Dear Doug and Nancy
Wednesday 19 November witnessed an important event here - Alan Simmons' new choir met for the first time, in the Catalpa room in the War Memorial square. (See the team photo.) Over twenty eager choristers, several confessing with undue modesty that they couldn't sing a note, met there for an informal introduction to the rigours and disciplines of creating a beautiful sound.
Alan was/is a masterly instructor and coach. If sheer enthusiasm could get anything right, then it was immediately obvious that there would be no barriers to progress with this motley crew. We, the choristers-to-be, were a compliant lot, and in only a few minutes and speaking in Anglo-French (there were several Léran locals in the team) Alan had organised us into a closely packed circle and then into three groups - Sopranos, Altos and Men! He handed out sheet music and we eagerly studied the words and musical symbols. Actual singing started with a simple little piece about Snowflakes - only one verse, only twelve words and only eight different notes with no tricky sharps or flats - and we soon mastered that in unison. Then he split us into two teams, the choristers on the left vs the choristers on the right, and we had to do it again but this time the two teams starting a few bars
apart, 'counterpoint' I think it is called. That was a bit of a struggle but we got it right second time. Then he further divided us into four and finally eight groups, all starting one bar apart in sequence round the room, so that the twelve words by team one were finished by the time team eight got started! This required serious conducting skills - as you can see in the picture, Alan practicaly danced round the room pointing at each small team so that its entry into the cycle was perfectly timed. We all repeated the little Snowflakes song, round and round the room, getting louder and more confident, until the counterpoint was almost perfect. HUGE achievement and applause.
Flushed with success, Alan then introduced us to Silent Night, in French. A brief lesson in pronounciation was needed, provided by one of our French colleagues in the Altos team. The Sopranos, Altos (they are in the third photo) and Men in turn had to learn their different 'tunes', using 'repeat after me' techniques from Alan. Then we launched straight into a three-part harmony. It was little short of miraculous. In half an hour we had mastered all three verses and, in the final rendition, without a break, we finished precisely together and mostly on the right notes. We were a choir already!
Finally we tackled a carol composed by Alan and Eileen called New Born Baby, only one page of music but packing a big challenge. The Men first learned their part, a simple song that we could belt out at full volume. Then it started to get complicated. It became evident that the Altos and Sopranos had to weave music over the Men's part using different words, different notes/tunes, and different timing. Bit by bit they added colour to this amazing musical experience. Imagine singing three different songs simultaneously but composed so that they harmonised beautifully with different bits of rhythm and wording mixing and merging as we went along. Another triumph was celebrated with applause for Alan and each other.
We ran out of time soon after starting a second French piece, marked to be performed 'Grazioso'. There wasn't time to achieve anything approaching Grazioso, but we had worked up a good thirst. Shirley and Marek, members of the choir, didn't make it to their Bar as fast as some of their fellow choristers.
The Choir is born. Our first 'performance' is scheduled to take place in the Bar about three weeks before Christmas. With two more practice nights before then we'll be word and tune perfect.
We eagerly look forward to you being able to join in some time.
Julian and Gwenda
What's Grazioso, Julian? Inquiring minds want to know. In other news, I see Leran has been busy. Over at Peter and Angela's blog, there was a voluntary trail clearing effort. Go check it out. http://deepsouthoffrance.blogspot.com/