The stage that never was

 There are various choral workshops that take place during the months of July and August. A few years ago someone in the choir approached me about going on one held just about an hour north of Bordeaux in the little town of Guitres, but at that time ... well there was no point even considering it.

Now things are a little different so when a message went out that there were still places available, notably for chaps, I made enquiries, discussed it quickly, and sent off my form. Two works would be prepared and performed, by living composers.

Ha! Coronavirus had other plans. We normally rehearse and perform in the abbatial church of Guitres, a tiny town with a splendid romanesque basilica plonked right in the middle, but in light of the crise sanitaire the mairie cancelled the workshop.

Pat and I made plans to take a quick trip to explore Pau, Lourdes and environs, but then I was contacted by  a member of the choir to say that even though the choral workshop was not going ahead, they were still planning on occupying the gîte they'd booked in the countryside outside Guitres, and doing some singing. Two of the tutors, involved in the choir, would join us for some of the time. A room was free. Would Pat and I like to come? Incidentally, they were short of men. We'd be about 8 people.

Pat at the time was on a quick farewell jaunt to San Sebastian with our friend Sally who is about to leave France and return to lockdown England. I messaged Pat. She at once replied "Yes!" So there we were.

The gite was a rambling farmhouse in a clearing in the oakwoods. It had a splendid fig tree laden with not quite ripe fruit, and an enormous privet tree. We got systematically eaten by mosquitos, I think they were coming from a kind of pit in the garden that had stagnant water in it - the moustiquerie. We suspected that there were bedbuds, too. Either that or the mosquitos were good at crawling up your legs.

We spent a happy few days singing all kinds of things from the sublime to the ridiculous. "J'aime l'ail" - a culinary round, "Un satire cornu" - a cheeky renaissance madrigal, "Beau rossignol qui chante"- a rather tricky round, "The Silver Swan" - Gibbons, "De profundis" - Janczak, "O radiant dawn" - Macmillan. We made a quick stab at a Byrd "Ave verum corpus". We were two sopranos, four alti, one high baritone and one lower baritone, and we had to choose our works to fit our ranges. We worked without a leader and got on very well, though it may have been a good idea to choose a leader, perhaps for each piece.

On the last day we were joined by our voice coach and our choir director and they helped enormously in getting our voices further back into shape - I had not sung in anger since March - and in spotting overlooked things in the score, or trying different approaches here and there.

Food was important, and we dined like kings on delights like lamb cous-cous, a curiously non-spicy pork curry, courgette quiches, cèpe risotto, a pear charlotte, peach melba... Our jar of marmite provoked strong reactions.

We visited the abbey church in Guitres, but despite the temptation, we decided not to blast our way through any of the pieces in a kind of mini-choir flashmob.

As things stand our choir is struggling to resume rehearsals. Our usual rehearsal room is far too small. A local church would give enough room but would cost around 70 euros per rehearsal to hire. 

I wonder whether we could break the choir up into small chamber choirs of fewer than 10 people and rehearse in folks' homes. At least until the current crisis is over.


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