the ones from Handel’s Messiah, Brahms’ Geistliches Lied, Parsons’ Ave Maria and Byrd’s O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth and Praise our Lord, all ye gentiles.
Have I left any out? Iain?
I hope your spirits, if not your voices, are singing a little every day!
Happy Birthday, Finzi, and another glass of cider please – where’s the app…..to order…
15 June 2020
A note from Duncan:
Dear SCS Member,
Charles Wood was born today in 1866 in Armagh, Northern Ireland. He lived at 11 Vicars Close, opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which used to be the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Here he was a chorister in the then thriving choir, before entering The Royal College of Music as a scholar, and Cambridge University.
By all accounts he was a gentle and lovely man with an amazing place in 20th century English music; a star pupil of Stanford and Parry and went on to teach Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and Michael Tippett, three of the greatest.
We sang Full Fathom Five in our “Celebration of English Melody” in 2014, and Expectans Expectavi in “Murder, Morse and Mozart” in 2013 (it was the anthem at a murderous evensong at Magdalen College Chapel in The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin).
Doesn’t time fly!?
Without being a Bach or a Stravinsky, I’m not sure word-setting, craftsmanship and gorgeous vocal writing made for soaring architecture get much better than in the attached perfect miniatures (scroll down for the links). Two Oxford Choirs (The Sixteen was originally from Oxford, with Harry Christophers at Magdalen), the choir from Wood’s Cambridge college and The Victoria Chorale from Singapore.
I trust you are all keeping well, and let’s hope we can meet again before long!
Very best wishes,
O Thou the Central Orb
Tenors – excuse the misprint!
I like the slower tempo bringing out the lovely harmonies, e.g. the alto suspensions on “pearl”
The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord: and thou givest them their meat in due season.
7 May 2020
A note from Duncan:
Dear SCS Member,
I hope you are all keeping well in this prolonged situation. Like me, I’m sure you’re missing the music and singing on a Thursday evening. Let’s hope it won’t be for too long.
Today is Brahms’s birthday! 🍷 (Hamburg 1833).
Below are some lovely links. If you don’t know his Variations and the songs for the Women’s choir he founded in Hamburg, you are in for a treat.
The disheveled bachelor almost became a member of the Schumann family. The Requiem was partly a reaction to Robert Schumann’s final days (and Brahms’s own mother’s death) and he was very close to Schumann’s wife, Clara Schumann.
Brahms and Clara wrote beautiful sets of Variations on a theme by Robert.
The four songs for that extraordinary scoring of upper voices, harp and two horns are brilliantly sung by The Kansas City Chorale.
If you like the Variations, take a look at Julian’s book:
The Violin Concerto slow moment is gorgeous, and maybe it works as a simple part song!
You might also like to look up Schumann’s Ghost Variations – another lovely theme that Schumann famously thought was sung to him by angels or the ghost of Schubert or Mendelssohn. But he’d actually used the theme in the slow movement of his own violin concerto. The Variations is his last piece and he was very ill, poor chap.
I hope to see you soon!
Violin Concerto slow movement
My arrangement of the slow movement set to the poem “Liebe” by Friedrich Schiller (recorded live…) sung by Oxford Liedertafel
Four songs for female voices, harp and two horns
Variations on a theme by Schumann
Clara Schumann’s variations on the same theme