After many months of organisation, on a bright autumnal morning, members of Congleton Choral Society welcomed 270 singers to St Michael and All Angels Church in Macclesfield to make music under the expert guidance of Bob Chilcott
Bob Chilcott is one of the UK's major choral conductors and composers. He studied music at King's College Cambridge and for twelve years sang tenor with the King's Singers. From 1997 he has dedicated himself to composition and conducting. His workshops are in great demand, hence the need to book him two years in advance. He has an approachable style and his warm-up, breathing techniques and presentational skills are really helpful. The accompanist for the day, who played superbly, was Tim Abel.
The first session started with warm-ups, followed by singing through Bruckner's Ave Maria. Bob joked that a definition of an alto is a soprano who can sight read; whilst a soprano is an alto with range! He commented that it was marvellous to have so many tenors to conduct and he loved the arrangement of voices in the church, which has a magical acoustic.
Bob has written many carols and the next music to be looked at was his own Midwinter, which everyone agreed was a beautiful alternative to In the Bleak Midwinter. Singers enjoyed this so much that members of Congleton Choral Society demanded that it should be included in our Christmas repetoire. Next up was another of Chilcott's compositions A Shepherd's Carol, to be sung a capella, originally written for his old choir, King's College Cambridge. In complete contrast, the last carol sung before lunch, Chilcott's Where Riches is Everlastingly, adapted from a 16th century carol, was a joyful rumba.
The organisers (left to right)
Tim Abel (Accompanist), Ken Ratcliff, Pam Upchurch, Anne Shribman, Cynthia Moore and Bob Chilcott
During lunch, Bob signed many copies of his 'Carols 1' book for singers. Outside the church, more music could be heard, as a troupe of Morris dancers and Scottish Dancers were entertaining the crowds.
After a well-earned break for lunch, singers returned to work briefly on a well known piece, Bruckner's Locus Iste, followed by Sacred Song (Geistliches Lied) by Brahms. The singers learnt the music by first singing everything to 'la' before tackling the words in German. Bob told the singers that this well-structured, clever piece contained a double canon for both vocal parts and the piano accompaniment. Throughout the day Bob commented that he felt choral singing was very strong in the north of England, both for adults and youth choirs.
The last session featured Chilcott's Remember O Thou Man, a powerful text set to a blues rhythm. Suddenly it was time to reprise The Shepherd's Carol and end the singing day.
Bob's final comment to the singers was 'Thank you so much, this was a really lovely day'.
Refreshments were voluntarily provided by Chris Wightman and her team from the Church. Their generosity enabled Congleton Choral Society to donate £250 to the East Cheshire Hospice.
Singers came from all over the North West and further afield, with one tenor visiting from Holland just for the day. Comments included:
"What vitality and enthusiasm - Bob really lives the music"
"Bob is very convincing when he says how much he is enjoying the day and the singers here in Macclesfield"
"I love Bob's enthusiasm and energy - and praise."
"Wonderful sound, wonderful music"
"Fantastic springs to mind",said the 'lads from Leicester."The acoustics are wonderful and the blend of voices with 70 men is incredible.How nice to not be a lonely tenor having to push the sound."
"Bob's praise and encouragement make the singing a huge pleasure."
"Really enjoyed the day"
"Thanks very much for organising the day.
"He(BC) was very good. When is the next one?"
"So glad I came. Wonderful day, everyone so friendly. So well organised."