"Choirs have a very special place in my heart, and the sound of choirs is always there in my head." (John Rutter)
Back in July I accepted the invitation to 'Come and Sing with John Rutter' at Benslow Music. I’d agreed to meet a couple of friends there, then was delighted to discover three other Hertford Choral Society members among the group gathering in the hall. As John pointed out at the beginning, it was a treat to be singing together just for sheer enjoyment – no concert looming, no sensitive recording equipment, just an excellent accompanist and around 100 singers on a rainy Saturday morning.
We began with an energetic warm-up: 'My bonny lies over the ocean' – standing or sitting each time we sang a word beginning with 'b'. As you can imagine, total confusion and much laughter ensued. Fortunately the rest of the day was more relaxed! We sang a selection of madrigals and part songs by a variety of composers - many of them familiar but no less enjoyable for that. After the first one - 'Now is the month of Maying' - John commented that he had "never heard it sung so well" … but then added "at Benslow Music on a Saturday morning in July 2019". Ah well!
The madrigals included, of course, 'The Silver Swan' by Orlando Gibbons and John described his attempts to encourage the swans which gather near his garden to sing, thereby refuting the legend that swans only sing when they are dying. So far his success has been rather limited. We were encouraged and entertained with numerous anecdotes as the morning flew by. It was lovely to revisit the George Shearing’s arrangement of 'Who is Sylvia?' which Hertford Choral Society sang in a summer concert a couple of seasons ago.
Personally I felt we spent just enough time on each piece to get it to a reasonable standard without becoming bored - but that was all in the joy of 'just singing together' with no other pressures.
After a buffet lunch we returned to sing some of John’s own secular compositions, including folk-song arrangements from his 'A Sprig of Thyme' collection. He expressed his concern about the lack of singing in schools, especially the learning of those traditional folk songs which most of our generation know so well and which give us a shared heritage. By mid afternoon the rain had stopped so we were able to enjoy our tea break (with the usual lovely home-made cakes) in the garden.
The best 'new discovery' of the day for me was a piece composed for Swedish choir director Per-Anders Sjöberg’s retirement in 2016 called 'The music’s always there with you', words and music by John: "..But the magic you share when you make music won’t leave you when the time has come to part; And it feels like you never have to say goodbye because the music’s always there in your heart". So true, and a great ending to a very enjoyable day.
Trish (soprano in Hertford Choral Society)