Category Archives: Birmingham Post

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

‘Crisis’ 50th Anniversary Carol Concert.

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Singers from Birmingham Festival Choral Society will be leading the congregational singing at the ‘Crisis’ 50th Anniversary Carol concert in St Martin in the Bull Ring, 6 – 7pm on Tuesday 5th December.

Homelessness is a subject of concern to us all, and we were moved by the personal stories we heard at our charity carol service in aid of Crisis, last year.

Here is an invitation to you from the charity:

Crisis would like to invite you to a very special carol service to mark our 50th anniversary.

St Martin in the Bull Ring is a special venue for us and this year, our carol service takes on an even more significance as we mark our 50th Anniversary, and our successes in tackling homelessness over the years.

The carol service this year will allow us to reflect on the past fifty years and the remarkable people who have played a part in our history since we were formed as a cross-party awareness raising campaign in 1967.

It will also be a chance to come together to focus on our shared goal of ending homelessness for good.

Link to Crisis website.

 

 

 

Carmina! How did it sound?

From the Birmingham Post, 22nd June 2017:

2017-06-29 10.51.45

 

Reviews sent to our website , from members of the audience.

Superb! I’m not musically trained but I’ve been listening to 
classical music for decades 
& have heard a number of recordings of the Orff. 
A live performance is audibly preferable – even if the production 
is less to one’s taste. 
THIS was so strikingly superior and “live” to any recording I’ve 
ever heard – plus we could 
see how the less featured instruments actually perform. 

The joint choir, the juniors and the soloists were powerful, 
subtle and convincing. 
We thought it an excellent experience for the young singers to be 
there in the midst of the 
whole performance – and weren’t they mature throughout! 

The Bernstein was entirely new to us, again, convincing in its 
linguistic variety and engrossing. 

As to what can be released from a Pandora’s suitcase! And how 
they acted their parts in it! 
An astounding evening we would not have missed. 

*****

A wonderful Saturday evening at the Bramall.
A warm (very) summer’s evening, a perfect setting in the University, an audience bursting with anticipation—-and amazing performances by everyone.
The sound was quite literally stupendous—it amazed and dazzled and overwhelmed….
Everyone involved must be—and quite rightly—very proud….

*****

A brief note to say how much we enjoyed the concert on Saturday. 

The Chichester Psalms were new to us and a little challenging. The percussion was excellent and superb entertainment. Carmina Burana was magnificent. Congratulations to all who took part.

The looks on the childrens’ faces at the percussionists’ faces was almost worth the ticket price alone. 
We frequently attend your concerts – travelling from Nuneaton.
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