Bucharest Memories – singing with Cor cu Dor.

We are pleased to share some of the lovely photos and videos from our concert with the excellent Cor cu Dor youth choir during our Romania Choir tour. 29th May 2019.

An account of that day can be found in our tour blog: ‘Singing for all ages in Bucharest.’

The concert took place at the Music University in Bucharest. As we arrived for our rehearsal, graduation ceremonies were just coming to an end.

[Where you see dots below the picture, please click the arrows to see the full slide show.]

BFCS singers gathering in the auditorium:

Cor cu Dor sang in the first half of the concert, including an excellent performance of Bohemian Rhapsody and many other songs in English (from memory too!).

The two choirs came together to perform a Romanian folk song. We were glad that Cor cu Dor were able to keep up with the Romanian words at that pace – we couldn’t!

In the second half BFCS performed a programme of folk songs from the British Isles, music by English composers and choral classics. Alexandra Wynne was our soprano soloist, Kevin Gill our accompanist, and David Wynne our music director.

Taking the applause.

One member of the youth choir said “I hope that I can sing as well as you when I am old” (!)

Here’s the last verse of the lovely setting of Irish Blessing by Bob Chilcott, sung as an encore.

Many thanks to our photographers Alfred White and Marilyn Kent, for taking the photographs in such difficult conditions of extreme light and dark. Thanks also to Marilyn and Sandra Smith for the videos. We are grateful to Cor cu Dor for giving permission to use the photographs taken by their photographer Andra Aron.

English music in an English market town.

St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Our summer concert of English choral music was held in the historic Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick last Saturday, 6th July. It was a special day out for our singers and supporters, and it also introduced the choir to a new audience in Warwickshire.

The rehearsal gave us the chance to get used to singing in that big, airy space, accompanied by the grand piano, or the magnificent organ. Our gentlemen stood in the church’s semicircular choir stalls, and the sopranos and altos filled in the semicircle in front of the stalls.

BFCS rehearsal, in front of the large stained glass window.
Our basses standing in the curved choir stalls
View from the back of the choir, towards the golden organ pipes.
Kevin Gill at the organ console.
Choir and conductor in informal clothes, singing ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’.

The break between rehearsal and concert gave some the chance to explore the medieval Beauchamp chapel, with the magnificent tombs of three Earls.

The concert showed the full range of English choral music, from the purity of Stanford’s Blue Bird and folk song arrangements with piano, to the grand sound of Parry and Elgar with full choir and organ.

We sang music written by Tallis in the 16th Century and Purcell in the 17th century, right through to Bob Chilcott’s 21st century pieces.

Elgar’s Songs from the Bavarian Highlands showed a lighter side to the composer we thought we knew so well. A holiday souvenir with a difference!

Solo verses in the folk songs were sung by Mitch Holland and David Wynne, and Kevin Gill treated us to an organ solo: Stanford’s Postlude in D minor.

Finally, we sang Chilcott’s Irish Blessing as an encore. Singing it from memory made it feel extra special – a fitting end to our 2018/19 BFCS season.

BFCS in black, singing in front of the large stained glass window.
Kevin Gill at the piano, with the sopranos singing behind.
Sopranos and tenors.
Altos and basses.
View from behind the choir.
View of the choir and audience, from the back of the church.

Thanks to Peter Wright for the photographs of the choir.

Romania tour – looking back.

We’d like to share with you some of the photos and videos that are coming though from our tour to Romania, particularly for those who have not been able to see the posts on our social media accounts. This blog just covers our first , very busy, day in Bucharest:

Birmingham Festival Choral Society announced its presence in Bucharest by doing a ‘Flash mob’ rendition of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the big bookshop Carturesti Carusel! We were delighted with this high quality video , sent to us by our Romanian hosts.

Carturesti Carusel bookshop.

Following the flash mob, we gathered on the stairs and gave a 20 minute performance, which was shown live on the bookshop’s Facebook page.

BFCS perform in the Carturesti Carusel bookshop, Bucharest

Our first performance over, singers had a couple of hours to relax in Bucharest, before being taken to the University for the next rehearsal and concert.

The Titu Maiorescu University building was covered with our posters, and we performed to a very appreciative audience.

Alexandra Wynne, our soloist on tour, performed Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Stanford’s ‘Blue Bird’ with the choir, and Mozart’s virtuoso ‘Alleluia’.

David Wynne (baritone) sang the solo verse in ‘The Turtle Dove’ and Mitch Holland (tenor) sang the solo verse in ‘Ca’ the Yowes’, both arranged by Vaughan Williams.

Many thanks to Alfred White and Marilyn Kent for taking such great photos of BFCS on tour.

The tour blog written on the first day can be read here.

We look forward to sharing more photos and videos from the tour in future blogs.

A 19th century castle and 21st century technology.

