Monthly Archives: December 2022

Stick in the Mud

What is it to grow older?

Well, I’m showing many of the more obvious signs. My hair and beard have reached a colour where strangers call me “santa”. My paunch, which has gone through life with the objective of making a natural Falstaff at age sixty, is in the right ballpark. On the upside, although I’ve slowed down, I can still walk across the moors, run, cycle, swim, carry a heavy pack. Things I’ve loved doing throughout my adult life.

One other classic symptom is that you become set in your ways, less open to new experiences than you used to be. And that’s been brought home to me by a lovely piece of music and a little exploration down an internet rabbit hole. I seem to have become a stick-in-the-mud.

OK, to begin at the beginning. I sing regularly in a small ensemble (up to eight of us) doing predominantly early music: madrigals and motets. A year ago – and again this year which is what’s reminded me – our leader (and second soprano) Jane brought forth a glorious christmas motet. I enjoyed it so much I did something I never normally do: I went looking on youtube for other renditions of it. Of course I found several, and one of them stands head and shoulders above anything else I encountered (erm, including ourselves). Here it is.

The appeal there is twofold. First, the five wonderful singers and their performance. But second, the clarity of the recording compared to most. This is a full-blown studio production, in the very modern sense of a virtual studio connecting singers around the world. Having enjoyed that video, I followed up on some similar productions, following firstly the channel it’s on – the counter-tenor Simone Lo Castro – and then his regular collaborator the second soprano Julie Gaulke. He’s done a lot of good stuff; she’s done yet more and appears to be a leading light of this form of production. It was quite startling to find a video of the two of them singing several parts each in a video, but that appears to be perfectly normal in the multitrack world. Come to think of it, yes I have heard of such things before, I just haven’t paid much attention.

Which brings me to what is surely the biggest name in the world of the multitrack virtual production: Eric Whitacre, and his “virtual choir”. A community multitrack effort, in which I could doubtless have participated. But I’ve never actually paid attention to that. I’ve tended to be a bit sniffy about it: his name regularly comes up in the same context as a lot of today’s dreadful muzak, so I’ve dismissed it. Which is, on reflection, a terrible pre-judgement of the man and his work. I’ve become an old git, temperamentally resistant to a new experience. Never mind Falstaff, I should be playing Schlendrian – the grumpy old dad in Bach’s Coffee Cantata.

I shall make it my mission between now and the new year to find some of Whitacre’s work and make an informed judgement. Maybe even consider participating in his or similar future events!


Damn, I’m late blogging this. I blame the cold which kept me away from last week’s rehearsal.

We have a concert this Sunday, December 4th, at the Plymouth Guildhall. The work is Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus.

It is basically a feast of Handel’s music. The story (insofar as there is one) is of the biblical warlord Judas Maccabeus and his victories in battle, and of his people going from despair to triumph. Although it’s about the glory of war and terror, it’s not such extreme and gratuitous violence as many biblical works including Handel’s. Lots of lovely music, including tunes that we all know without – until we encounter them in context – knowing where they’re from. For example, an arrangement of See the Conquering Hero Comes is a Last Night of the Proms staple.

As a singer, this is lots of fun. Most of the choruses are short, but there are a lot of them, and each has its own distinct character. And it plays with the voices in ways rarely seen in a serious score, though not unlike what one might be tempted to improvise around a score in a hypothetical rehearsal that needs livening up. I shall certainly enjoy it.

As a listener, my usual reaction to Handel is that I like him in small doses, but a whole concert of it can tend to drag. How much are we doing to maintain the level of excitement for our audience? That’s hard to say from within, but I would note that we’re taking a lot of the music at a cracking pace, which keeps up excitement in numbers that might otherwise risk feeling formulaic. Even the slower numbers, like the despairing (but lovely) opening chorus, are going too fast to wallow in it. But not according to the modern fashion with baroque, of making it almost mechanistic. And we are a large choir, something which Handel himself loved, but which is sometimes sneered at by today’s baroque aficionados.

For readers in the area, I can recommend it, if you can get tickets.