My super awesome choral workshop
And there I was, sitting on a rumbly coach for an hour and a half, trying to avoid sleeping since I had my contact lenses in, trying even harder not to feel queasy sitting in a stuffy bus, and wondering just what the choral day would be like.
As it turned out, I had to wait about another hour to find out because in my panic to not be late I'd arrived quite early - and that day Oxford was freezing cold. Still, I spent a good hour or so wandering round Oxford at an hour when it was still relatively quiet, admiring its beauty, and trying to warm my voice up by singing under my breath.
I did think I knew Oxford relatively well, having come up there a few times before, but while I managed to not get lost the layout of Merton College mystified me until a porter kindly showed me where to go. I also managed to meet a couple of other people - also quite bewildered - and what surprised me was how relatively open and friendly everyone was to each other; I'm used to complete strangers being more reserved. As a shy person, though, I was happily surprised that people actually made an effort to talk to me - both Oxford students and prospective choral scholars.
At this point some people are probably under the impression that all Oxonians are fantastically intelligent, passionate and interesting people. Having known some former Oxonians and some people just entering the university, I must admit I have rather a more mixed view - some Oxonians are indeed as fantastically passionate about their subject as people think, while others are actually rather dull. The ones I met that day were in the middle; they were clearly quite clever and interesting, but also clearly young students.
Thankfully there was little in the way of administrative filler and general bullshit, and we managed to start our warmup quite quickly. Now, I've been singing for a relatively long time - but I still managed to learn quite a lot about posture that I hadn't known before. The warmup went quicker than I thought, too.
After lunch we had a concert by the choral scholars; again, that didn't drag. (It didn't hurt that it was entirely made up of the works of Purcell, one of my favourite composers.) One thing I would say is that while they're obviously students I did expect some of them to be of a higher standard - so that disappointed me slightly.
Then after that came a tour of the college in the freezing cold! Brilliant idea! Still, it was nice to get a bit more of a feel for what Merton's like - it's very small and very communal, as well as very academic. All these qualities attract me to the college - sadly, the communal kitchens for the first years (which are apparently quite disgusting) do not!
We turned up to the rehearsal slightly late, and the first thing that struck me was the level of technical ability needed. At school, the big choir barely expects people to sight-read and even the smaller, more advanced choir (of which I am a part, strangely) still does a fair bit of note-bashing - here, everyone was expected to sight-read all the way through, and I have to admit trying to sight-read an entire piece was challenging the first time round. (That said, having been roped into various choral events I'm finding that it gets easier the more you practice.) It probably doesn't help that everyone in the room was a very talented singer and I felt a little out of place.
We all each had an individual singing lesson - well, I call it a lesson, but in reality they all only lasted about 10 minutes or so. At the beginning of the day, it was described to us as a chance to get feedback on our singing and so I was quite nervous, but I apparently did reasonably well and got a lot of constructive criticism in a very short space of time.
Then the highlight of the day came at around 6.15. Now, I've never described singing Evensong as a highlight of my day - partly because no-one ever turns up and there's too much religion for my atheistic taste - so this is a first for me!
For those of you who don't know, Evensong is an Anglican service celebrated in the late afternoon or evening and mostly involves a choir singing - they will have to sing at least once a week, but almost certainly more times. Composers have written some beautiful music for it, but usually no-one turns up apart from maybe a lost tourist with their dog.
I usually find that Evensongs tend to drag a bit, but this one pretty much flew by. The acoustics in most college chapels are superb - and of course, we were singing with what's supposed to be one of the best Oxford college choirs. It was a real honour and pleasure to help make some beautiful music that day, and the one thing I can gripe about is the conducting - I found it a bit unclear at times, which was annoying because when I sight-read I tend to rely on keeping very good time. Without being able to tell where the beats actually are, that's a bit difficult.
And then, of course, I had to make my own way back in the freezing cold and wet to London Victoria and then back home - and having sung all day and been up since half past 6 I was really quite tired! But it was worth it.