Tonight, myself and a number of other members of the Church Choir went along to an RSCM organised Choir Workshop at All Saints in Wokingham, led by Malcolm Archer, currently the Director of Music at St Pauls Cathedral in London, and having previously held the same post at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.
The subject of the workshop was his Requiem, a work that we are planning on doing in November at St James. So for two hours we had a whistle-stop tour of the whole work, looking briefly at each of the movements in turn. We also had a question and answer session, talking about his work at St Pauls.
One of the most surprising things was his singing. Now most choir trainers can sing most parts, however Malcolm is actually able to sing the soprano line better than a number of our junior choir – even managing a top A at one point! Somebody actually asked him what his ‘normal’ range is in the question and answer session. The answer is interesting in that his speaking voice is, like most men, a baritone. However he has problems actually singing in the baritone register. If he is singing, he usually sings alto, which is what he was asked to do when his voice broke, and he’s never changed. As a result he has been trained to sing in that register, so is able to manage the soprano part – a useful skill when training choirs.
After explaining this, he told us a funny story about a recent audition he conducted for a new chorister at St Pauls. The young boy came along, and when it came to the pitch test, where he plays a note on the piano, and the choirboy has to sing it, he couldn’t get the pitch. To give him another chance, Malcolm then tried singing notes, which the boy could manage. After the audition, the boy asked Malcolm whether his voice had broken yet – since he could sing all the soprano notes apparently at this point his assistants were desperately trying not to burst out laughing…
I have to say that it was definitely a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours. It is very rare to get to work with one of the top people in Church music in such a comparatively ‘personal’ setting – it was effectively a combination of the choir from All Saints, and the choir from St James, plus one or two others. Usually when you get to work with a composer on one of his own works, it is as part of a massed choir, usually several hundred strong. Here he could spend time chatting, and signing copies for many of the people there, and could even spend time with the juniors giving them tips on how to achieve the top notes.