Singing in the rain

Posted on Friday, July 22, 2011

Yesterday we had a trial run with the Salisbury Community Choir of my piece 'Fire', part of the PRSF 20x12 'Cultural Olympiad' initiative co-commissioned by Salisbury Festival and The Opera Group. Although it was an 'extra' rehearsal tagged on to the end of the choir's rehearsal season, conductor Jeremy Backhouse called a three-line whip and managed an impressive turn out of well over 100 choristers. We tried out a section of the new piece, but the main purpose was to see how things would work in the open air.

We'd spent the afternoon scouting out various locations around the city and settled provisionally on a beautiful square near the cathedral, where the sound echos off the buildings on all sides. The idea we've had in our minds is to perform the piece in a giant circle, with the audience - and some kind of fire spectacle by fire artists The World Famous in the middle. (OK I admit we haven't fully scoped the practicalities of all that just yet). The piece I think, will be a kind of homage or prayer to fire.

As the choir emerged from the rehearsal room, a few dark clouds duly gathered overhead and the first spots of rain were felt. It quickly grew to a steady drizzle and within moments, the entire choir seemed to have donned rain coats and put up umbrellas. Bulldog spirit at its finest - a little rain certainly wasn't going to stop them.

We started by testing out the choir in two clumped groups standing opposite each other (I'm writing it for 'double choir'). The effect was 'ordinary', nothing special. So then we asked them to spread into a wide circle. At first standing a meter apart (in the photo above), then even further apart.

It was trully amazing, standing in the middle of the circle, how an instant energy was created, it felt like you were part of some ancient ceremony - and when one of the choristers suggested we should wear druid-like robes for the performance, I could see it wasn't just me that felt that. Once they started singing, Patrick from The Opera Group looked over to me, and we both knew without saying anything that this really was the way to go. You found yourself moving your eye and ear around the circle, in front behind, constantly surprised by the moving focus of sound. It was a delight! I can only guess how exciting it will become with the addition of the fire and all the other elements in place. Something to look forward to, come rain or shine!



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