All posts by christinewright55

I sing in the Birmingham Festival Choral Society and help run their website.

Virtual BFCS sings Faure’s Cantique

Birmingham Festival Choral Society is pleased to present our recording of the beautiful ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’, by Gabriel Faure.

This composition won the 19 year old Faure first prize in a competition at his school of Church music in Paris, in 1865. The French text, “Verbe égal au Très-Haut” (Word, one with the Highest), was written by Jean Racine in 1688.

We hope that you will enjoy the Paris connection through images of the medieval stained glass in Sainte Chapelle.

This virtual performance was put together by Gareth Howell, using individual recordings sent from home by our singers. We look forward to a time when the pandemic is over and we can sing together in real life.

Wikipedia photo credits: Sam67Fr, Javi Masa, Oldmanisold, Grunt XIII.

Singing in Virtual Harmony

Did you see the article about our online rehearsing and performing in the Birmingham Post yesterday? We were very pleased to have such a big spread in the paper to show how BFCS has been responding to the challenges of the lockdown. Mary Keating, the author and BFCS soprano, has provided the text below to enable you to read it easily online.

Carry on singing –

Birmingham prides itself on being a cultural oasis so it is tragic that theatre and live music have been so badly affected by Covid-19 with no end yet in sight. What has been overlooked, in the concern over the continuation of professional performances, are the consequences for the many community choirs across the city who support and give purpose to so many lives.

The Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS) is one such choir and it is special because it is the oldest choir still operating in Birmingham. Founded in 1845, this year marks the 175th anniversary.  Having weathered many historical upheavals, will this be the final curtain?

 Music Director, David Wynne, is determined that this will not be the case. The choir continues to sing and has even produced a performance recording of Mozart’s Ave Verum that can be seen on the BFCS website.   While concern about infection remains so high the intention is to continue producing these performance recordings. Indeed there is an ambitious plan to produce a concert recording.

The experience of managing Zoom rehearsals is far from simple, as other choirs will confirm. The BFCS is not only the oldest choir, it is also a very large choir. For normal rehearsals and performances choir numbers are around eighty.  Imagine that number of people singing together via varying internet speeds – what a cacophony, certainly not up to the usual high standards. To manage this issue David developed an ingenious way of conducting the rehearsals and supporting each choir member to learn their parts.

One of the first things David recognised was that without the opportunity to sing together in parts and as a whole it is a strange and isolating experience for the performer and the conductor.  So much of what singers and conductors do is reliant on hearing each other. How to replicate this was the question.  Usually rehearsal recordings only have the music for each individual part, so this does not address the issue of singing in isolation.  Instead David produced recordings with all the voice parts singing but weighted in favour of each part.  As a Soprano you can listen and sing with the Soprano weighted part, and you are also singing with the rest of the choir.

 As David commented this was a huge learning curve. He had never heard of Zoom and certainly never done any audio and video editing.  Initially he sang all the male parts but what of the alto and soprano? Luckily for the choir David’s wife, Alexandra, is a professional soprano. Where the tenor part became too high even for David he managed to persuade Edward Harrison to lend his voice.

The innovation did not stop there. When it became clear that conducting live suffered from the same internet delays, the audio rehearsal recordings became videos with David conducting.

The danger for all choirs currently is that members are lost. So far the vast majority of BFCS have taken part in the Zoom rehearsals and over forty contributed to the performance recording. Initial anxiety about the technology putting many people off has not been realised.

Research on the possible dangers of spreading the virus through singing continues. Although anecdotal, there is no firm evidence that singing of itself spreads the virus through airborne transmission. Even with or without that evidence the confidence of choir members to return is doubtful.  So what does the future hold for the BFCS and others like it?  David feels that much has been learned in a very short time about how technology can support the choir to continue to work towards performance standards, albeit virtual. 

Beyond Covid many of these developments, spearheaded by David, can continue. Producing the rehearsal recordings can be maintained. These can support all the choir to work on their own to improve their practice. For those less confident about their singing and sight reading they would be invaluable as a way of encouraging a wider membership and greater inclusivity.  Importantly for a community choir, those housebound members who have been singing with the choir for years will be able to continue to enjoy singing with us.

