Possibly the most ambitious thing we've ever undertaken, our choir is performing a work at the Sydney Town Hall tomorrow written by our very own conductor. Now, when someone you know quite well goes and writes a massive piece of music, one tends to gnaw at the under lip a little, reserving judgement. I think all of us in the choir did a little until we started to get to know the piece. Much to our extreme amount of relief, the thing is fabulous and we're very much looking forward to singing it tomorrow. Which meant today was the Big Rehearsal.
The piece is a War Requiem, officially endorsed as a Centenary of ANZAC event. It's based on some fairly painstaking research done on the letters written by soldiers to their mothers during the First World War and gives a hint at the horror of war in the actual words of soldiers and the anguish of their mothers at home. Pretty intense. The last bit has the ANZAC Ode set to music and I could only get through it today without having to put my head between my knees by concentrating very hard on the cable knit of the cardigan one of the second violins was wearing. I wonder if she'll be wearing it in the performance?
Obviously, we've been learning it for ages, but today was the first time we got the choir, the guest choir, the children's choir, the soloists and the orchestra together. So today was really the first time we've heard it properly. Gosh it's good.
A word about the orchestra. When we decided to do this thing, about eighteen months ago (though it has been simmering in his fevered brain for much longer than that) it had quite a modest orchestra. But as it became real and started taking shape, our conductor kept getting an itch to add new instruments. Not little ones, like recorders or penny whistles or kazoos. A harp. More bassoons. A celeste (we talked him out of a real one). Every time he adds another one we on the committee smile a tight lipped smile and write a frantic letter to another government to send more money. Fortunately there were quite a few countries involved in the First World War, those who've donated can be found in the program, which you can purchase at the door when you turn up tomorrow.
I arrived at the rehearsal late (Muffet's netball, they lost 13-7) to find the hall locked. A fellow alto happened to be outside too and being more forthcoming than me, like most of the human race, rapped smartly on the door which ended up with us being let in by Ataturk. Not in spirit form, the lovely chap singing him. We are very fortunate in our soloists, especially the emergency tenor. We have a lovely Turkish soprano who sings very expressively, risking knocking her music off the stand with her gorgeous balletic hands. The other soprano sings (beautifully) with her arms firmly crossed across her ribs, as if worried her spleen is going to leap out and join the clarinet section. And this is what we do with basses who don't behave themselves.
We have a large percussion section this time, including a giant bass drum whose job it is to be distant gunfire and shelling. We're going to put him essentially under the stage, which means that, as our conductor put it so delicately, the sound will be coming up through our underpants. The trombones, whose music seems to consist of a series of 32 bar rests, gave themselves an early lunchtime and waded out of a pool of their own saliva. I can't believe they don't bring dropcloths. Or a bucket.
Our conductor knows us well, and hasn't given us too many tricky bits. We were having a bit of trouble with the timing of a cry of “Mother!” So our conductor demonstrated it by punching a tenor (I wish he'd lay off the tenors, they're fragile and a scarce commodity) and getting him to say “Ouch!”, it was very effective and we've got it right ever since. I was describing this technique to the Horror from Outer Space (he has a professional interest, he's in a percussion group that often has timing issues). He wanted to know why on earth anyone would be singing “Mother!”. I said “if you were a soldier scared on the battlefield with shots being fired all around you, who would you call out to?”. He looked at me in amazement. “Batman, of course. He'd be much more likely to save you than your mother”.
It's been a jolly fine rehearsal, we've all worked out how to stick out fingers in our ears while not dropping our music for the bit with whistles. The emergency trumpet has had a show off, playing the Last Post at triple speed, which was simultaneously very funny and kind of offensive to those of us with military ties, I was very conflicted. I was soothed by the familiar sound of musical rehearsals everywhere, that of the regular clatter of a 2B pencil hitting the ground.
We've all stocked up on our lozenges of choice, I favour Butter Menthols, while those around me are going for traditional Fishermen's Friend to ward off the nasty cough that appears to be going around. I've ironed my white shirt and found my musical socks for tomorrow. I hope the poor conductor has found someone to massage his cramping conducting hands and that everyone has a good night's sleep and remembers to bring their music tomorrow. All you have to do is come and hear us. Tickets are on sale at the door of Sydney Town Hall from a bit after 1pm with the thing slated to kick off at 3. Come along and be part of a World Premiere! It'll be tops, promise.