Good evening everyone! It’s great to see so many of you, albeit virtually! At this stage, my wheelie bin has been out more often than I have. As we mentioned in our email we are keen to keep contact with everyone as we rest between engagements.
This is a very frustrating time for everyone as we are forced to hibernate for everyone’s safety. It has also been a time of great worry and sadness for many people as loved relatives and friends fight the COVID virus and other illnesses, in isolation.
We all know people who have been ill or suffered loss, not just from the virus, in the last number of weeks. In this regard, on behalf of the choir I would like to extend our condolences and sympathy to Aisling Guckian whose husband Tom has passed away in recent days. Tom was well known to many members of the choir over a long number of years and was an enthusiastic supporter until, more recently, illness prevented him from attending our concerts and social events.
We also extend our sympathies to both Siobhan Mac Ionmhain on the passing of her brother, George and to Carrie Maher on the death of her mother Kay. May their souls rest in peace.
On a brighter note I have seen evidence that many of our members have been actively engaged with social media and indeed the printed word. I saw a letter in the IT last week from Robin Miller, a recently retired member of the bass line, who remarked that his efforts to ensure he takes daily exercise has given him an appreciation for how the family pet hamster must have felt on the exercise wheel. Robin’s letter even received a mention the following day in an article by one the IT’s leading columnists.
For the rest of us we have come to grips with Whats App and other novel means of communication, exchanging literally hundreds of funny, sometimes rude, lewd and crude messages. One day I was directed to a website which when you inserted your date of birth played a record of the No. 1 song in the charts on that date. I was relieved to see it was 45 rpm and not a 78!
I would also like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to David for his fortnightly playlist as we journey through his selection of some of his favourite music through the centuries. It has been a great pleasure to listen to.
I know there was much disappointment that we had to postpone our performance of the Dream of Gerontius scheduled for next Monday. Fortunately, our soloists and the orchestral players were very understanding and readily released us from our commitments and we have also been able to recover our booking fee from the NCH. As a result, our irrecoverable outlay has been minimised. This performance will be rescheduled so our preparation has not gone to waste. However, we have to wait until we know when both the NCH and our soloists will be available before setting the new date.
In the meantime, and bearing in mind that we may still be operating under certain Covid related restrictions, we have continued our preparations for our 70 th Season, commencing September 2020. Our finances are in good order, although I would remind some of you that there a few bills remaining outstanding for membership and ticket sales last Christmas. Please do examine your conscience and your wallet. If there are any difficulties please speak with our Treasurer, Brendan Supple and we can sort things out.
Our first concert, will be a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in the RDS on Saturday, 5th December 2020. David will speak about this shortly but suffice to say it will be a lengthy concert so we propose a novel approach which we hope will be attractive to our audience.
In recent years we have held the Guinness Choir Christmas Concert in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As you know, the cathedral is being reroofed at present and, as a consequence, will not be available to us this year. However, we have been approached by our friends in St. Peter’s, Phibsborough who have asked if we would be available to perform a similar Christmas Concert with a Special Guest in aid of their Organ Restoration project on Sunday, 13 th December. This, we have agreed to do, subject to the aforementioned Covid Restrictions.
We also plan a Gala Concert in April 2021 where we will perform some of our favourite pieces plus the premiere of a piece entitled “The Weaver”, based on the theme of a poem by Diane Tierney. The work will be composed by Judith Ring, a recognised Irish composer who has also been a member of our tenor line. This has been commissioned by the choir to mark our 70 th Anniversary Season and we are seeking support towards this project from the Arts Council.
As you know we have planned to make a short tour of the UK over the June Bank Holiday. We continue to plan for this, although it will of course be dependent on developments surrounding the current pandemic.
We also plan to hold a Celebration Dinner in a prestigious venue in Dublin where we can relax with our partners, friends and supporters. Further details, as they say, later.
Finally, before handing over to David, you’ll know this is a very fluid situation at present and we do not know if our venue or the rehearsal format will remain as before. However, we are working on the basis that we will begin returning to relative normality in the near future and will adapt, as necessary.
Many thanks for your attention.
Good evening everybody and thank you for zooming in! It’s good to see you! We thought it would be important to maintain contact with you during these strange and unprecedented days when, on good advice, we are prevented from meeting to rehearse and indeed perform. Perhaps there is some consolation that many other Choir’s and groups of musicians are in a similar situation, and I feel for those whose full-time or part-time professional careers have been affected, particularly the more than 70 musicians and singers denied their potential earnings when we cancelled our 27th April performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. My son Nick has had all the professional engagements through August in his diary cancelled. I join with Clive and all of you in sending my sympathy to Aisling Guckian, Carrie and Siobhán and indeed we think of all those who have lost loved ones to this virus.
Now, please stand . . . . . . Oh no! That won’t work.
As you were! Sorry. Force of habit!
I have been cocooned in Walkinstown as I was here when the advice was announced. The Chairman and I have been in regular contact, dealing with choir matters, together with the treasurer, Ada and Valerie, John, Philip and Olwen (for IT tutorials) and the rest of the committee. Clive has outlined our plans for the coming season - our 70th. We have a commitment to perform Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in the RDS - a suggestion from one of our patrons. It is a good suggestion, and I am happy that it reappears in the choir repertoire. Will we be rehearsing at 2 metres separation by then I wonder?
