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England: First Day of Rehearsals

April 13, 2009 at 10:02 am UTC

Until Wednesday, all of the singers and I are eating, sleeping, and rehearsing at a boarding school in Reading, a quaint little ‘burb a half hour outside London. Mike Brewer – NYCGB’s conductor – loving refers to our living quarters here as ‘Hogwarts.’ It’s old, cold, and utterly charming… quintessentially English.

This group, the National Youth Chorus of Great Britain, is comprised of 130 of the best young singers in England. They’re all between the ages of 16-24, so in a way it’s like a national high school/collegiate honor choir – on steroids. The training singers receive here is legendary, but you can’t really appreciate it until you see it in action.

For instance, for a cappella music, we don’t use a piano in rehearsal. Ever. It’s not even in the room. The singers all read like maniacs, and they have this incredible sense of pitch and tuning that is extraordinary and unsettling at the same time. It is the strangest sensation to stop in the middle of something really difficult, like The Stolen Child, and say, “can we go back to measure 54?”, and everyone just nods and then boom: I give a downbeat and off we go, no pitches given. It’s like an orchestral rehearsal, but with voices. THRILLING.

And the ‘English sound’ is so pure, and clear, just perfect for a lot of my music. In a way, it reminds of the sound Anton Armstrong gets from his singers at St. Olaf, or Ron Staheli at BYU: so clean and bright, and so in tune.

Also today I’ll get to hear – for the first time – my a cappella arrangement of Sleep, My Child. (I arranged it for Chanticleer, and even though they’ve been touring with it for the past year, I’ve never actually heard it!). Cannot wait.

I’ll try to post some photos/videos as soon as we get a decent internet connection. The network here is like a dial-up modem from the nineties, which reminds me of my first modem, which reminds me of a terrific book by Douglas Coupland called Microserfs, which suddenly made me a little homesick…


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