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Congleton Choral Society, Congleton, Cheshire, UK

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Singing Day with Bob Chilcott
St Michael's Church, Macclesfield, Saturday 6th October 2012


This is a copy of the review of our Singing Day with Bob Chilcott which was published in the Congleton Chronicle.

Congleton Choral Society hosts singing day for 250 singers.

Bob Chilcott

Congleton Choral Society welcomed 250 singers from a very wide area to a glorious singing day on 6th October 2012. The composer Bob Chilcott was making his second visit for such an occasion. Chilcott is recognised as one of the foremost choral composers of today. As a choral scholar he sang in King's College Choir, Cambridge, and from there sang with the King's Singers. He made several recordings singing as a soloist, whilst moving into composing and teaching.

The singers on 6th October gathered in glorious weather at a chilly St Michael's Church in Macclesfield's Market Place looking forward to a day in which Chilcott guided them through his own Requiem, with the authenticity that only the composer himself can apply, leading to a "concert performance" at tea time to round off the day. Those who had attended his previous visit, in 2010, were looking forward to a day, not only of fairly hard work, but one filled with his charm, infectious enthusiasm, and many surprising anecdotes. They were not to be disappointed.

St Michael's Church, Macclesfield provided the perfect venue
Bob Chilcott leads the singing day

The singers, mostly from choirs, choral societies and similar organisations, came from as far away as Leicestershire and Merseyside, the majority naturally from Cheshire, the Potteries, and the surrounding areas.

Bob Chilcott was joined at the piano, and later at the church organ, by Christopher Cromar, Congleton Choral Society's Music Director. This was a felicitous combination. While rehearsing the various movements of the music in question, all sections of the choir could easily pick out their own part in the accompaniment, as Christopher is an accomplished choirmaster and repetiteur both nationally, and internationally. Somehow he also managed to combine this practical value with supreme beauty and artistry, but then, he is a professional. In addition we had two splendid young professional solo singers, Jessica Gillingwater (soprano) and Stuart Overington (tenor) who sang the solo parts in the performance in the afternoon.

Bob's style of teaching and conducting is totally positive, even when the choir is having a spot of trouble sight-reading the notes, and tackling tricky rhythms, and so, as it were, audibly struggling a bit. His approach is 'Not to worry, let's try that again, like this…', and in no time at all, confidence is built up, and success is tasted. One of the movements of the piece learned, the Requiem, is in 7/4 time, i.e. seven beats (nominally) in the bar. These are not that uncommon, but can be a little daunting to amateurs. He simply sliced through this by saying 'Sing it to the beat of "one-two-three-one-and-two-and", and then it's fast!'- and so it worked a treat, producing a lively syncopated rhythm appropriate for the words in question.

Then there were the anecdotes – from his own personal experience, about some rather well-known musicians. One example was about the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a man with a fabulous career, reputation and discography, equally at home in opera, oratorios, and lieder, with a characteristic clear fruity tone, from a wonderful voice. It turns out that he was just about the biggest chain-smoker on the planet, leaving ashtrays full to the brim wherever he went. We don't read these things in the standard biographies.

Bob Chilcott leads the singers
Bob Chilcott

Those who attended were full of praise in their feedback, both on the day and subsequently. The only quibbles mentioned by about 3% of respondents were that the venue was rather cold ( it was a chilly though sunny October day), and that in a couple of cases the sight-reading, and substantial sections in Latin, were very difficult. The other comments include 'a most pleasurable and inspirational day and the logistics ran like clockwork' (DR, Chester) , 'I can't believe we have never heard of your events before', 'fabulous singing day' (MG, Congleton), 'what an amazing day' (KP), 'every one of us found it stimulating and rewarding' (TC, Hoghton), 'BC was entertaining, encouraging and enthusiastic' (SC), 'thank you for a wonderful singing experience!' (NM, Holymoorside, Derbyshire), 'Bob C was totally inspirational and accessible' (JP), 'an excellent and exhilarating day – the first Congleton Day I have attended, but it certainly won't be the last' (DP, Chester).

The church is usually open in the mornings for the sale of coffee, in aid of East Cheshire Hospice. As the church was closed for this purpose on that day, Congleton Choral Society has made a donation of £150 to the ECH in compensation, plus the takings of a leaving collection from those who came to attend the performance of the Requiem, mostly friends and relatives of the singers.

The Society will be performing Handel's Messiah on Saturday 10th November, with a professional orchestra, in Congleton Town Hall, will be singing at the traditional Advent Sunday service in Swettenham on 2nd December, and giving a Christmas Carol concert in Congleton Town Hall on December 22nd.

Ken Ratcliff, October 2012.

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