As those of us who have been in choirs for a while know, there’s a lot more to singing than, err, just singing. And the more that’s understood about it all, the more pleasurable it becomes.
With that aim in mind, Cantilena hosted a “polish up your singing” workshop, led by one of the choir’s former directors, David Bednall. David was based at Wells Cathedral when he took us, and has now moved on to Bristol where he teaches, conducts and composes.
He was relaxed and humorous as he reminded us of the importance of supporting the voice by breathing fully from the diaphragm, not upper chest. It needs practice, but can make a huge difference in volume and projection.
We launched into some of the pieces that Cantilena are preparing for our next concert, including William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. Useful practice for choir members, but perhaps quite challenging for newcomers. David’s explanation of how William Byrd mastered musical word painting – making notes depict and enhance the meaning of the the text – was revelatory to some of us.
William Byrd was an early English composer who died 400 years ago. His pieces are some of the most important in the choral repertoire, and David likened them to the highest achievements in art, comparable to magnificent paintings or architecture. Performing those works is a definable link to early culture and history in England.
Singing in a choir can be such a wonderful experience, and is now recognised as a contributor to good mental health. It’s such a pity that music tuition and choral singing have almost disappeared from many of our schools. But fortunately there are plenty of choirs around who would welcome newcomers, as well as more experienced singers.