Sunday, 7 March 2010

The singing competition

I suppose anything that gets people singing is, by definition, 'a good thing' and therefore be spared any criticism. So I should stop there really, perhaps just pausing to express my genuine admiration for those who put their spare time into running choirs. Last week I went to see a singing competition in a church in the city centre. It wasn't supposed to be a competition but more on that later. I normally avoid such affairs but my daughter was in a theatre choir that had entered the not-a-competition for the first time. I didn't stay for the second half as she needed to get back to be ready for an early start the next day but I saw all five acts in the first half.

First up was the junior choir from a rural area of Norfolk. The repertoire was almost exclusively religious, by which I mean Christian. No harm in that of course but if it hadn't been for the clothes it could have been the 1950s which was probably the era of both the conductor and accompanist. The theatre choir came next with 'Ave Verum Corpus' and a sweet arrangement of 'Cant Take My Eyes Off You'. And then the rural choir's seniors came on with 'Danny Boy' - a maudlin dirge if you ask me but beautifully sung and well suited to the room's acoustics - and two songs of praise. Less suited to the acoustic was 'Fascinating Rhythm'. I was upstairs in the gallery and the notes were playing pinball around my ears.

Occasionally I see something that makes me think 'Only in Norfolk...' and it usually involves a well-meaning attempt to recreate something from another culture. Watching this choir try to jive along to the Gershwin number and, later, to 'Down by the Riverside' reminded me that Norfolk is probably one of the few places on the planet where you will find people still clapping on the downbeat. Classical musicians really can't swing and it seems traditional choirs struggle too. It put me in mind of 'Can Blue Men Sing the Whites' by the Bonzos but I'm sure it was good enough for the doting mums and dads in a church in Norwich.

So a breath of fresh air, and a complete surprise, when a choir from rural Suffolk took to the stage with 'African Sanctus'. I've always loved this song since seeing the 1968 film 'If' starring Malcolm McDowell. McDowell had a good line in brooding obsessives, most famously Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange'. Here he plays a revolutionary schoolboy in an English public (meaning exclusive and private) school. The choir did this very well and followed it with a South African song sung in one of the native languages. It turned out that their conductor/leader was from South Africa. My partner is a dancer and wasn't hugely impressed by their attempts to move along to the music and get themselves on and off stage in an authentic fashion but it worked for me.

And finally the rural Norfolk choirs combined for a mixed choir. More of the same really. They were good at what they did but I had seen and heard enough of them. That's not their fault. The fact that only three choirs, in truth, had come along to the first half speaks volumes. I don't know how many made the second half but probably not many. And that is why, for all the 'like punk (or even Suez) never happened' ethos, it is very definitely 'a good thing' and should be applauded.

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites" so I looked it up on Spotify. What a great song!