BFCS has withstood many historical upheavals. Its future after the First World War and the 1918 flu epidemic looked very shaky. Choir members dropped to critical levels and finding male voices was understandably very difficult. Nevertheless, the choir has faced many upheavals risen to the challenges and deserves its current reputation as one of the best choral societies in Birmingham.  Covid-19, tragic as it is, holds the opportunity to improve the quality and inclusivity of the choir that prides itself on being the “friendly choir”.

If you are interested in finding out more about the BFCS or joining us, visit the website and look out for the next sets of performance recordings that show that the choir remains a vibrant entity.

Mary Keating

Our first virtual performance !

We hope that you will enjoy our performance of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, recorded individually in our own homes, and brought together with some digital magic.

Click the symbol in the bottom right corner to make the video fill the full screen.

Our last concert was in November, when we sang Handel’s Messiah to a packed audience in St Alban’s Church. The beginning of the concert was delayed while our front of house team ran around trying to find extra chairs and spaces to fit in the people who were still arriving. Who could imagine that now!

We had great plans for 2020, our 175th Anniversary, but the Covid-19 Pandemic put an end to all of that. But nothing will stop Birmingham Festival Choral Society singing, so we are proud to present our first Virtual Choir Performance to you.

Many thanks to David Wynne for leading us through this process, to Kevin Gill the accompanist, the BFCS singers who overcame the technological obstacles to make their recordings, and to Gareth Howell for putting it all together.

Zoom Singing!

Sixty BFCS singers joined together for the first time on Zoom yesterday evening. It was lovely to see familiar faces on the screen, and to laugh together.

We knew that singing together as a choir would not be possible on Zoom, due to the different internet speeds, but muting our microphones and singing alone to the conducting of David, our Music Director, with a recorded accompaniment from Kevin, was definitely the next best thing. We started with a simple piece – but who knows what we will accomplish in the future!

Choirs involve so much more than just the actually singing. We really felt that we were together again, and we look forward to more zooming in the future.

Anniversaries and premieres.

Birmingham Festival Choral Society celebrates its 175th anniversary this year! Our choir was formed to provide the chorus for the Birmingham Triennial Festivals (hence the ‘Festival’ in our name), and gave its first concert in 1845. It sang at all the Triennial Festivals until they came to an end in 1912.

One of the highlights of singing in the Festivals was the premiere of Elijah in 1846, conducted by Mendelssohn himself in the new Birmingham Town Hall. The audience loved the work, and it is still much loved by choral societies and audiences today.

Birmingham Town Hall 1834

Click here for a newly published account of the premiere of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, written by Robert Hugill in his Classical Music Blog. The premiere of Elijah also features in this recent blog from the Library of Birmingham’s Music Librarian, as well as the information about another of the premieres from the Festivals – Elgar’s Dream of Gerontious. Both of these works are now firmly established in the choral repertoire.

Sing along with BFCS

Update 3.6.20. The scheme below was great for keeping us going, but we are now starting to do Wednesday rehearsals by zoom. Watch this space!

March 2020. To keep our voices in use, and for a bit of fun, we are suggesting a different piece from our repertoire each week for BFCS singers to practise. We will provide a link to the music on You Tube, and make the suggestion that we all sing it in our own homes at 7.30pm on a Wednesday, the time that BFCS would normally be meeting for rehearsal. We hope that it will help our choir to feel connected during these weeks when we can’t meet together. Some photos of singers joining in from home can be seen below.

Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens is our sing-along work for Wednesday 27th May. We loved singing this English choral favourite in our concert ‘The English Choral Tradition’ in Warwick last July.

The rousing Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem is the piece we will be singing at 7.30pm next Wednesday, 20th March. We really enjoyed singing Mozart’s Requiem in St John’s and St Peter’s Church Ladywood in November 2017. We were accompanied by Kevin Gill and Stephen Hargreaves on the piano.

Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via is the work we will be singing on Wednesday 13th May 7.30pm. This beautiful work beings back lots of memories for BFCS singers, including singing it on tour in Romania in 2019 and in Slovenia in 2006.

Wednesday 6th May 7.30pm. The piece for this week is Bairstow’s ‘Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence’, which we sang last July at our concert in the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick. We also sang it on tour in Romania: in Bucharest, in Sighisoara, in Brasov and, most memorably, in the courtyard of Dracula’s Castle in Transylvannia!

