I’ve spent today in a workshop rehearsing Rachmaninov’s Vespers. Perhaps the most celebrated major work of Russian orthodox music to enter our conscience – let alone repertoire – in Blighty, and perhaps the West more generally. We will be performing it in concert on Tuesday evening, at the main church in Tavistock, as part of the Exon singers’ festival.
While the music is of moderate complexity and not unduly challenging, what has made the day really hard work is singing in Russian. That set me thinking. It’s easy to sing a language I speak, but also a language I don’t speak but with which I have a workable level of familiarity, like Latin or French. Russian is in a whole different league, not just due to the cyrillic alphabet (we have a broadly-phonetic transcription in the score), but more the near-complete unfamiliarity. The crux of it is, it takes a lot more of my concentration than a more-familiar language, making it harder to look up at the conductor!
If my time were unlimited, I’d love to learn Russian.
 Not even the bass range. We have a surprising number of low basses, so I’m singing the upper and (where applicable) middle bass lines, not the legendary Russian bottom range.