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Ben 11th September 2013

It only seems like a couple of weeks since I last wrote a Songmen blog. Probably because it is only a couple of weeks, but there's still been plenty to be getting on with. We had the pleasure of meeting Sean Rafferty on In Tune (sadly no longer available with the exception of my Skye Boat Song) and a lovely weekend in Sardinia where we sang to some very appreciative crowds in some lovely settings. These late concerts meant that we had time during the day for some rare relaxation as well as exploring some exciting new repertoire.

It's topped off a very productive summer for us, in which we've travelled thousands of miles and met many many new friends. We get a little time off for good behaviour, but not before we make out debut in the King's Place Festival this Saturday morning at 11.45am. You will have seen it advertised I'm sure but don't miss out on a great opportunity to see us at the bargain price of £4.50 a ticket!

One downside to being so busy is that it has been that much harder to keep up with the Proms in a year when they've hit the headlines on more than one occasion. With Marin Allsop came the first woman to conduct the Last Night. We were giving our last performance in Sardinia at the time but watching online, I thought she spoke fantastically at the close and the music was fantastic as ever. My musical highlight was Iestyn Davies's solo in Chichester Psalms (unsurprisingly - countertenors unite!). He really gets better and better every time I hear him. I'll have to work on a Fantasia of Sea Songs arrangement for us to see if they might adopt an alternative Last Night in future years!

Writing things like this at busy times can often make you forget about more sobering events and as I put today's date in the title box, that Tuesday in 2001 leapt to mind. I'll never forget where I was or what I was doing when I saw the events of 11th September unfold on television and thoughts go out to our American friends and anybody affected by that tumultuous day.

Anyway, I better stop. There's a choir forming as I write and they need conducting. A new term for my school community choir 'Tewkesbury Voices' with a good number of youngsters involved as well as some 'more experienced' singers. Start stretching, it's warm up time....

See you at King's Place!

Ben

 

Jon 4 September 2013

It really seems like an age since my last blog and what an exciting time it has been...

We started with a series of performances to the ever-appreciative German audiences (and our stay even included a rather nice surprise upgrade to a 5* hotel in the process).

Then we spent some 10 days experiencing the sights and sounds of China, somewhere I hadn't been before but a truly amazing place. The concert venues were great, the weather hot and only eclipsed by the warmth of the welcome we received!

I particularly enjoyed the Chengdu Giant Panda centre. I don't recall having seen a panda in real life before. Did you know that adolescent pandas like to spend their time climbing trees, or that a baby panda is about the size of a Beanie Baby?

You might think that coming home from China things would have slowed a little, but the great experiences haven't stopped. Yesterday we performed live at the BBC as part of the Radio 3 show "In Tune" with Sean Rafferty and if you missed us then don't worry as you can catch up again here.

Tomorrow we swap the air waves for a quite different kind of waves as we head to the beautiful island of Sardinia for a series of concerts - if you're lucky enough to be in the area why not come along?

Take care.

Jon x

PS We look forward to seeing you on 14th September for our concert in this year's King's Place Festival. Get your tickets here.

 

Ben 29th August 2013

This week I write from Todi, a beautiful town set on a hillside in the middle of Umbra, Italy. Nick and I have become quite familiar with this town over the last few days as it has been the base for our first International Masterclass.

Singers from around Europe (as local as near by Perugia to as far from here as Krakow, Poland!) have been put through their paces over the past three days, learning a selection of music just as diverse. Nick and I have been introducing choral principles which are present in everything we (as in The Songmen) hold as essential to our art. This evening, the newest a cappella groups in Todi will share all they have learnt with the general public as they give their final concert.

What has impressed us the most is the volume of pieces that we have been able to introduce to these singers, who all come from very different choral backgrounds. They will sing fifteen pieces this evening, of which very few of them had ever seen or heard before, let alone sung. Each session, Nick and I have used these pieces to bring confidence to singers who enjoy singing but are sometimes happier to hide in larger choirs. This time, it's been up to them and they have all risen to the challenge.

