Tag Archives: Requiem

A Really Big Choir

Spotlight

On Saturday I, together with ten other people from St James sang in what was quite possibly the biggest choir I’d ever been a part of. I’m not quite sure of the exact numbers, but the choir took up all of the space on the stage at the Albert Hall, and a good deal of both the stalls and circle, and was large enough that the orchestra and conductor had to be on the arena floor.

The event was organised by The Really Big Chorus who describe themselves as Britain’s largest choral society – their mailing list includes over 8500 contacts representing an estimated 35,000 singers. They do three major concerts a year in the Royal Albert Hall where essentially anyone can turn up and sing. By virtue of the old adage of safety in numbers there will be enough people around who will know the particular pieces of music, and will be able to carry you along if you are a weaker singer, as such it’s a great way to get an experience of singing in a major venue. This time it was Mozart’s Requiem, something I’ve done before, but not in quite such an illustrious venue.

This time we were going along in part to support the father of a friend of ours who at the end of last year bemoaned the fact that when he was younger and had sung in a choir he’d never done a big concert. As a result our friend and her sister arranged a special surprise for his sixty-fifth birthday and arranged for him to come along and sing with us. I dropped around a copy of the Chorusline Bass CD (a special series of CD’s that are useful for learning particular parts), which he sang along with at home, and then on the night he sat between a couple of our choir members who are also in other local choirs who were able to keep him on track. Things were made slightly more difficult by the fact that we were sat in the back row of the bass section, well away from the tenor and alto sections, and with some of the soprano section behind us – on the bass line we are usually used to getting cues from the alto or tenor part, taking them from the soprano isn’t something we’re used to, however after the one hour full choir rehearsal it was straight into the performance.

Not surprisingly there were one or two ropey bits, but in the main we made it through, and certainly it is a fantastic experience singing in the Royal Albert Hall with so many others. The atmosphere is certainly not quite like a professional concert, as the bulk of the audience are supporters, but it is still great fun, and I’m sure something I hope I can do again before too long.

I’ve uploaded some pictures from the event to our photo galleries, and Beth took a short video panning across the whole choir, which should give some idea of quite how big the choir actually is.

“It’s the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and one of the students is playing the solo.”

Maybe I’m just overly critical, and perhaps I’d be different if it were my child playing, but I tend to not overly look forward to the prospect of school students being, how shall we put it, adventurous in their choice of concert repertoire.

This particular opportunity to experience a school musician came up as part of the combined Wellington College/Crowthorne Choral Society concert held last night at the school. This was their biggest concert of the year where they team up with the choir from the school, and bring in a full orchestra – in this case the Chameleon Arts Orchestra. As a side note it also means that they use the large sports hall at the school, were unfortunately the heaters are so noisy they drown out the music – hence we were rather cold by the end of the performance!

Anyway, the reason we were there was because the Choral Society were performing Mozart’s Requiem, the same work that I and various other members of the choir at St James are going to be singing when we join the Really Big Chorus at the Albert Hall on May 10th. However, as it’s a shared concert with the school, other parts of the programme were put in by Wellington College, and it has to be said that when various people mentioned that one of the students was going to be playing the solo in the Sibelius Violin Concerto there were definite hints of apprehension as to what it might be like.

If at this point you’re thinking I’m being overly critical, it is worth highlighting that whilst Wellington College has an excellent and well deserved reputation for it’s music, even with that, the Sibelius Violin Concerto is regarded as being a particularly difficult and challenging piece to play, and not something you’d expect a student to attempt, let alone perform well.

However, I’m glad to say that all the doubts proved to be entirely unfounded.

The solo violin was played by Claire Sledd, a sixth former at the school who comes originally from Seattle in the US – indeed her grandmother flew in from across the pond especially to hear Claire play. She is at the school on a music scholarship, and has been accepted by the Royal Academy starting in September. Certainly if I didn’t know she was a student at the school, I would have said that she was a professional musician, certainly the performance was as good as both the professional orchestra, and the professional soloists who sang on the Mozart Requiem, if not better!

Needless to say when we talked to various of our friends in the Crowthorne Choral Society during the interval (the Mozart Requiem made up the second half of the concert) they were all wondering how they were going to follow the virtuoso performance we’d just seen.

It has to be said that the Crowthorne Choral Society stepped up to the challenge and delivered a great performance too, but certainly Claire was fantastic, and deserves to go far. I wouldn’t be surprised to find her playing solo in somewhat more illustrious halls than a rather draughty sports hall in Crowthorne in a few years!