Thursday, July 29, 2010

Singing grief

I was involved in one of our all-too-infrequent rehearsals with the St Maura Singers yesterday - an expanded SMS, with two extra singers to make it possible to sing some new music. It was salutary that we had to spend an hour on a new piece that lasts all of 3.50 minutes - the slightly jazzy, displaced rhythms of Mr B's beautiful setting of Nancy had experienced musicians fumbling for the groove (so to speak, in my jazzy sort of mood ...)

But what struck me yet again was the incomparable beauty of Tomkins' When David Heard. I sing first alto in this, and found myself, on the first run-through, almost unable to continue. David's reaction to the news of Absalom's death goes from from the heart-broken repetitions of Absalom my son, over and over, over and over, to the words every parent can recognise: would God I had died for thee. It starts simply, bleakly almost, but then becomes more insistent - and then we're back with Absalom, my son, quietly, dying into the final cadence, as if David has no more energy to express the grief that has overcome him.

As I grow older - or simply old - I find this harder and harder to sing with the detachment I was able to enjoy when I first encountered the piece in my 20s. And yet the music is ruined by gusty, emotional lines or operatic emoting - for it is the music itself that paints the words, and the music needs every ounce of concentration to let it speak. By the end of a performance I am exhausted, and yet it lasts only five minutes.

The performance I've linked to is a tad slow for my taste - just a fraction - but lets the music work. If you've never heard it, go and listen.

1 comment:

  1. Glorious!
    It does, I feel, have the edge on the Weelkes.
    And thank God for empathy and imaginative engagement - If we cannot allow ourselves to feel and be moved by the liturgy (and indeed high art in general) why do we engage in it, or indeed even to bother going on living this life?