I congratulate each and every one for their impressive hard work and wish them all well for this evening's concert and their future singing. This week has been an excellent start to what The Songmen hope to become a traditional event for the group. This gives me a chance to publicly thank Annarita Sellari, our dear friend in Perugia, who has worked tirelessly to make this week happen!

Onto next week, you will have noticed that we're off to the BBC again, this time for 'In Tune', Radio 3's prime time evening show. Then on Thursday, Nick and I, with the others this time, jet back to Italy. Well, Sardinia, where we sing as part of the month long 'Concordia Vocis' festival.

Hope to see you soon!

Ben

 

Guy 21st August 2013

Hello everybody,

The internet is decidedly sketchy here in China so despite me writing this on Sunday morning I cannot say when you'll get to read it.

We're approaching the end of our tour; it's been quite an experience! From the smells and sounds of inner city Chengdu to cosmopolitan Shanghai, China is certainly somewhere everyone should visit once.

We're currently on a minibus on our way to Shanghai Train Station from where we'll catch the fast train west to Xuzhou for our final concert in Xuzhou Concert Hall. It's an amazing piece of architecture - Google it (unless you're in China; China doesn't like Google). We're greatly looking forward to the concert tonight and then traveling home to our loved ones. We're all hoping that Jen, Mim, Catherine, Rosie, Alison and The Baron are all as excited as we are (about us coming home - not our final concert - unfortunately they couldn't make the trip).

Breaking new territory as a musician is always hard work. Not knowing the area or customs, not knowing whether you'll get an audience, and not being great at speaking the language. However, the Chinese have made us feel very welcome.

Speak soon.

Guy

X

 

Nick 14th August 2013

Dear Songmen-blog-enthusiasts.

First off I must apologise for the tardiness of this post. As you will hear, our 12 feet have barely touched the ground for what feels like months, but is in fact only seven days...

On Wednesday last week, a sprightly, energised collection of Songmen arose pre-4am to nip over to Melsungen, near Kassel in Germany. After a fairly epic journey, highlights of which include Chris enjoying the liberating autobahns, we still had just enough energy to perform in the town's beautiful Kirche.

The following day saw the group's return to the picturesque city of Lübeck, though it was my first time there. A very warm crowd came to watch us performing a bunch of beautiful sacred works, though there was no time to celebrate afterwards as the next morning we were up with the larks again to zip round the old for our Chinese debut.

We've been out here for 5 days now. The first few we're spent in the "mega-city" of Chengdu - culturally chalk and cheese with the cozy coastal German towns we had left behind. Ben and I even managed to navigate our way across town to the largest building in the world (the New Century Global Centre) using the metro system whose rush hour would make the London Underground look like an unpopular miniature steam railway.

We now have our feet well and truly up in Shenzhen. Later today we have bold and adventurous plans to walk to Hong Kong (google suggests it'd take 30 mins from our hotel...).

A handful more concerts in China, including a brief hello in Shanghai, and we'll be on our merry, but no doubt less energetic, way back home. Can't wait for the luxurious comforts of stodgy food, mediocre cricket, and Facebook.

Nx

 

Ben 31st July 2013

Once again, I find it difficult to know where to start my blog. Do I start with the WIFYS Gala Concert last Friday? Do I start with the first radio broadcast of a composition of mine? Do I start with the sell out concert we gave on Monday evening? Do I start with our impending tours to Germany and China? Or do I start with our week in Todi at the end of August? 

Well, I guess I've started with all of them. 

Regular readers will know that I have a minor bee in my bonnet about the importance of large group singing - how as an activity it brings people together in a way very few other things can. So I will focus for now on the WIFYS Gala Concert. Having performed to a large number of the children and adults taking part in the first ever Worcester International Festival for Young Singers last Wednesday (see Jon's blog from last week), I decided to attend the Gala Concert to see all 400 singers working together with their four distinguished choral conductors. Ten choirs from nine countries took part and what a performance they gave. From interesting sound pictures led by Carlo Parvese of Italy, to more traditional folk arrangements under the direction of Margrét Bóasdóttir from Iceland, then onto the exuberant force of Sanna Valvanne and finishing with a world premiere by Bob Chilcott, the whole evening showed how so many people from such far flung places can be brought together through singing. I sincerely hope that this event is the first of many.

