Requiem First Night!

Verdi Final Rehearsal - probably the Dies Irae by the looks on our faces! copyright Rose Ballantyne 2011

Well we’ve done the first performance, and we remembered when to sing quietly and went at it full throttle when it was required- at one point we were so loud I couldn’t hear what I was singing myself. From the depths of the choir you don’t get a clear picture of what the audience is hearing, but it sounded pretty good to me, and according to Leigh (O’Hara, our conductor and mentor) we are in the worst place for it sounding good, so it must actually have sounded stunning- possibly literally on the decibel front.

Wendy Dawn Thompson and Grant Doyle rehearsing Dido & Aeneas. Copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The soloists, Deborah Stoddart, Wendy Dawn Thompson, John Upperton and Timothy Dawkins, were all superb; Deborah’s voice just soared over the rest of us, and it must be really hard for soloists to compete with 200 enthusiastic amateurs giving it some welly.  Wendy, in a typically dramatic move, to match her dramatic voice, wore a flame red dress that stood out like an exclamation against the black everyone else was wearing.  That’s what I like about Wendy, she stands out: rather different from the rehearsal where after waving cheerfully at the choir, she stood with one hand in her jeans pocket and the other conducting herself, and John in his motorcycle leathers!
I was very glad that unlike the men in the choir I wasn’t required to wear a dinner jacket, it got very hot.
Talking to A this morning, we were reflecting on the difference in singing from a score rather than memory, as in the Operas, where we have to move at the same time and act, and that actually it’s just as challenging and exciting.

We were also talking about how a choir becomes a community, and how it was odd, despite the ‘scratch’ quality of Blackheath Halls Chorus (we come together only for specific events and its a slightly different group each time) that the community feel is still there. People you hardly know will come and confide their nerves, or ask for (or offer) help with bits that aren’t sticking to your brain. It also makes you feel very responsible, to Leigh for getting it right, for supporting other people in your section, for staying quiet and still when its part of the effect, and not turning the pages over too loudly! It’s a lot to think about.
Our three hour rehearsal in the afternoon was only the second time we had sung with all three choirs together, plus the orchestra, and it sounds very different from our smaller Blackheath forces, and even more so from our practice MP3 files from Choralia (a wonderful resource, may it long provide for people like me who have to hear the music to understand the score).  Many of the members of the Eltham Choral Society and JAGS choir have taken part in the operas so they were familiar faces, which helped break down the tribal divisions that might otherwise have intruded.  The buzz in the dressing room was extraordinary and when Leigh came up to warm us up, I think he was pleasantly surprised how much we could sing from memory.

How frustrating it is to think that this superb programme is under threat.

So – the latest on the cuts to funding at Blackheath Halls:
Unfortunately, Greenwich Council has now confirmed its decision to withdraw the entire annual grant of £71,352 as of 1 April 2011.

However, in response to the representations made to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the Halls has learned that the Cabinet has agreed to create a general budget of £42,000 to support the delivery of community based arts participatory projects across the borough.

Blackheath Halls hopes that it will be able to obtain some funding from this £42,000 allocation in order to continue the delivery of some of its community and education programme, although this will obviously be a much-reduced sum in comparison to the annual grant that has been provided to the Halls in the past.

In response to the Blackheath Halls’ petition, the Council’s Director of Culture and Community Services acknowledged that the end to their current funding agreement with the Halls “will impact on the service delivered by Blackheath Halls” and stressed that the Council was “keen to ensure that Blackheath Halls continues to play an active part in the cultural life of the borough”. Further discussion at a Council meeting on Wednesday 30 March 2011 at 7pm, which members of the public are welcome to attend.

How you can help

–      Come to  events and take part in workshops and programmes (including tonight and tomorrow for the final performances of Verdi Requiem… if there are any tickets left)

–      Become a regular donor

–      Attend the Council meeting on 30 March (please contact by noon on 30 March if you wish to speak at the meeting).

If you would like to support the Halls in any other way, such as through support-in-kind or volunteering, they would also be very happy to hear from you.  Find out more about Blackheath Halls.

Copyright Cherry Potts (and Rose Ballantyne for the info about Blackheath Halls and Greenwich Council) 2011

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