Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tallis and trembling.

Candles and stained glass
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Home again on a sunlit Maundy Thursday morning, I have time to reflect briefly on the past four days before the headlong rush of Holy Week takes over again. And that's what it feels like - partly, I suspect, because I've been in the place of the provider of services for others, rather than quietly observing and praying. In Cumbrae, we sang every day - Choral Evensong, plainsong Compline. And then there were the rehearsals - for it doesn't matter that the three of us have sung together for forty years; we may sound polished and unanimous, but it takes constant work.

And time to work was what we haven't had. This fact came rather pointedly home to roost yesterday, when the Tallis Lamentations came ... unstuck ... for a bit. Music of such complexity, sung one voice to a part (5 parts), can unravel alarmingly if one singer gets out. One beat miscounted and suddenly it all feels wrong, like a dislocated knee. The dreaded moment comes when your own entry is compromised by the missing part (the out-of-time one having given up at that point) on which you were relying for your own entry. Disaster in these circumstances is represented by a sort of gentle whining sound, like an air-raid siren whose power has failed. This, gentle reader, was my predicament for all of one and a half pages. I knew where we were - I even pointed it out to the chap next to me, who had become more confused than I - I simply coudn't fix the pitch.

After an eternity I found it, and shortly afterwards we arrived at the end of a section. We completed the piece in reasonable style, and realised that only a few people would have known what had happened. I feel especially sorry for the friend who, having arrived to enjoy listening, found herself sitting among us to help singing the canticles and the hymn; she had to crouch helplessly in the midst of all this angst. Not much peace there.

Ah well. We keep hearing that it's good to be able to fail and learn from it. What did we learn? Humility? Or perhaps simply that we should take more time to rehearse and sing together? Especially when we add in extra voices. Great music demands great attention. I fear that this week we had to learn that lesson again.

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