here, now: st matthew’s passion

DBS Matthew Passion 2015

The first thing I do when I move somewhere is to join a choir: I sang in the women’s chorus in university, the Balliol College Choir in Oxford, the St Andrews Renaissance Singers in St Andrews, and now the Denton Bach Society Choir. I have been part of choirs since I was thirteen; my routine feels incomplete without the steady rhythm of rehearsals. When I am singing in rehearsal, there is no room for me to think about work or chores or things that need doing outside of that moment. What matters is the pitch, the words, the breath, listening and blending with the other parts, the beating heart of the piece as the director keeps time, shaping the notes, the breath, and the time into music. There have been several times over the past months when I felt that the best thing about living here is the Denton Bach Society Choir.

Today we will be performing St Matthew’s Passion by Johannes Sebastian Bach. I am excited, because it is a challenging piece and it’s come together very well during our full rehearsals this weekend. And also because it is the second of Bach’s Passions that I will perform: the Balliol College Choir performed St John’s Passion the term that I studied in Oxford. But I’m disappointed, too. After today I won’t have my regular dose of choral singing. The choir won’t reconvene until next autumn–and I don’t know yet if I will still be in North Texas. This could be my last concert with them.

And so I’m glad it’s going to be a good one. The concert is going to be streamed live on the UNT music website, which you can watch here. Tune in at 3.00PM U.S. Central Time and enjoy!

Photo: The Denton Bach Society rehearsing in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, UNT Campus.

A day in Edinburgh

IMG_8929Yesterday, F. and I went to Edinburgh for the day. We’ve been meaning to go for ages and we still didn’t do all the things we could do. (I think my list of things I want to do in Edinburgh might be longer than F.’s…) We wandered around the National Gallery and then ate lunch sitting outside. It was a good thing we were sitting under the awning because just after our food arrived, it started POURING down rain! I was mostly protected, but F. caught the backsplash of rain hitting the pavement and the wind blowing the rain towards us. Fortunately we had umbrellas with us.

The rain had abated by the time we finished eating, so we went to Edinburgh Castle. I’ve been to Edinburgh Castle more times than I can count, but F. had never been. He got the benefit of my added commentary to the guide’s tour of the castle. We had tea and cake in Queen Anne’s tea room and spent time paging through the books of the dead in the war memorial. F. found a book of women personnel and a list of civilians killed during the two world wars. If I were a modern historian, I would study women in the military during the first and second world wars. I’m curious to read more about them, anyway.

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But the real reason we went to Edinburgh on Friday was because Andrew Peterson was playing in Edinburgh. Andrew Peterson is an American singer-songwriter, a great storyteller, and whose music is the among the best, most honest Christian music I’ve heard. I first heard him play when he opened for Nichole Nordeman about 11 or so years ago in San Antonio. He played from his album “Love and Thunder” then, and I was in love with the strong, folk harmonies of his music and the real-ness of his lyrics. His craft has only improved over the years and I was very excited to hear he was going to be playing in Edinburgh on his European tour. F. had never heard any of Andrew Peterson’s music, so I was also looking forward to introducing him to one of my favourite artists.

IMG_8943The concert was held in one of Edinburgh’s Baptist churches. The setting was intimate: tables and chairs and couches scattered in front of the stage, each table lit by a candle. His tour was part of his family holiday, so it was just him playing on the guitar or piano. He played songs from his most recent album, “Light for the Lost Boy”, as well as a few others. Among my favourites were, “Dancing in the Minefields”, “Shine Your Light on Me”, and “In the Night My Hope Lives On”. What I loved best about the concert was hearing his stories behind each song. His ten year-old daughter Skye joined him on stage to sing “The Voice of Jesus” and “Isle of Skye”, both songs he had written for her; her voice singing harmony brought tears to my eyes. As F. later said, Andrew Peterson’s music is “balm for the soul”.

It was also very nice for this ex-pat to be in familiar territory: Andrew Peterson has a Southern accent, many people in the audience were American, and it was an evangelical setting. I didn’t realise how tightened up I was until I settled down to listen to Andrew talk and sing. Sometimes this Texan gal just needs some familiar accents and music to relax.

We left the concert too late to catch the bus, so we went to the train station instead. I played with my camera while waiting for the train to come. This is the best of my experiments:

IMG_8957We got home nearly midnight, and then I woke up early for a very long and busy day at MUSA. But I’m listening to the album I bought last night (“Resurrection Letters, Vol II”) and I’m so glad we made it down to Edinburgh to see both the castle and the concert. It was a Very Good Day. 🙂

* As ever, click on the pictures to see larger versions.

Choir Tour: Lodi

IMG_8720Renaissance Singers hadn’t gone on tour for years, but we went in 2013 to Lombardia in Italy. We were based in Lodi, staying in a Catholic boarding school, and had concerts in Lodi, Milan, and Crema. During these six days we rehearsed our repertoire, sang in concerts and in Mass, and wandered the streets, eating lots of pizza, drinking Prosecco, and simply enjoying ourselves.

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The school we stayed in had its own church, San Francesco. We held our rehearsals there and one of our concerts. How can I say how beautiful it was? It was just stunning.

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Our rooms were basic, but homely enough. I enjoyed having an en suite bathroom and a balcony. I would sit on the balcony in the mornings, brushing my hair to dry, watching the swallows and listening to the bells. The bells ringing out across the city were one of my favourite things about Lodi. I could never tell the time by them, or what was going on, because there were so many and at odd times. But they were melodic and lovely.

The view from my window.

The view from my window.

Lodi was far enough from Milan to not be touristy at all. That is another thing I appreciated about where we were staying. I was so proud of myself and F. when we were able to buy allergy medicine, paracetamol, and contact solution (preservative free!) by speaking a mix of Spanish, Italian, and English, and when I was able to order a salad with the vegetables I wanted and ‘sine tonno’ — no tuna!

I for one wasn’t expecting to get as much publicity as we have. Not only did we make Italian television, but you can also watch our first concert in full on Youtube. (If you don’t want to watch the video, and miss hearing our lovely voices, you can still see pictures from our first concert here.) Our first concert was at Università Cattolica in Milan – it wasn’t our best, but it’s still pretty good. Our absolute BEST concert was held in San Francesco church in Lodi. It was amazing. I remember cameras recording that one as well, so I hope the video is uploaded soon!

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Voice lessons

This morning I had my first-ever voice lesson. Despite singing in choirs since as early as (at least) 7 years’ old, I haven’t had any formal voice training. My housemate, who is a professionally trained singer, has inspired me to become more musical but, ah, you can understand if living with aforesaid professionally trained singer would make me a bit self-conscious. I enjoy singing, I want to get better at it, and to be more confident: hence the lessons.

I sing alto in choirs — I have since I was 12. As an alto in a Renaissance choir, I can quite happily rumble around with the tenors if I wanted. So imagine my surprise when I found I can sing a high A! I’ve been sent away to practice ‘Over the Rainbow’ and a Dalmatian lullaby that reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea. This morning was a lot of fun and I look forward to practicing for next week.