Big music, small hall

We performed the Verdi Requiem on Sunday. The venue was the civic hall in Totnes, which is a new one on me, and on most of us. The concert was organised by the Torbay Symphony Orchestra, so all we had to do was come and sing.

The day started with a coach from Plymouth, for an afternoon rehearsal. After that we had free time to get a bite to eat, and enjoy South Devon’s most fashionable and expensive town before the performance in the evening. After the show we had time for a pint before the coach back.

The Verdi Requiem is of course a large-scale choral/orchestral work, full of glorious music. It’s exactly the kind of thing one joins a large choir for[1]. Despite that, it’s pretty easy music to learn, and (as always with Verdi) beautifully written for the human voice[2]. A wonderful sing.

We’d been warned about the venue. The civic hall is an ugly building, set in a town full of beautiful buildings. Inside, it has something of the feel of a [village|church|school] hall about it. But the acoustics worked well, and it was well-ventilated, so it was easy enough to forget its ugliness and enjoy the music.

All in all, a great day out!

[1] Actually I joined the Plymouth Philharmonic for Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony, another large-scale work, and one I’m even more passionate about than this Verdi. I’ve been with the choir ever since.

[2] Music can be wonderful yet murder on the voice: Beethoven springs to mind as often dreadful to sing, and Bach can be hard work. Verdi is the complete opposite: utterly singable. Singability can be surprising: for example, Britten’s music is complex yet incredibly singable.


Posted on September 19, 2007, in music. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What makes a piece singable? Range, ability to breath, unfiddliness?

  2. It’s more subtle than that. Range isn’t important as such, though music that stays at the top (or, more rarely, bottom) of the range for a long time can be a strain. Breathing is more often a function of the venue, and sometimes tiredness, than the music, though exceptionally it can be an issue. And wtf is fiddliness? Something can be very fiddly yet far more singable than something that’s simple four-square. Singable is not at all the same thing as simple or easy. One important factor is that the words and music should complement each other, and not set the singer’s expression in conflict with itself. But there’s far more to it than that.

    Can I try an analogy? Some years ago, at around the same time, I had a small part in a Shakespeare play, and another in an Offenbach operetta. Shakespeare’s language is beautifully written, and his lines work so well they are naturally easy to learn and (relatively) easy to express. The Offenbach was a banal third-rate translation of a second-rate piece, and was a pig to learn and make anything of: only a b***** good director made it possible at all.

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