Romania choir tour blog no 6.

After our wonderful concert in Sighisoara, and our big meal together, it seemed as if the choir tour was over. Sunday was the day for packing up and travelling home.

Our Romanian guide and our tour committee had one more trick up their sleeves, however. They decided that we should leave 4 hours earlier than planned, as big delays were possible through some road works. If we were not delayed, we would have time to visit Peles Castle.

Fortunately, there were no delays so we found ourselves with a lovely long break to enjoy the castle and surrounds in glorious sunshine.

Google told us that ‘Peleș Castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, in Prahova County, Romania, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914. Its inauguration was held in 1883. It was constructed for King Carol I.’

The coach journey to the airport gave a chance to write the blog about the day before. Technology has improved so much since our last tour, 3 years ago. Reliable WiFi in the hotel and on the coach, and a good smartphone meant that the blog could be done on the go. Smartphone photos taken while sightseeing could be added easily. As a singer, it has previously been complicated to get pictures when we were singing, but this time our photographer, Alfred White, sent smartphone pictures of our concerts by Email, in addition to the pictures he’s been taking on his DSLR camera for later delivery. This has also been the first tour where the conductor has conducted from a tablet, instead of numerous music books and pieces of paper.

Another big change since the last tour has been the growth of social media, particularly for our concerts in Bucharest. We have had a big response to our Facebook events and posts, and we have gained a lot of new followers from the concerts. A number of people from our audiences, and the Youth Choir sent messages of congratulation. The bookshop Facebook page carried a 20 minute live video of our flashmob and performance, and the Bran Castle Facebook page posted a video of our singing in the courtyard. The Youth Choir Cor cu Dor posted some excellent photos and a video on Facebook. A Russian tourist posted a 1 minute video of us singing in Bran Castle on Instagram, and sent the original video when requested.

BFCS singers at home, and our families were enjoying the blogs, and posts on Social media, and sent messages of support. BFCS singers on tour were sharing them on their own social media, spreading the word about BFCS and the wonderful experiences we were having. It all made a very exiting buzz – but it was hard to squeeze it all in to the very limited free time!

Our energy started to sag when we reached the airport and saw that our flight was delayed. In the end, we took off 45 minutes late, but this was compounded when we had to wait just under an hour for our luggage at Luton.

Eventually we were on our way, only to encounter big traffic jams at the point where the M1 was reduced to one lane only. We eventually arrived at our Birmingham destination at 2.50 am.

Some singers had to be up early for work, and we were all very weary – but it was all worth it! We’d like to thank our wonderful tour committee for all the hard work they’ve put in to give us such a wonderful experience.

We hope to share photos and videos as they come in, in our post-tour blogs.

Christine Wright

On top of the world.

Romania choir tour blog no 5.

The last concert of our tour was to be in the World Heritage Citadel, on the hill above Sighisoara. What a treat!

We arrived late morning and climbed the steep steps to the Citadel. This beautiful spot gives great views over the city. It’s very popular for wedding photos.

We had several hours to relax and explore the little streets and the beautiful clock tower. We even saw a plaque on the house where Vlad Dracul lived – the father of Vlad the Impaler and, presumably, the inspiration for the choice of the name ‘Dracula’ for the fictional character. (see blog 4).

At 3pm we gathered for our rehearsal in the Lutheran Church, formerly the church of the Monastery. This was to be the only concert in a church for this tour, and we were looking forward to singing in this lovely space.

The concert followed at 4.30pm and we were delighted to find a full church, with some people having to stand at the back! What a difference to the night before! We always try to sing our best, but we have to admit that singing to a big, appreciative audience always brings out the best in us. It was a splendid finale, and we all felt on a high. The Pastor of the church came forward to thank us and invite each person to join him in the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. He said that “when I heard your beautiful singing I found it hard to believe in Brexit. ”

The evening sun was coming out when we gathered after the concert, and the sun was glinting on the copper tiles of the clock tower.

We all walked down the steps to the town, and across the road to where a lovely meal was waiting for us to share all together, as this was the last night of the tour.

Following the food, our chair, Liz Collins, gave a speech thanking all the people who had been involved in the success of the tour…

Our tour committee, Tim, Mary, Nick, Alistair and Sue…

Arald, our Romanian guide who accompanied us from when we arrived at the airport to when we departed…

Kevin, our unflappable accompanist on piano and organ…

and David, our MD, who combines the uncompromising quest for high standards with a big sense of humour. Liz had planned to get him a Dracula cloak, but David beat her to it. He was given a Bran Castle baseball cap instead!

There was a 2 hour drive back to the hotel, followed by packing the next morning. The tour wasn’t quite finished, though, as you will discover in the next blog.

Vlad the Impaler, Dracula and the Archduke.

Romania choir blog no 4.