As we decided not to promote our Christmas Concert in St. Patrick’s Cathedral this year because of the challenge of selling two concerts in close succession, instead we have accepted an invitation to do something similar in St. Peter’s Church in Phibsborough, following the success of our visit there last year. They will be promoting this concert and engaging the guest soloist. We plan to hold a Gala Celebration Concert in late April or early May, and will look to the NCH for confirmation of a date. The main work to be performed will be decided soon. The programme will include the first performance of The Weaver, a setting of a poem by Diane Tierney which we have commissioned from the composer Judith Ring. This is an exciting project, and I have been in
touch with Judith in recent days. We are in the process of applying to the Arts Council for funds in relation to this commission. I look forward to seeing the completed work before the end of the year. A short tour to the UK, based in Cambridge, coinciding with the June Bank Holiday weekend next year is planned. We might include short, informal concerts as part of the itinerary. The Chapel of St. Peter ad vinculum in the Tower of London, Ely Cathedral and
a church near Cleveden (the home of our Patron, Lord Iveagh) are venues being investigated. We would include further performances of Judith’s new composition in these events. Beyond that, we intend to return to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in December 2021 and we are actively investigating a joint concert with the TUD Choral Society. Somewhere in all of this, we must not lose sight of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. We had already put a considerable amount of work into preparing this. We owe it to ourselves, and to the soloists and musicians who were engaged, to complete our work. Disappointing as it was to cancel (through nobody’s fault) everyone was very understanding and our booking deposit and all tickets which had been purchased were refunded by the NCH. Works I am considering for the future include Mozart’s c minor Mass, Stanford’s Stabat Mater and Orff’s Carmina Burana.
I am now going to say a few words about the Christmas Oratorio. The work comprises six Cantatas. They wouldn’t originally have been conceived as a single entity. Each part being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period at the time of their first performance as a whole in 1733/1734. The first part (for Christmas Day) describes the Birth of Jesus, the second (for December 26) the annunciation to the shepherds, the third (for December 27) the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth (for New Year’s Day) the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth (for the first Sunday after New Year) the journey of the Magi, and the sixth (for Epiphany) the adoration of the Magi. This Oratorio forms part of the trio which includes the Easter and Ascension Oratorios of 1734 & 1735 which we performed last year. However, Bach re-used material from earlier compositions when compiling the complete oratorio. He often did this – waste not, want not!
The term Oratorio, which Bach uses for the works, describes a sequence of arias and recitatives, choruses and chorale. They are accompanied by an orchestra made up of flutes, oboes, oboes d’amore, oboes da caccia, 2 horns, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings and continuo. This allows for a tremendous variety of colour, texture and mood. The extra oboes, which are tuned a 3rd and a 5th lower respectively, give a darker timbre to the orchestral lines. The recitatives are sung recitations of the particular gospel narratives, either accompanied, or ’secco’ which means minimal chordal support. The speech-rhythm employed allows for a great variety of expression. The arias, sung by the soloists, provide a commentary on the gospel theme. Bach often uses the da capo style, or ABA format - well established in Baroque vocal music at this stage. The texts of these arias, and indeed the choruses and chorales, were probably by Picander, with whom Bach collaborated
on many occasions. The choruses are generally lively and celebratory and allow Bach the full rein to exploit his polyphonic skill. All but two of the chorales are reworking of familiar Lutheran hymn tunes, and demonstrate Bach’s complete mastery of harmony. In their original performances, the melodies would have been sung by the congregation. When I was studying for my degree, we had to learn to harmonise in the style of Bach. This challenge revealed to us the wide range of possibilities available, sometimes chromatically or rhythmically surprising, and
occasionally causing eyebrows to be raised. I brought this knowledge to bear in my early career as a music teacher of O level. A level music, and the Intermediate (now Junior) and Leaving certificate music and musicianship. More recently, these skills are not required by music students here. Nowadays, a named chord, placed in a box over a melody note, is all that is necessary, giving no sense of harmonic progression or indeed the sound of the result.
At the first hearings of these six parts during services in Leipzig, one can only wonder at the skills of the performers, the amount of rehearsal time along with the regular, weekly cantatas, the industry of those who transcribed the copies, and above all - the absolute energy and mastery of invention by the composer! (Who also, remember, had 23 children by 2 wives, was a housemaster and teacher at the St. Thomas’s Choir school – not at all reliable, apparently, and was a frequent customer at Herr Zimmermann’s coffee shop, where a secular cantata he wrote in
celebration of coffee, of which he was a 30 cups a day addict, was first performed!)
Here is one detail I would like to share with you, before I finish. The opening of the 1st part begins in a unique way: 5 crotchets - DDDDA - played on the solo timpani. After a flourish of scales for 2 more bars, the timpani reappear - this time more insistent, decorated. It’s as if Bach wants to command our attention from the get-go with this demanding paean, announcing the great news of the opening chorus: ‘Christians be joyful!’ Timpani were well established in music by the time Bach was inspired to write this. Their ability to re-enforce a chord, or provide a rhythm to a tuned note, in ceremonial, military and concert situations was extensively practiced. Such stentorian opening statements remind me of the single, decorated note, given out on the organ at the start of Bach’s ’Toccata and Fugue in d minor’ (when the audience mightn’t be able to see the player and know when they were ready to commence). Or the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony which he called ’fate, knocking on the door’.
Further thoughts about timpani remind me of their use to great effect in Beethoven’s 7th and 9th symphonies, and the 4th symphonies of Dvorak and Nielsen. But I digress.
I will go into more detail in a possible future zoom meeting which might include questions and comments from some of you. Just to say, that I am looking forward very much to working with you all again on this wonderful music.
Stay safe. Stay well.