Tag Archives: choir

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

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.

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.

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

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!

MESSIAH in pictures

Our Messiah concert on 16th November was a wonderful occasion for both performers and audience. So many people came to hear the concert that the conductor and performers had to be turned back five times, as people were still arriving and more chairs had to be found! Eventually we were all settled and that wonderful music began…

Handel certainly knew how to write music that is a pleasure to sing! We received many compliments from members of the audience on our diction, phrasing, dynamics and energy. One ordained listener said that the concert was an inspiring spiritual experience for him.

Please click the arrows to see photos from all sections of the choir.

The Musical and Amicable Society were a perfect balance to the choir. They played beautifully and effortlessly.

” The trumpet shall sound”

What did our concert have in common with the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan? David Blackadder, the trumpeter! At the royal wedding he played Handel’s beautiful ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine, with the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas.

He is on the right of this photo, with Matthew Frost.

Our wonderful soloists: James Williams, baritone, Phillipa Thomas, Mezzo, Penelope Appleyard, soprano and Xavier Hetherington, tenor.

The man who brought it all together: our talented Music Director David Wynne. His wardrobe of shoes is a constant source of fascination!

We were delighted with the standing ovation and long applause at the end of the concert . A memorable concert from start to finish!

Many thanks to Alfred White for this wonderful gallery of photographs. Thank you also to Mary Keating for the picture of ‘the shoes’ and one other from her seat in the audience.

Our 2019/20 programme – save the dates!

We are delighted to present the flyers for our four main concerts in the 2019/20 season. They cover a wide range of choral music, including works by the Baroque composer, Handel, the 19th Century Operatic composer, Rossini and 20th and 21st century composers inspired by Jazz and Blues.

Make sure that you save the dates – not forgetting the very popular Christmas concert.

Whether singing or listening, we hope that you will enjoy them all!

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