I’d been looking forward to these back to back tours for a few months now. The first concerts were with the Monteverdi Choir and it’s challenging but always exciting conductor, Sir John Eliot Gardiner. I joined the choir about three years ago and it’s a wonderful team of talented and funny people. The choir is a delight to sing with and we are lucky enough to perform with the orchestra of the English Baroque Soloists. It’s always hard work with a lot of early starts and long travel days but we always laugh a great deal on the journey.
When I joined the choir it was quite by accident. I would never have thought of auditioning, given that my previous experience was singing more contemporary music, mostly on microphone. I got a call out of the blue on a Wednesday afternoon, telling me that another alto had recommended me and could I come and sing that Friday morning? I was due to fly off that Friday afternoon to do a concert in Boston with the American Composer Steven Mackey. I didn’t really have many audition pieces prepared so I dug out the Messenger’s aria from Monteverdi’s Orfeo which I had sung at Music College a lifetime ago. I also took an aria from Bach’s Matthew Passion. If they needed any more music then I would be rumbled. As far as I was concerned, they had asked me to audition and I didn’t really know about John Eliot’s rather scary reputation, so I waltzed in with nothing to lose and an air of ignorant confidence. I got away without any major embarrassment and I received an email in America a couple of days later, offering me a tour in May.
The first rehearsal was a joy – it really reminded me why I had become a singer in the first place. It was technically challenging with lots of fast notes or ‘runs’as they’re called in the singing world. The choir made a huge noise which shocked me somewhat. Having sung in a group like the Swingle Singers for ten years, where blend was the ultimate aim, I discovered that John Eliot encouraged us to sing in a soloistic way and try to enhance the collective sound with your individuality. A completely different approach from anything I had done before and I found it quite liberating. We sang for six hours solidly with no let up and I was both exhausted and exhilarated at the end of the day. We finished the rehearsal by ‘scrambling’. This is where we split up from our voice sections and I had to stand next to any voice that wasn’t an alto. It was a ploy to make us all take responsibility for our own part and it’s become a feature of Monteverdi Choir rehearsals
Three years later I am lucky enough to do occasional solos as well as sing in the choir – I have to audition for these. This upcoming tour I was due to sing a solo aria, a duet and cover another aria all sung in German and from memory.
November had been very slow work-wise, so I was well prepared and my sister (whom I share a flat with) declared that she knew my arias from memory as well!
December 1st was to be the first rehearsal for the choir with John Eliot and organ. I woke up to find that snow had fallen and trains from Sussex were severely delayed. This is a great picture of the UK from a satellite which was on the front page of the newspapers. We set off early in padded clothes and boots and were joined by a soprano friend as my sister drove us to Hove station. There was nothing running along the coastline. She took us on to Brighton. Half an hour later we took a chance and managed to get a train to Haywards Heath. We stood in the freezing cold for an hour until another train managed to leave from Brighton. Unfortunately our gamble meant that we had to fight our way onto the packed train, warming up our voices by shouting for the passengers to move inside. In the end, we were only a half an hour late for rehearsals and when we came out at Waterloo there was no snow at all!
It took much longer to get home and were very lucky because if we had got the train only half an hour later we would have spent 9 hours with the poor passengers who were stranded on a broken down train with no heating, food or water.
At 23.30, I decided to pack for all the upcoming tours and head to London the next day, hoping to find a friend to stay with so I wouldn’t risk missing another rehearsal.
This is the view from my balcony that greeted me the next morning. I woke up to an ominous eerie silence as over a foot of snow had fallen in the night. Radio Susssex told me that NO trains at all were running in Sussex – aaaarrrrggghhh!
This was supposed to be my solo rehearsal day with the orchestra and I knew that if I didn’t make it, there was a real danger of being replaced for the solos. If I couldn’t get up for Friday then I could miss the entire tour – and not be paid either!
We were due to catch the Eurostar to Paris on the Saturday morning, sing two concerts and travel back to London on Sunday night. We would then fly to Berlin early on Monday morning and after that I was due to fly directly to Amsterdam. I had two concerts of the Berio Sinfonia with Synergy Vocals and the Concertgebouw Orchestra so there was a great danger of a domino effect if I couldn’t get to London.
It was too snowy to drive so I decided to try to walk with my case the few miles to Brighton Station. I just hoped that a train would get through to London later in the day. I packed some sandwiches and water, just in case, and set off in the thick snow. It was a struggle to get to the end of the road but when I got there I noticed there were fresh bus tracks in the road. Joy of joy – Brighton and Hove buses had fitted chains and were running a few buses on the flat routes. They weren’t climbing hills so I knew I would still have a hike up to the station. In the distance I could see the number one bus appearing like a wonderful mirage to save me – or at least get me a little further on my way.
I gave the driver a big smile and small round of applause and climbed on board.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to know when I write a new article, don’t forget to add your email address to one of the boxes on the top right hand of this page. Then click on the link in the email you get from Feedburner to confirm your interest. Your email address is completely confidential.