Friday – the day of our visit to Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle!

Firstly – why “Dracula’s Castle? Bram Stokes heard many of the gruesome tales around the infamous 15th century local hero who became known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ due to his terrible cruelty.

It’s probable that Vlad the Impaler stayed at Bran Castle at some point, and this castle is definitely the only one that fits the description in the Dracula stories. During the communist period, the Dracula connection was not mentioned, but since the fall of communism and the restoration of the castle to its former owners, the Dracula connection is encouraged, bringing in the tourists in big numbers and spawning a lot of shops around, selling Dracula tat. Our conductor entered into the spirit by putting on his black cape and fangs to conduct us in the castle. Dracula didn’t ever have to blow a tuning device, however. The fangs had to be removed to get the correct note!

By far the most moving history was that of the fortunes of the recent owners of the castle, particularly after we were met at the entrance by the present owner, introduced as His Imperial Highness Dominic Habsburg – Lothringen.

We heard about how his grandmother Queen Maria (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) had been a very important influence in WW1 and the subsequent creation of Romania in 1918. In gratitude, she was given Bran Castle, and spent a lot of money restoring it. The Archduke told us that he had lived there for 10 years as a child.

Our young tour guide went bright red and looked very embarrassed when the Archduke popped up later in the tour and listened! We learnt that the royal family and relatives had been forced to flee by the communists after the 2nd World War and spent 60 years in exile, before eventually returning to the castle in 2006.

Our 20 minute performance took place inside the castle, as it was raining outside. Dozens of tourists trooped through the room as we sang. We were ‘singing for our supper’ as all 62 of us had been given free entry in return for the performance.

The Archduke listened to it all. He said that he felt very emotional as, when his family had returned to the castle after all those years in exile, he had a wish for the castle to be ‘filled with song’.

As a final farewell, we sang our Romanian song in the courtyard, so that the song would rise up to all the levels of the castle. The castle posted a Facebook video, which has been shared on our Facebook page.

Unfortunately, Facebook videos can’t be shared here, but you might enjoy this recording we’ve been sent of us singing the same song with the Youth choir Cor cu Dor on Wednesday.

The coaches took as back to Brasov for a few hours rest and recuperation in the afternoon. Most of us sought out restaurants for a mid afternoon lunch / dinner.

Then it was back on the coaches to the Sala Patria in Brasov for our rehearsal and evening concert, having carried our choir clothes and music around all day. We were very relieved that chairs were found, so that the weary singers didn’t have to stand throughout the concert, holding folders of heavy music.

It was a lovely hall with a beautiful grand piano for Kevin to play (in contrast to the piano – keyboard we’ve been taking round with us). We now know the works well and are enjoying singing them. However, the small audience was rather disappointing. We were pleased to see some visually impaired people in the audience from the charity we had collected for at our last concert in Birmingham. Liz Collins, our chair, went to speak to them after the performance. Once again, our Romanian song went down well, with murmurs of approval when it was announced, and clapping along as we sang. Our small but appreciative audience rose to its feet as they applauded, bringing a long day to a good conclusion!

Relaxing in Brasov.

Romania tour blog no 3.

Thursday was our only day without a concert! We travelled by coach from Bucharest, the capital city, to Brasov in Transylvania, the mountainous area of Romania.

It was fun to explore the picturesque town of Brasov, and enjoy the local restaurants and cafes. Some ventured up the hillside beyond the city walls to get the view from the White and Black Towers.

Heavy rainshowers moved in, and some very wet singers boarded the coach to the hotel at 5pm. The view of a rainbow from the hotel almost made up for the drenching!

We had all been looking forward to our special choir evening together, starting with a lovely meal. This was then followed by a BFCS ‘soirée’ always the highlight of our tours! We were treated to song, comedy, and instrumental music, showcasing the talents of our singers.

Our special tour guest Sidney, 10 month old son of David (our conductor) and Alexandra (our soprano soloist), enjoyed the music and all the attention!

The evening ended with a comedy version of the Abba song, with us all joining in the chorus. The words “Thank you for the music” seemed a very fitting way to end the evening.

Singing for all ages in Bucharest.

Bucharest day 2 started with a free morning! Some singers set off bright and early for sight-seeing, but others took the opportunity to rest, communicate with home, write a tour blog (!) and just have a quiet stroll around and a bite to eat.

The University of Music was a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and soon identified by the graduating music students in cap and gown, and the BFCS poster on the notice board outside.

Inside, we had our first glimpse of the youth choir, Cor cu Dor, who were to share our concert that evening. As they rehearsed we were bowled over by their perfect performance of popular songs in English from memory. Their ages ranged from about 7 to 18 years of age,and they were led by an inspirational lady who communicated exactly what she wanted through her gestures, rather than a strict beat.

