Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Preparing for Palm Sunday's Cantata.

Anne and I are members of the Senior Choir at Glen Cairn United Church. Anne sings Alto and I bass. Every Easter since we joined the choir on moving to Ottawa in 2001, the choir practices and prepares a great deal of music for the Easter period. This year is no exception as we prepare to sing the Cantata, "Behold the Holy Lamb" on Palm Sunday. Unfortunately, Anne and I have missed the last four weeeks of practices and Palm Sunday is a week this Sunday.
Fortunately, one of the choir directors, Bev, sent us, over the inter-net, recordings of the music so we can practice at home. In one set of recordings, Bev picks out the alto line and on another set she picks out the bass line. Its like choosing something from I-tunes as we each select the recording we want to hear, and then sing along.
For me this practice at home is essential. Yesterday was the first time in a month that my cough was sufficiently absent that I could actually sing. My voice was weak and strained, but I could rehearse the familiar and unfamiliar lines of music. There are five selections in the cantata. I am familiar with some sections of three of them. If I practice every day from now on for an hour each day I will get to know the bass lines quite well.
I still have difficulty reading music. (Anne is pretty good at sight reading given her piano playing background.) My formal training in music took place in England in the late 1940s and early 1950s via the schools' radio broadcast, "Rythm and Music." Memory says this was a weekly broadcast that took the place of music education at the "Top School" in the village of Cheddleton.
Through these broadcasts I learned all about note values for crotchets, quavers, minims and even semi-demiquavers. From 2001 on, in Glen Cairn, I have had to forget this learning as the choir directors talk about quarter notes, halfnotes etc. Through the broadcasts I learned that a note placed higher on the staff is sung higher, and a lower note sung lower. I learned to visually note the reference of one note to the next and try to sing it higher or lower. Problems came (and still come) when I reach the end of a line of music and I cannot see where the note on the next line sits in relation to the last.
The fact that notes have letter names (A, Cflat etc) is a mystery to me. And key signatures are a foreign language too. I can now recognise that a particular note is sung slightly higher or lower than expected if it has a sharp or flat symbol in front of it, but still have problems identifying which is which.
Given this level of musical knowledge, I find Bev's I-tunes so very useful. I don't have to worry about what happens as I move from line to line, nor worry about key changes or sharps and flats. I just have to learn by ear as I have learned in the past. Thanks, Bev.

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