Classical Music

Practice makes perfect

Posted on Updated on

It’s always  a challenge to learn a complex piece of music – especially if you don’t read music.  South Devon Choir is a community choir and a recent survey of members revealed that 25% of members read music very little.  Nonetheless, you don’t have to read music to be able to sing very complex music – ears are the key.  Hearing the music as others sing it, listening to the piano and practice, practice, practice are what enables the singer to learn.

Here South Devon Choir practice the Sanctus from the Verdi Requiem with the passionate John Hobbs, their Musical Director.  Each part (SATB) is split in two – so there are 8 parts singing.  Timing is complex, the music intricate. With plenty of time to go until the actual performance members of the Choir concentrate on learning the unfamiliar notes and timing.


The performance itself will feature over 200 voices as South Devon Choir combines with choirs from North Devon and Cornwall to form the Coast to Coast Choir in an epic staging of the Requiem in the Assembly Rooms, Torquay Town Hall, Torquay – on 2nd July 2016 and again in Barnstaple Pannier Market on 3rd July. Accompanying them will be the Festival Orchestra and professional soloists Cheryl Brendish, Heloise West, David Webb and Darren Jeffery.  Tickets are available from Visitor Centres in Torquay, Paignton and Newton Abbot, on our website (click here for tickets) or you can buy them on our Facebook page.

On the Eve of Advent

Posted on Updated on

Do you need an antidote to Black Friday?  

After the frantic buying, the news reports, the arguments over televisions, and general retail frenzy of Black Friday do you feel edgy, worried about getting everything done for Christmas and rather disillusioned with the whole thing?  Before Advent has even dawned do you wonder why we end up with the Season of Goodwill being more like the Season of Retail Madness?

A Winter Night
A Winter Night

On the Eve of Advent Sunday venture out into the winter night.  Leave the twinkling and glitter of Strictly, the adverts for turkey, iPads and toys that will be broken by Boxing Day.  Brave the cold and the damp;  make your way to St Marychurch Parish Church in Torquay.

Listen to the beginning of the Christmas Story – Mary’s song of joy, wonder and thanks for the impending and miraculous birth of a child.  Whether you believe or not, music weaves a magic that calms and restores the spirit, and the experience of hearing it, living, rising and falling, reverberating through the great space of St Marychurch will be a calming antidote to all the hustle and bustle.

Bach and Vivaldi both celebrated Mary’s song of joy with their versions of the Magnificat and the South Devon Choir will sing both of them on Saturday 28th November, together with the uplifting and well-known Vivaldi Gloria.  The Choir will accompany soloists Melanie Hoadley, Rebecca Smith, Sarah Farleigh and Daniel Hoadley.  The Choir and soloists will be conducted by John Hobbs, who will also sing a solo part.  The organist is Christopher Sears, Head of Music at Torquay Boys Grammar School.

Tickets are will be available online until Friday and are also be available on the door on Saturday night – £12, under age 19 free.

To buy tickets online click here.  For further information click here

Picture credit

A Baroque Start to Christmas

Posted on Updated on

THERE is no doubt that we love tradition in Britain and one of the most satisfying traditions is to hear a choir singing and keeping alive the music of long ago; the tradition seems even stronger and more meaningful when the music is bound up with the history of the Church and the daily musical and choral life in our parishes and, particularly, our stunning cathedrals.

The Magnificat settings of Bach and Vivaldi have now been sung for almost 300 years since their first performances in the early 18th century and, of course, the story is much older than that. Go back another hundred years and we have the splendour of Tudor times and what has been termed a golden age in English music, when the Magnificat was being composed by the likes of Thomas Weelkes at Chichester Cathedral and Orlando Gibbons at Westminster Abbey; they died in 1623 and 1625 respectively. The traditional settings of Luther’s translation of the Magnificat can be traced back to variants of Gregorian chant and in Protestant music it is thought that no other Latin text was more often set to music.

Madonna of the Magnificat
Madonna of the Magnificat – Sandro Botticelli – Galleries of the Uffizi, Florence.

There was a great resurgence of interest in Bach’s music in Victorian times, which may have been triggered in 1829 by a then rare performance of the St Matthew Passion conducted by Mendelssohn. Our nation’s choral societies have always loved their Bach and the South Devon Choir is maintaining that tradition on 28th November at The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, St Marychurch, Torquay, though it is surprising to note from Malvern Cooke’s history of our choir that Bach’s Magnificat – reckoned to be one of his most significant and popular works – has been performed only once before, in 1986 at Central Church, Torquay.

