Life Without …….
The barriers are up to keep us safe and free
From an enemy we cannot see
We make plans to finish jobs started some time ago,
Anything to fill the time on our hands
But it’s not the same as it was only yesterday
What is missing, what is the gap that needs to be filled?
Why do I feel lost, what is on my mind diverting it from the job at hand?
Searching for an answer I look to see where can I find a clue
A path to enlighten my mind that is stuck in empty space
Maybe there is something new, something exciting
In the society website perhaps someone has been writing?
With a sense of purpose I enter the internet to see
Is there something to grab my thoughts with glee?
I find that “The man At The Front” has something to say
Words of wisdom that points the way
Interesting thoughts that lets me know
About Hemiola, wow that’s new to me
I count to three
Then two, I try clapping, I’m hooked
It’s music and singing that is missing.
My voice has lost its chords, it’s grumpy and growls
It’s angry with me for not trying to fill the gap
Then I find the links to funny songs, beautiful groups singing
I have to clap
Virtual singing groups a great idea, what a boon
Roll out Zoom
But oh dear, fun with meetings with everyone talking
Then all stopping, being polite, silence, then some starting
Confusion, we need a “Man At The Front” to bring in voices
Can’t wait to meet again, not just voices
People, friends and fellow singers
The joy, pure pleasure to be one of many
With one aim – to sing as best you can.
Your Committee welcomes contributions to the blog* from the choir and these will be posted in Members’ News. These can be in any form and should be informative or entertaining – ideally both. As a guide, they should be around one-and-a-half pages of A4 and can be prose or poetry. You might like to copy a link to something relevant or a piece of music (see Peter’s blog of 20 May).
Contributions should be as Word documents or pdf if you prefer and should be emailed to our secretary Julie Harris (firstname.lastname@example.org). A small sub-group of the Committee will act as editors in order to ensure the blog hits the right notes in terms of tone and suitability. The blog will then be posted under the contributors’ name or under a nom-de-plume as they prefer. Blogs will be reviewed annually just to keep the site refreshed. Your contributions, musings and meanderings are warmly invited!
*We are using the generic term, which is an abbreviation of the rather awkward neologism “weblog,” literally “a log of activities that you make available on the web.”
Just when you think all our energies must be focused forward on the junior basses and their partners in crime, the Fivers (clearly their real value), up pipes a confused and befuddled second bass who doesn’t realise we spend our whole time in a distinct and permanent feeling of self-isolation. Why does he think we are placed at the back near the exits?
Apart from mistakenly identifying the source of ‘slander’ (don’t shoot the accordion player – he doesn’t even live in Chippie!), words are then used such as ‘gusto’ and ‘aplomb’ when surely ‘windy’ and ‘gaucheness’ are more accurate descriptors? We are the Sancho Panza on a donkey to the Don Quixote on Rocinante in the serried ranks before us.
Are we now the political spectrum of the choir with naughty boys to the right and accomplished singers to the left? The Bullingdon Club versus Momentum? No, my friend. How can anyone be part of the second basses when they only get ‘one bar wrong’ consistently? Have we ever ‘nailed’ anything apart from our Oscar-winning performance (once) at the Chipping Norton Music Festival?
I await significant [and I trust anonymous] input from the ‘other’ sections. Fake news used to trump [!] banter from the second basses always welcome.
Many happy returns from the Committee!
There have been signs of rift and division between our regularly placid and harmonious basses played out on this blog under the suggestion of ‘banter’. Does one detect the stirring hand of a certain alto in fomenting such unaccustomed discord for the sake of driving content?
Surely this cannot be borne without eliciting some response.
De Profundis (from the back row)
Your Soprano is a wondrous thing,
Inhabiting where the air is thin,
Spiralling above where mortals play
A foot-off-the-ground girl (*) one might say
They trill and thrill in equal measure
And rarely to a stave are tethered –
And never should be coaxed below
A slightly diminished fortissimo!
Too flighty for me! With ne’er an adieu
Soaring skywards they will go
And thus released from worldly ties
Serenade the gods who there abide!
No, give me an Alto any day –
Theirs is not the will to stray
Into such strange imagined realms
As aevum(**) where the angels dwell..
An Alto is dependable,
(No madam – I did NOT say dull!)
The beating heart of a loyal crew.
O’erlooked by some composers, who
Clearly fail to understand
The subtlety at their command –
If twenty-four bars of a single note
is food for a bass, why not for those?
And yet – such creatures confound reason:
These are such things as dreams are made on –
Sopranos sparkle and weave their spell
But that Alto sound is hot as Hell.
(*) Stevie Smith
(**) an imagined realm between eternity and temporality. You probably knew that.
Is that banter I read from the first basses? Our normal interaction with them is the receipt of a withering ‘over the shoulder’ look of rebuke as we stumble on our note, or our diction, or our entry, or our key, or our inevitable loss of our trusted pencil or water bottle that have inexplicably wandered towards the tenors?
Was there a tenderness and sympathy in their script or did the words belie a hostility based on our observations of their rhythmic, unshaven ear hair?
Surely voices that often share words and notes should feel a sense of camaraderie even if the sticks on their notes sometimes point upwards and they cannot aspire (or is it ‘despire’) to the depths of our singing? There is only one thing lower than a rattlesnake’s fundament and that is second basses on a bottom ‘E’!
And in all that is canine about our character the comparison to a spaniel is a deeply misguided response. We resound as Basso Profondo in our guise as Dogue de Bordeaux, not the Labradoodle or Poodle style of those that sit before us.
