14 August, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Ronnie Barnes

Festival Chorus Member Ronnie Barnes gives an insight into the life of a chorus member and what makes it all worth while...

It’s 1.59pm on the first Saturday in August 2010. The Festival Chorus have assembled for final preparations for this year’s International Festival and we await the warm up exercises which precedes the detailed work on the scores which are in preparation.

This is the 22nd consecutive 1st weekend in August in which I have participated. This results in 130 or so people being inside for the most part of what is usually a glorious weekend for weather. It is also the 22nd consecutive year that I have had to remind work colleagues and friends that despite their belief to the contrary, the Festival Chorus remains inactive during the month of July at least, and no I am not rehearsing furiously for the upcoming Festival! It still surprises some of my acquaintances that rehearsals stop at least for the month of July if not for June as well as all the hard work is undertaken during the winter months from January to the end of May.

I have had the good fortune to be a 1st Tenor with the Chorus since the Festival of 1989. I joined at a time when the Chorus strength was over 200 with an unbelievable Tenor section made up of 40. Our size has diminished significantly over the period and while we are a smaller Chorus we are still, I think, as effective.

I originally auditioned having heard the Chorus at the Festivals of 1987 and 1988 and I was encouraged to consider joining through a friend who sang in the Chorus at the time.

Throughout the past 22 years I have had the great privilege of being part of some incredible performances and while each and every one has in its own way been memorable, the particular highlights for me have been the Grende Messe de Morte by Berlioz, Mahler 2 with Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic, James McMillan’s Quickening and a performance of Alexander Nevsky in Rouen in Normandy with the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. What was particularly memorable during that performance was hearing this orchestra rehearsing the Suite from the ballet Romeo and Juliet. There was something about listening to that particular Orchestra playing that particular music that almost transcends the words which I have to describe it.

And so to the Festival 2010. Much of this week has been taken up with preparing for the opening concert which is a performance of John Adams’ El Nino. If we are performing in the opening concert, the week preceding is a frantic compression of rehearsal given that we are now meeting the Conductor, the Soloists and the Orchestra for the first time. And this is where the performance is finally shaped as we hear for the first time the sounds and textures which have previously only been played to us on a piano accompaniment. This can make it all sound and feel very different and you are likely to be thrown a bit by the orchestration and also hearing the Soloist for the first time.

El Nino is a complex, challenging piece of modern music with compelling syncopated rhythms which require pinpoint accuracy.

Following the main concert, the men will be involved in a performance of Puccinni’s The Girl of the Golden West. The Chorus will be re-united in two weeks time to prepare for the mammoth Mahler 8 which will be a fitting climax to this year’s Festival, the performance of which I am looking forward to with great relish.

It has always been a source of huge satisfaction to be part of this great Chorus and it is worth the sacrifices and the juggling of work and other commitments in order to make myself available for what can be a punishing schedule in the month of August. We all of us give generously of our time and some travel enormous distances in order to be included. However, the reward is participation in events which as individuals we would be unlikely to play a part, but as a collective we have earned the right to be up there with all the other world class performers.

And so it is now 9.29pm on the 12 August. The final Dress Rehearsal has come to an end. It is now ready. And so are we...


Ladyface said...

Brilliant and wonderfully written insight into the Edinburgh Festival Chorus... look forward to reading more!

Pat said...

Can't believe it's been 22 years....
You have had an amazing and privileged experience and obviously have loved every moment of it. Enjoy the rest of the run and keep blogging. Well done Arnold!