In the concert later we also heard them give an interesting representation of the dawn chorus, and other difficult rhythmic songs, but the star piece was a full version of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with choreography.

We learnt afterwards that they practise 3 times a week, and practise every day when they have a performance coming up.

Our performance provided a contrast, but we hope that the young people and the rest of the audience were inspired by hearing a full SATB choir from the English choral tradition, plus our soprano soloist Alexandra Wynne. They certainly responded to every song with whoops and cheers!

Solo lines in our folk songs were taken by David Wynne and Mitch Holland, and Geoff Evans and Barry Jones sang the solo lines in ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’.

This choir tour had been moved to May (instead of the usual July / August) in the hope of finding lower temperatures. However, the concert on the enclosed stage at the University of Music provided the full tour experience we remember so well from the past, with high temperatures exacerbated by us all standing so close together, resulting in sweat dripping into our eyes and onto the music, and running down our backs. Such is the lot of a touring musician!

The concert ended with the Cor cu Dor joining us again in stage to sing the Romanian song ‘Corborai din deal in vale’ together. The joint choir included singers covering an age span of 80 years, united by a love of singing. It was a good ending to a great concert!

This blog is being written on the coach to Brasov, Transylvania, for the second half of our tour. We look forward to posting about our experiences there.

BFCS on tour in Romania!

Greetings from Bucharest, where Birmingham Festival Choral Society are on tour!

We here travelled here on Monday, courtesy of Johnson’s coaches and Wizzair, arriving in our rooms at 9pm Romanian time. The first choice was whether to venture out into Bucharest to find food, or whether to settle for a packet of pretzels in the hotel bar and prioritise sleep!

We hit the ground running on Tuesday, with a rehearsal at 9am (following the logistics of 63 singers descending for breakfast at the same time). Concert clothes had been loaded onto the coach, and music had to be sorted into concert order.

The next challenge was to locate a bookstore in the centre of town for our first short performance. Singers set off on foot, or by metro or taxi, clutching maps, or phones with Google maps. Some did unexpected detours, others actually got there in time to have a drink beforehand!

We gathered in the beautiful Carturesti bookshop at midday, and spaced ourselves throughout the store. When Kevin stuck up the intro on the keyboard, we all burst into song with the first movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria! It made a big impact on the shoppers in the store, and they were soon filming us on their phones. We gathered together on the steps and did the remainder of our 20 minute performance. The store streamed the whole performance on Facebook- you can see it shared on our choir Facebook page.

It was lovely to have a few hours afterwards to enjoy lunch with other singers, before gathering again to be taken to the Titu Maiorescu University for our next rehearsal and concert. It was wonderful to be greated with dozens of posters for our concert on every door and wall space! Our hosts said that they were honoured that we had come, and provided us with welcome refreshments.

The concert took place in a modern auditorium, with a very appreciative audience. The choir rose to the occasion, despite the heat and a long stand with lots of heavy music. The Parry and Elgar were sung with gusto, and the folk songs and Stanford’s Blue Bird made a lovely contrast. The star of the show was our soloist Alexandra, with her amazing performance of Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Alleluia. The audience rose to their feet at the end – so we sang them an encore and got a second standing ovation!

You can see that we squeezed a lot into our first 24 hours! Being on tour is not for the faint hearted, but the experiences will stay in the memory for years to come. We look forward to more Romanian adventures to come… watch this space!

Choir tour to Romania

Going on tour is one of the highlights of singing in Birmingham Festival Choral Society! In the past 30 years we have been to many places, the tours to Eastern European countries being particularly interesting and well received. We are really looking forward to keeping up this tradition when we visit Romania between 27th May and 2 June.

The choir and family supporters will stay 3 nights in the capital, Bucharest, followed by 3 nights in Brasov, Transylvania. Our plans include a flash mob in a bookshop, an informal sing in “Dracula’s Castle” (Bran Castle) and four main concerts.

Bran Castle

Our programme will include well known choral classics, a selection of music by English composers, and some arrangements of folk songs from the British Isles. Kevin Gill will provide organ and piano accompaniment , and David Wynne will be the Music director. It is a special treat to have David’s wife, Alexandra, as our soprano soloist, and family support will be provided by their baby Sidney and his grandparents!

One of the more interesting aspects of touring abroad is meeting local people. In Bucharest we look forward to sharing a concert with the Youth Choir Cor cu Dor, and in Brasov we will visit the charity Asociata Nevazatorilov for the blind and visually impaired, to give them the money that was donated by Birmingham singers and supporters at our last concert. We look forward to learning more about the valuable work they do.

Biserica Manastirii Sighisoara, venue for our last concert.

Finally, no tour would be complete without the informal concert party, at which singers show a full range of musical and comedy talents! Much fun is had on tour, and friendships made. We’re not known as the Big Friendly Choral Society for nothing!

The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.