Monday, May 19, 2008

O how - not quite so - Glorious

I post this blog with the following disclaimer - I love my church choir for so many wonderful reasons. Over the past ten years they have given me much joy and have risen to all the challenges I have thrown to them. Week by week they volunteer so much time to lead the music at our church, and every year they seem to improve. This past Sunday, however, was not our best showing.

A little background - we are nearing the end of the choir season, the weather is getting more and more beautiful and the temptation to be in the garden on a Thursday night will supersede the desire to be at choir practise. A temptation which I share, as this is the second full summer that my wife and I are spending in our new house, I have big landscaping and exterior plans for the house, and I'm eager to start. In light of this, I've decided to cancel all remaining Thursday rehearsals, and just rehearse on Sunday mornings only.

This past weekend was a holiday weekend in Canada (Victoria Day weekend), and my assistant was given the weekend off, so I was flying solo both behind the console and conducting the choir. There is however another very capable organist in our choir, and before rehearsal on Sunday morning I asked her if she'd be willing to gently accompany the anthem, Healey Willan's "O How Glorious" the second motet in his collection "Six Motets". I was a little concerned that being short of choristers that going unaccompanied would be a bit dangerous. We rehearsed it through about four or five times, and it was going just fine.

Fast forward to the service. For those who don't know the piece, it is very short, about 26 bars, and really only two LONG phrases - the first cadence not appearing until the 16th bar, and the second at the end of the piece. Somehow, in the first two bars, my extremely well loved fill-in organist skipped a beat. The result was a wonderful combination of Healey Willan and Stockhausen. At least for the first sixteen bars.

A lot goes through your mind in situations like this. "Should we stop and start over?" "If we keep going, will anyone actually notice?". I chose the later. We trucked on through to the first cadence, the accompaniment having no relation to the choir, and most of the choir stopped singing, or proudly sang on with pitches that may or may not have reflected anything close to the printed score. At one point while I was singing the tenor line, I substituted the words "ONE TWO THREE FOUR" in the hopes to sync the organist and choir back together again. Unfortunately, the downbeat that I was singing "ONE" on, was not the same bar the organist was at, so that didn't work. We blindly arrived at the first cadence, and the second part of the anthem went on OK, although the choir was visibly shaken. After it was all over - all 60 seconds of it, I leaned to the first alto and said "... or some reasonable facsimile thereof ...", and looked at my wife who mouthed the word "OOOOPS!"

We managed to stay more or less composed until the end of the service, and then at the end of the service, which of course by this time the congregation had forgotten the anthem completely, the choir was deeply apologetic, all claiming it was their fault. A very typical response, and a typical Canadian response. "If you don't know whose fault it was, just apologise". One chorister quickly commented "Oh well, at least we know they can't fire us"

My response ...

"Ya, but they can fire ME!"

I was happy to find that my key to the church still worked this morning. Deep down, I kind of wish we had recorded the service - I think it would have made a really nice YouTube video.

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