How to straighten your head out during a pandemic

 As well as the usual advice, like "Get up and get dressed, even if you're working from home", "maintain contact with people and with God", "read helpful things", "don't watch the news too much"... it's important to do the thing that helps you to maintain your physical and mental well-being. For some people it's team sports. For me it's music.

It's good for me physically because I've always played wind instruments or sung. It means working on your breathing. Good for an asthmatic. It's good for me mentally because my mind works like that. There's nothing quite like listening to Bach for clearing my brain of it's mental fug. There's nothing like singing or playing in an ensemble for totally engaging your mind. 

Jigsaw puzzles, colouring or sudoku don't cut it for me. I do a frightful amount of reading in my work anyway. TV series or films are OK if I have the time and if I feel like them. But I can't remember the last time I didn't feel like listening to some difficult music.

Now here comes the problem. I don't go to expensive concerts. I barely go to concerts at all! I've always sung and played. Some folks recently were asking what was the first concert people went to, and I imagine mine was probably a brass band concert somewhere in South Wales when I was about 13. 

Enter YouTube and Apple Music. Our Choir Director has very helpfully sent out some suggestions for groups to listen to, and very fine they have been, too. In addition groups like Voces8 have done choral workshops online. YouTube gives you Apollo5 as well as the Netherlands Bach Society, the Academy of Ancient Music and sundry others. Some of these groups have organised online concert series for a quite modest sum of money.

But the big find of this time has been a group called I Fagiolini, led by a rather ... unusual ... University Reader from York. This group, in addition to posting super choral videos, also produce a series called "Sing the Score" where they'll talk you through a piece of music before performing it. They have one asset which for me is a slight weakness. To me, they sing like excellent soloists rather than like an excellent ensemble. It's a bit like the difference in an opera between the quartet sung by the principal roles and the moments where the opera chorus sings. For me it's a weakness, but for others it would be a strength I'm sure. It's a question of taste.

I think they've done about 20 of these "Sing the Score" videos, and I've watched perhaps the first 7. I ration myself strictly, otherwise I'd being watch them and lose the effect!

One thing our choir has done for me is to open my ears to Herbert Howells as a choral composer. Anglicans what sing in cathedral choirs know their Howells, but I knew him as a brass band composer, firstly of the wonderful "Pageantry"  that we played a few times as a competition piece but also of the fiendish "Three Figures" we had to play for another competition, and which I hated. Herbert Howells four Carol Anthems were a real find this Christmas!

I Fagiolini gave me Thomas Tomkins, a Welsh composer in the time of Elizabeth 1st who spent most of his life working at Worcester Cathedral and wrote some wonderful part-songs.

A couple more things coming up - one is a massed choir of Welsh people singing "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau" for a March 1st online concert. I must get on and register to do that. 1st March marks the thirtieth anniversary of my leaving my employment in British Telecom to become an assistant pastor in North Wales. Another is a series of online choral workshops that I might try.


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