Thursday, July 19, 2012

Choir tour! Our first concert

Our first concert in Slovenia was in Ljubljana, at the Franciscan Church, which dominates the town square. We had a couple of hours to rehearse, then the concert, which began at 8pm.
I'd been warned that my daughter that although we might wear a cassock over our everyday clothes for a concert at home, on tour it would be too hot to wear anything but underwear. This proved to be true.
The people at the Franciscan Church were very welcoming and showed us into a big, cool room, where we could change and leave our stuff. We then trooped into the church for the rehearsal. The church was magnificent.

It took us all at least half an hour to stop gawping. It was great to see the kids appreciate all the decorative detail, and get their cameras out.

The organ was probably one of the best organs we had during the tour. It was huge, with a fantastic growly sound like a jungle beast, which really suited the first piece we sang, the Kyrie from Louis Vierne's Messe Solennelle.

Ljubljana is a very pretty, relaxed city, where you can sit at one of the riverside cafes and watch the world go by.

Here's the marketplace, closed up for the day by the time we finished our rehearsal.

 The staff, enjoying a brief break. My daughter's school, Emanuel, has four full-time music staff, all of whom studied either at Oxford or Cambridge. One holds a Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO) and two others have Associateships (ARCO). There are a host of instrumental teachers who come in on a part-time basis, including four singing teachers. As you can tell, this is a school that takes singing - and music - seriously.
I'm going to pause to have a little rant here. There is an attitude these days that classical music is somehow exclusive, or "posh". Working-class kids, the argument goes, don't have access to instruments, or expensive lessons, so singing Bach, rather than rap or cover versions of pop songs, is beyond them.
I find this attitude quite patronising. Anyone who can sing vaguely in tune can sing choral music; you just need to learn the notes (although it helps if you have a competent choirmaster or mistress). And of course, you need a certain level of commitment to turn up for rehearsals and concerts.
However, music is not seen as a core subject in many schools, and you have to rely on dedicated music staff - in the state sector or the private sector - to get good music-making.
The weird thing is that numerous studies have found that musical instruction improves cognitive ability in children. It's not quite clear why, and it seems that the improvement may disappear again if the children stop learning music. You'd think that would make schools - and parents - rush to put music slightly higher up the agenda, but no. It's still seen as something that's a bit trivial.

Anyway, back to Ljubljana. Wandering around the narrow streets, there are lots of architectural details to admire. One of the landmarks is the three bridges, or Tromostovje, across the river. That's two of them, in the picture below. The original bridge was quite narrow, so two pedestrian bridges were added either side in the 19th century to ease congestion. Now all of them are pedestrianised.

One of the biggest thrills of going on choir tour for me was to hear my daughter's composition, Aurum Stella, being sung by the choir in public for the first time. The choir was featured on a Slovenian television arts programme, and the concert was recorded on Italian radio and Russian television, so if I manage to get my hands on a recording, I'll post it here.

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