The problem is that maintaining tradition takes money and an awful lot of effort. Concerts such as this do require a budget, a great deal of planning and roughly a three-month session of weekly rehearsals. Basically, our singers do it because they love the music and they want to maintain a tradition.

For us, the audience at this time of year, it becomes a wonderful Christmas gift.

If you would like to join us on Saturday buy your tickets online here

Image –  – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_of_the_Magnificat

In celebration of the life of Brian Armstrong (1945-2015)

Posted on Updated on

Our next concert, Magnificat & Gloria, celebrates the life of one of our popular Choir members Ronald Brian Armstrong (usually known as Brian) who died recently.

Brian very kindly left a legacy to the Choir and his request was that we perform the Vivaldi ‘Gloria’, his favourite choral piece.  Such was his love of this music that, despite being very ill and wheelchair-bound, he was spotted at a local choral workshop and performance of the ‘Gloria’ simply to participate and enjoy the wonderful music.  We shall miss him greatly.  If you would like to join us in celebrating his life, tickets can be obtained here

 

Brian Armstrong
Brian Armstrong

His Life

Although Brian only lived in Scotland until he was 18, he considered himself ‘Absolutely Scottish’. Born to Scottish parents, Hugh and Cathy, he grew up in Glasgow with 3 brothers, Blair, Kenneth and Michael.

After a ‘gap’ year with his best friend , Geoff,  in 60s London, working at St Stephens Hospital and pulling pints on the Kings Road, Brian decided to be a teacher.

He switched from the science subjects of his Highers and focused on history and drama. Later he earned degrees in educational leadership and in TEFL. He taught in Denmark for a year and learned passable Danish. After that he took up his first post in Saudi Arabia teaching English and for 9 years taught in secondary and intermediate  schools. He also taught in an adult education programme at the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. He was then recruited to teach at the university (later to be known as King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals). Several times he was ‘Teacher of the Year’,  known as Mr Brian throughout the Eastern Province ! He continued  to teach there as a valued member of English Language Centre until 2012 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Brian was passionate about everything he did. As well as his passion for the English language he played rugby, tennis, squash very  competitively and swam with great determination until the last stages of his illness. Poetry and music were pastimes which he always enjoyed and Brian was in choirs throughout his life. He had a particular love of choral music.

Brian was married to Marjorie for 30 years and is survived by their three sons, John, David and Mark and three grandchildren, Monty, Maple and Marigold in Canada.

Porgy & Bess

Image Posted on

Porgy and Bess
—Photo by Michael J. Lutch

First performed in Boston in 1935 the opera Porgy & Bess has been  performed many times over the intervening years.  Here  are Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald bringing soul to the American Repertory Theatre’s production of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 2011.

The story of the writing of the opera runs thus. At some date in the 1920s a black American named Goatcart Sammy murdered a woman and was pursued by the police who, being provided with Cadillacs, not surprisingly overtook the goat-cart and put Sammy in gaol.  This story caught the fancy of one DuBose Heyward who put it into a novel called Porgy.  This caught the fancy of George Gershwin when he was touring in 1926 with one of his earliest and best musicals, Oh, Kay!  He wrote to Heyward suggesting an opera.  Heyward put him off because he was dramatizing the book for Broadway.  The play was a hit and in 1932 Gershwin propositioned Heyward again.  He saw in Porgy a chance to write and opera where he could find the middle ground between classical music and American jazz, one of his lifelong desires and by now a fixation.  The deal was done; Heyward was to do the libretto working along with George’s brother Ira, widely know as a top class lyricist.

George put in a lot of homework living on an island off Charleston, South Carolina, studying a community whose music was thought to be the nearest thing to the real ‘McCoy’ in the matter of spirituals.  He wrote the opera in 20 months.  The piano score was entirely his own work but how much of the orchestration he did himself has always been a bit of mystery.

The Gershwin brothers were the impresarios as well as the creators of Porgy and they took great pains to audition and selected their all-coloured cast.  Todd Duncan got the role of Porgy and was to sing the hit numbers all over the world for the next 40 years.  After the out-of-town run the show had its real first night in the Alvin Theatre, New York on 10 October 1935.  It ran for 124 performances – not enough to recoup the investment on a Broadway musical but surely a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records as an opening run of consecutive performances of a new opera.