Musical Directors Report – AGM 2019

Parenthesis Choir – Year April 2018 – April 2019 Musical Report

I write this at the end of year three as Musical Director of Parenthesis. I looked back at the report from this time last year (and the year before) and reminded myself where we had started our work together in April 2016 and where we had arrived by April 2018. It was a leap of immense proportions musically and we continue to make strides in the same direction. The choir’s increasing confidence and ability to tackle music has made my programming more challenging as I have been able to consider a broader range of music for the choir to sing.

When planning a year of music making and how we build upon the foundations that have been set there are many musical directions in which I could have taken the choir. My first collaborative event with Parenthesis and La Stephanelle proved a challenge in terms of planning and musical programming. Nevertheless, the workshops which I took part in in France in February 2018 helped build confidence between the musical teams of both choirs and ultimately lead to a concert which was hugely well received. The diversity of the repertoire presented was enormous and I was extremely pleased by the outcome in July 2018, for both its musical and social products.

In terms of our singing and the programme I chose for the collaborative concert I think it would be fair to mention that the madrigal style proved an extreme challenge. The determination the choir showed in tackling these pieces was admirable and in performance I think most people surprised themselves by how much that they CAN do/achieve rather than worrying about that which they feel they CAN’T. I particularly enjoyed teaching the French pieces to the choir and working with Anabelle to get them to performance standard. This more sinuous mid twentieth century European style is always difficult for English choirs, not least of all because it is not driven by the strong beat of the bar or barlines. The most important words and sentiments are often ‘tucked into the corners’ of the melodies which is so unalike the vast majority of repertoire which we tackle. The choir showed a willingness to work in a very different style and I believe gave an authentic performance with La Stephanelle, it was extremely encouraging to see the new musical flexibility the choir has learned. I was incredibly impressed by how Parenthesis helped lead the rehearsal process in My Spirit Sang all Day, which although short, is incredibly detailed and fast moving. Well done to all! Overall, this provides a mere snapshot into the concert. I was very impressed and I believe so were our audience! I would like to thank everyone who had input into organising the trip/visit of La Stephanelle and also include my trusty music team in that. Particularly with the extra work which Ian Westley and Martin led during various periods of absence by me. I can always rely on their vast experience and knowledge as well as their impeccable musicianship! So thank you ‘team Parenthesis’.

After the summer break when we reconvened in September I wanted to reassess how the choir was working and if I could make appropriate changes. It is very tempting as a Musical Director to get stuck in particular way of working and I felt that having assessed our progress thus far, it was time for me to adapt the way that I work to inject a new optimism and energy into weekly rehearsals. The results of this new way of working have been a steady stream of positive comments as well as an improvement in the quality of the product we have been able to achieve through our work. The choir has tackled repertoire with increased accuracy and confidence and this in turn has led me to make our work more detailed in order to build confidence. It is often easy to discount the impact of the general levels of confidence on the choirs overall performance standard. I was particularly impressed how well the choir coped with a continuously changing music list for our February 2019 concert. I take my share of the responsibility on this. The programme had to be adapted (several times) as editions of music listed as available for hire/performance simply didn’t/don’t (as yet) exist. This was extremely disappointing from the point of view of the programme I had envisaged. Nevertheless, the ideas of Martin, members of the committee, choir members and a huge amount of work by Chris H led to a new programme being devised. The hard work and dedication which individual members have shown over the past few months for taking their music away and carrying out some ‘homework’ is noted too. (Noted is too understated a word). This helped us tackle a large amount of material from November to January and with a new level of confidence and retention (of both the nuts and bolts and the detail of each piece) from week to week. The concert in February 2019 was a true reflection of the monumental amount of improvement the choir has made and the joy with which you all now sing on a weekly basis. The levels of watching, engaging and actively performing in the choir mean that the product we now can give in concert is not only aurally engaging but visually so too. Both Martin and Ian W played a huge role in the evening both in accompanimental mode but also a two brilliant soloists. Whilst I know the choir feels blessed to be able to call on their talents, I must reiterate how lucky we all are. It is not lost on me that my work would be significantly harder without their talents and support.

 So where to now? We have begun on our preparation for our Americana fest in July. The programme is still evolving/flexible so that we can make the best of the time and attendance we get at weekly rehearsals. I am confident that you will make another bold musical statement when we perform together then! Further ahead, we have plans for both an informal style Christmas concert and our usual fundraising/busking/flashmobbing performances. We are likely to tackle the Manchester Carols during the Autumn Term. In March/April 2020 we will collaborate with South Chiltern Choral Society on a delightful programme of music accompanied by a silver band. (Although in the last week this has become much less likely) I am/the committee are very much looking forward to providing you with another opportunity to collaborate with a different instrumental group. As yet, we don’t have a concrete plan for the summer in 2020, although I hope that we might look at some opera repertoire at that juncture, whatever the performance circumstances. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead and relish the prospect of being involved in another set of first rate performances in our upcoming season.

I present this report with confidence that the choir is continuing to successfully develop and evolve. Musically we are improving month by month and this is encouraging new members to join us. I look forward to making another positive statement in April 2020.