This week has been very different. My wife Catherine's two sons are choristers in Gloucester Cathedral Choir, and they have been heavily involved in this year's Three Choirs Festival, the oldest music festival in the world. They have just returned home from their excellent broadcast of Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3. Last Monday night, we were there too - not in Gloucester Cathedral itself, but in the newly renovated ruins of Blackfriars in Gloucester. The whole complex has been reborn as a versatile arts centre and we hope to return there in the not too distant future. We were delighted to be greeted by a full house for our late night concert, with many of the audience having come directly from the main concert of the evening, conducted by Edward Gardner. A real show of dedication from such an enthusiastic and discerning audience. 

I'll stop now. I'm off to a concert myself shortly - I'm seeing violinist Adrián Varela and his band perform their own brand of tango influenced music. Well, they do say variety is the spice of life! 

This time next week of course we'll be singing in Kassel, Germany as our two week tour from there to China gets under way. Maybe we'll see you on our travels.

Keep well.

Ben

 

Jon 25 July 2013

For those of you in the UK you will be well aware that in the past few weeks we have been dealing with something really rather strange… the sun has been shining!

Now I love the sunshine - it enables me to top up my tan nicely (although regrettably I still don't tan as well as my Dad), get the roof down on my car more frequently (thus justifying the purchase of a soft top) and eat generally healthier (I'm obviously inspired by Guy's recent health drive). One drawback about the weather however, is that it does make performing in Songmen suits a little warm!

We were absolutely thrilled to be invited to perform at the first Worcester International Festival for Young Singers (WIFfYS), a fantastic non-competitive vocal festivity bringing young singers from all over the globe to enjoy making music, and we were acting as part of their "evening off" entertainment.

Well, even though it was hot (and believe me - it was hot), that heat paled into insignificance in comparison to the warmth of the reception we received from this fantastic international audience - it was truly amazing.

Also, a part of our performances that is rarely mentioned but something I really enjoy, is the meeting the audience afterwards and I'm pleased to say that this was really special. Lots of enthusiastic young singers just having fun, singing with their friends and making some great music - much like Guy and I used to do when we were at school I suppose. You never know - maybe some of them will be inspired to start a little a cappella group themselves!

Oh, and if you're lucky enough to be in the Gloucestershire area in the next week we're performing on Monday night at 22.15 at Blackfriars in Gloucester as part of the Three Choirs Festival (tickets are available here - I believe it has been selling rather well so I would recommend booking asap), then we're off to Germany and straight on to our China tour.

Phew - I don't think things are going to cool down for us anytime soon!

Take care.

Jon x

 

Rob 17th July 2013

It's only ten days until the start of the 286th Three Choirs Festival, hosted this year at my home cathedral of Gloucester. This will be my fourth festival as a performer and the first since I moved into the cathedral close. Having endured a mixture of commuting and floor-kipping for the last three festivals, it'll be great to be right in the midst of the festival atmosphere for the whole week, and to be able to amble home each night!

It'll certainly be a week of contrasts: Gerontius and Beethoven 9 with the 150-strong festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra; choral evensongs and a complete Messiah with the three cathedral choirs; and best of all (of course), six perfectly blended Songmen voices in the beautiful medieval priory of Blackfriars. Performing to a home crowd is my favourite kind of Songmen concert, and they don't get much more home than this.

I'm also particularly looking forward to Belshazzar's Feast on the penultimate night of the festival, as it's the first large-scale choral work I ever sang. Walton's epic oratorio was quite a baptism of fire in my first term at university, and made a huge impression on me even though I was clinging onto the notes and the beat for quite a lot of it. This time I should have more of a chance to enjoy it!

