Last week we had a Sacred Choral Concert at one of the schools where I work. At the start of Lent we in the staff choir, of which I am the weakest, were given a piece to learn. My usual routine when I know what we are singing is to look up the tenor part on Youtube and learn it that way, I have to use a strategy such as this as I do not read music.
Well! This was awkward, I could find nothing. I tried iTunes, zip! Spotify, nada. Nothing anywhere. When I asked our choir leader where the piece was from or who it was by she was very vague so I just put it all to one side, concentrated on getting the Exsultet right for the Easter Vigil and decided I’d learn the piece while in Lourdes. In the mean time we were all sent an MP3 of the music to help. Alas for doofus here, not hearing which note related to which syllable meant I was still in the dark, so my time in Lourdes was not my salvation on this occasion. We rehearsed regularly, everyone who heard the piece loved it, “wow! where is it from?” “it’s beautiful, how did you find it?” we had a true work of art here, a stunning piece I could not get out of my head, but I could not get it onto my tongue
Fast forward to this week. The day before the concert we had an early morning rehearsal, It was clear I was lost. This was looking catastrophic as I was the only tenor left. Our usual cast of 14 had dwindled to five, all for good reason but it meant I could not, for the sake of our choral excellence beg a Sam Goldwyn and ask if they would “include me out”. Our choir leader put a plan into action. A student who could read music and knew the part sat next to me, I recorded him singing with the rest of the choir on my phone and for the next 36 hours listened and listened and listened. For someone who is not an accomplished singer this was a tricky part, but I was not going to let down ‘ma crew’.
Two hours before the concert I was told the dad and brother of one of the students would be joining us, the brother would sing tenor to back me up. “how do they know this work?” I asked myself, somewhat confused and I have to confess, a tad agitated. With 10 minutes to spare I was found on the lower playground, the piece still playing through my headphones. It was time to take my place.
When we sat down all was revealed. This stunning work was an A Level composition by the student who’s family would be singing with us. This news took my breath away, although in retrospect I am not at all surprised. The student in question played the piano for us when we rehearsed, all I could think in the first five minutes was “did I say anything horrid about the music?”
Our concert started. With three seconds of the introduction left the choir stood, making an even more dramatic start to Zadoc The Priest (little prayer for Fr Lee every time I hear it) and we proceeded with pieces by Stanford, Rheinberger, Bach, Tallis, Schubert, Rachmaninoff and others, the penultimate piece of the night was us, and I can safely say we were happy with our work. The concert finished with Wood’s O Thou The Central Orb. When he stepped forward to thank us at the end, the Head made sure everyone knew who the composer of our mystery piece was.
It was, for me, a difficult job, but my word how proud and honoured I am that when our chap is famous, my grandchildren will be able to say “grandad sang his first public piece”. And they’ll know because this adventure is a story they will hear more than once.