The first piece of music is the Kyrie from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, which we’ve enjoyed singing so much in the first term of 2020, and planned to sing on 28th March 2020. We also have happy memories of singing it in the Adrian Boult Hall in 2010. If you wish to join in, we will sing it in our homes at 7.30pm on Wednesday 29th April.

BFCS Concert Cancelled

We’re very sorry to announce that our ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ concert has been cancelled, due to the current coronavirus situation.

Our singers have loved learning Rossini’s beautiful work, and we hope to reschedule the concert at a later date.

This concert was to have involved seven freelance musicians, all of whom are facing an uncertain financial future as this, and other concerts are cancelled. We would like to invite those who have bought concert tickets to consider this as a donation, to enable us to make the musicians a reasonable settlement. If, however, you would like a refund, please contact us to make arrangements.

We look forward to future music making.

Rossini concert – our talented performers

We have an impressive line-up of talented artists for our ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ concert at the Ruddock Centre, King Edward’s School, on 28th March. It promises to be a great concert!

The Petite Messe Solennelle was written by Rossini for performance at one of his popular ‘Musical Salons’ by a small choir, two pianos and harmonium. An interesting feature of our concert is that we will be accompanied by accordion and piano, an alternative accompaniment that was suggested by Rossini himself.

Ben de Souza, Accordion. More information here.

Kevin Gill, Piano Biography here.

A significant part of the Petite Messe Solennelle is taken by our vocal soloists. We are very fortunate to have four soloists of such a high calibre. They have won an impressive number of prizes between them, and all have successful careers singing in opera and oratorio in Britain and overseas. Individual Biographies will be given in the programme at the concert, but links are also provided here, where available.

Rachel Gilmore, Mezzo soprano

Caroline Modiba, Soprano . Caroline’s website.

Joseph Kennedy, Baritone. More information here.

Richard Hansen, Tenor. Richard’s website.

David Wynne, Conductor David’s Biography here

Birmingham Festival Choral Society

Rossini – our next concert.

Come and hear BFCS sing Rossini’s lovely Petite Messe Solennelle on Saturday 28th March, at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, King Edward’s School.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was written for performance at one of the very popular weekly musical salons held by Rossini and his wife at their Paris home. As such, it was originally scored for a small choir, accompanied by two pianos, with harmonium or accordion. We are looking forward to singing with piano and accordion accompaniment.

Our soloists:

Caroline Modiba, soprano, Rachel Gilmore, mezzo soprano,

Joseph Kennedy, baritone, Richard Hansen, tenor.

Kevin Gill, piano, Ben De Souza, accordion

Rossini achieved superstar status early in life, having written over 40 operas by the age of 37. The William Tell Overture is one of the pieces for which he is best known in popular culture today. There followed a period of 25 years of ill health, during which he didn’t compose any new music.

In 1855 Rossini ‘returned to life’ on moving to Paris with his second wife, and their musical salons became internationally famous. These salons included music by many composers, and they inspired Rossini to write over 150 small works for performance by different soloists and ensembles.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was Rossini’s last major work , written in 1863. The opera composer’s beautiful melodies , colour and drama make this one of the most popular works in the choral repertoire. We love singing it, and we’re sure that you will enjoy listening to it!

Click here for tickets to Petite Messe Solennelle

Join a choir in 2020?

Are you thinking of joining a choir? Come to our free Open Rehearsal next Wednesday (8th January) to enjoy a sing with us, and see if Birmingham Festival Choral Society is the choir for you!

We’ll be welcoming people to Lordswood Girls’ School from about 7pm, which will give time to have a chat, give you some music and introduce you to someone of the same voice part who can lead you through the rehearsal. There will be a chance to meet other singers over coffee and cake at the half time break.

The best part is the singing! Our Music Director, David Wynne, and accompanist, Kevin Gill, combine the achievement of high musical standards with good humour and friendliness – a winning combination!

The concert we will be leading up to this term is Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. The poster shows that Rossini was not blessed with film star looks, but he certainly knew how to write wonderful opera and choral music!

Have a look around the rest of our website, particularly the Join us page, to find out more about our rehearsals, concerts, overseas tours and our interesting history.

Hope to see you Wednesday!