Once I've got the festival out of the way, I'll have a quick look in the Songmen diary and see if we've got anything else planned for the summer.

Rob x

 

Chris 11th July 2013

It's a long standing joke that the British like to talk about the weather and I am not going to break any stereotypes by saying that I am really enjoying a little bit of sun. The whole country was united in joy over the weekend watching the British hero, Andy Murray, win at Wimbledon. The first men's final winner for more than three score years and ten, and even I managed to watch the complete match in nervous awe of the canny Scot.

However, back to Songmen matters, we have our concert in the Three Choirs Festival coming up at the end of this month. The Three Choirs Festival is thought to be one of, if not the oldest music festival in the world and our venue for the night, the recently renovated Backfriars (a former Priory) in Gloucester, dates back in parts to the first half of the 13th century. With such a historic weight looming over us, we have, of course, selected a programme of some of our most favourite, beautiful and exciting works, including opening with Claudio Monteverdi's joyous "Cantate Domino", several of Ben's wonderful folk-song arrangements and a selection from Poulenc's "Chansons Françaises". One must not forget too Rob's haunting "Nolo Mortem Peccatoris", which we happened to performed to a packed audience in Dallas earlier in the year...

In other news, I received a small package in the post today that has got my emotions spinning. No, it's not the glove cat-comb I bought for Dennis (that arrived yesterday!) but rather, the set of travel power adaptors I ordered awhile ago on the eBays in advance of our Chinese jaunt next month. That, combined with signing our Chinese visa application documents last night, and suddenly our China tour is feeling ever so real! We will be flying out to China on my birthday next month (so with the time difference, I will technically only be 9 months older by the time we land and coincidently, will finally be legally, I imagine, younger than Ben) from Germany, where we have a couple of concerts and a too-brief chance to re-visit Lubeck, a Songmen favourite town on our last night.

Germany, China, one or two flying visits to Italy and a live BBC radio broadcast (oh, did I forget to mention that?...) all in the next couple of months and the summer is looking fairly busy!

C x

 

Guy 4th July 2013

Why hello!

We've got a really busy time ahead in the next few weeks and I'm really excited about it!

We're singing in Worcester on 24th Jul, Gloucester Three Choirs Festival on 7th August, Melsungen and Neustadt in Germany on 8th and 11th August and then we're whizzing over to China for a series of dates in the following week.

After having a bit of a break after our Ireland Tour we're all massively excited about visiting new places and making new friends - these are some of the most rewarding things about being in The Songmen for me and I can't think of another job that would allow me the luxury of such fabulous worldwide travel (I'm a very lucky boy).

Some of the people we meet on our travels quickly morph from musical acquaintances into lifelong friends and last night Chris and I had the pleasure of paying a visit to some of our Italian friends who are in Cheltenham running a language course at Cheltenham Ladies College. The wonderful Annarita, her cool Led Zepplin lovin' husband Rob and their even cooler son Nicky have been kind enough, in the past, to invite us out to beautiful Perugia where they live and put us up when we've been on Italian duty. We first met them a couple of years ago in Germany when we attended a masterclass with the choir that Annarita manages and we've stayed close ever since. It really was lovely to see them and hear young Nicky's voice - he is a phenomenally low bass (watch out Jon and Nick!)

For those of you who are my friend on Facebook I'm sorry that you've had to suffer my relentless posts about my fitness regime. News on that is that I've been massively slack this week (I put that down to the sheer volume of music I'm having to learn (priorities right!?)) as our commitment over the next month sees us performing dozens of new arrangements and works without music - I'm beginning to rue the day when I first suggested to the group that we shouldn't be letting sheets and sheets of manuscript get between us and our audiences. I suppose I'm my own worst enemy and you're all probably muttering, "Man up Guy!".

So I will, and it's back to seven new arrangements by Ben... thanks Ben ;) (I love Ben).

No seriously... they're awesome and I can't wait to perform them to you guys soon.

All love,

G
x

 

 

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