And do not insult our intelligence. Everyone knows a smorzando is a Swedish sausage unless of course it is a description of the art of being a second bass? Dying away I believe?
But there is never hostility from our ranks. We treasure the cover provided for us by the firsts both physically and musically and would never deliberately sing more quietly in the passages they are struggling with.
We have after all not only a clear view from the rear but also one of rears. Treat us not as windmills but as gentle giants. Introverted we may be but never ask us to come out of our shells. Try saying that to a snail.
Another Friday night approaches and with it the happy prospect of another bass rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah with the Self Isolation Choir. Alongside, I am glad to say, other members of our eager troupe of second bass chappies joining in on the chat and no doubt singing with their usual gusto and aplomb (despite the slanderous picture Jon has painted of us – I don’t know what those naughty boys get up to at his end of the row). Even the satisfaction of discovering last week, one bar that I have always sung wrong, through four performances!
Many of you will no doubt have joined at least one virtual choir and experienced that strange sensation of performing live alongside a large group of fellow singers – in my case banned to my office shed in the garden – without being able to hear any of the other participants. Of course, as a bass this is not unfamiliar territory, given how often we have been stuck at the back during concerts unable to listen to any of the other parts or to one another! Even though spending time online in conference calls is a fairly regular part of my job, with microphones muted this is very different – a solo one-to-one session shared with a hundred people.
And thinking – oh how much do I miss our wonderful altos!
Despite the keenly felt absence of familiar faces, Peter’s warm-ups and the feeling of communal satisfaction when – yes even second basses – we do nail it, there are some advantages to this singing together at home lark…
Not rushing to rehearsals directly from London feeling stressed and dehydrated from playing sardines on the tube. Not discovering I’ve forgotten the bifocals now sadly necessary to see both the score and the conductor. The welcome presence of a soothing glass of wine on hand to help warm the throat and ease through the higher notes.. and the chance to go over the recording to catch up a lost session.
Although somehow, despite the intervening technology, playing the stream at a later date is not the same. The knowledge that everyone is singing, in their homes around the world, all together at the same time, still creates a real sense of a shared experience even in isolation.
How quickly all of this came about! Whilst politicians and businesses floundered, within the very first few days of lockdown I had been invited by colleagues from all around the world to join in a sudden surge of online groups dedicated to drinking, conversing and singing. It was an immediate response: even as we were drawing up leaflets for the village on where to find help, organizing resources to fetch and distribute medicines and linking up volunteers to look after neighbours, people were setting up virtual choirs.
If this teaches us anything, it is that singing together is a deep human need in times of crisis.
Why should this be? We know from archaeological evidence that the sharing and making of music is hard-wired into what makes us all human. The oldest instruments discovered to date are around 45,000 years old – but these already betray a sophistication that points to music making being far, far older than that and we can assume the act of singing is as ancient as the human voice. The evolutionary changes that made possible our range of tones go back some 500,000 years based on current evidence. Some believe these adaptations could date right back to 1.8 million.
The role of music in evolution is still one of the great discussions between archaeologists of prehistory. Some suggest that music making set our branch of the human family apart from our otherwise more sophisticated and physically stronger Neanderthal cousins and contributed to our success as a species, binding our ancestors together as a community and allowing them to survive. Others point to ‘motherese’, the sing-song pre-language communication between mother and baby as an essential adaptation: unlike apes, new-born human babies cannot cling to their mothers and so the sound of the voice is what identifies and comforts. From our earliest days the very first sounds we come to recognize and treasure are those of song.
Whatever is the reality, music – and especially singing – is where we turn to be together and virtual choirs are a welcome opportunity to let rip, if only from the relative comfort of your own shed and without worrying about the neighbours.
Of course, humans are not alone in music making. Many other species sing – and over the past weeks with the traffic stilled the village is awash with the lovely sounds of birdsong. But – unlike our aforementioned altos – for all the beauty of their calls, I’m not convinced that birds smile when they sing.
“It is perhaps hard to realise the immense strain that the second basses are under…” (Views from the Rear – chippingnortonjonnie, Sun 19 April).
Though recently posted, Chippingnortonjonnie wrote his observations on the plight of second basses in an age that we will learn to refer to as BC(2), when there was an appetite for whimsy. These are tricky times and of course we have more to stress about, but I think we need to keep whimsy alive, perhaps by wearing T-shirts – ‘Save the Whimsy 1’.
So it is in this vein that I say to second basses, staying on a single note and counting to more than 10 whilst holding a score, it’s a big ask. We first basses feel your pain. We Too.
It’s never a bad time to be kind, to reflect on what we feel but too rarely say; so now’s the time to sing it loud. They are good people these second basses; a little introverted, but thoughtful and always considerate. They may growl, but like a pet spaniel, it’s all show. Deep down, which is their natural milieu, their tails are, as it were, always wagging. And just because they greet each other with nothing more elaborate than a barely perceptible movement of the head, it doesn’t mean they are without extravagance. They are just cautious about showing it, possibly as a result of something that happened in their adolescence. Who knows…..deep as they are.
And as for their sensitive voice boxes, well wouldn’t yours be?
The wee lambs.
They overheat. Don’t we all, but that’s not why they open the back door – don’t be taken in. They want to open the back door because, in truth, they would rather be outside. It’s their happy place, where they can gather in their own way, discussing a recent smorzando in bar 127 and engaging in some mutual grooming, perhaps picking a bit of fluff of one another’s collar. Happy.
In the words of another:
How do you tell an extrovert second bass?
They look at your shoes when they’re talking to you