Behind the Advent windows: the glamour of carolling

It was one of those lean Christmases where you grab any gig that comes your way…

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It was one of those lean Christmases where you grab any gig that comes your way. And when I was booked to put a quartet together to sing Christmas carols for the launch of a fishing tackle shop, I seized the chance. It was in a super posh part of town, and inside the cream stuccoed building there weren’t too many people wandering around wearing waders, rustling greaseproof paper, or slurping from thermoses. None, in fact. Instead, lots of people dressed up to the nines and looking as if most of the time they were more comfortable wearing plus-fours and shouting at Labradors.

Lully Lula started well, then someone forgot a repeat and there was a bit of shuffling and an unintended element of Hindemith about the whole thing.

I had not left quite enough time for us to rehearse, let me state this boldly up front. I’d dug out au gratin copies of Carols for Choirs containing all the old favourites. Shoe-horned into a stock room, the four of us planned what we were going to sing and the whole thing got off to a cracking start with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Lully Lula started well, then someone forgot a repeat and there was a bit of shuffling and an unintended element of Hindemith about the whole thing. We redeemed ourselves with Silent Night as the store filled up with a forest of quilted jackets and red trousers.

Personent Hodie is always a winner, I find, and it’s got lots of verses so you can just carry on going, and it uses up a good lot of time when you are running out of inspiration. The only problem is that in the edition we had, the extra verses were not written out under the notes. They were over the page. So you do the first Personent Hodie, all good, every syllable written neatly under the notes; then you get the second verse In mundo nascitur, yup fine; and then you’re on your own and you think, “Oh, how hard can this be?” On to Magi tres venerunt, flapping the page over from tune to words and back again, yeah, on a roll here, approaching the home strait.

I get to about the seventh verse and I realise I’ve miscalculated; I’ve used too many of the allotted notes for too few words, and I can see this precipice looming ahead like in The Italian Job, in this case the precipice being the end of the notes. I’m running out of notes but I still having almost an entire sentence of Latin syllables to sing. And as you’re hurtling towards this, you become aware that the other singers beside you – the alto, who’s been mucking about all the way through, the tenor who isn’t really concentrating because he’s been trying to grab canapés as waiters sway past, and the bass who wasn’t feeling well due to last night’s prawn bhoona – all have suddenly spotted this precipice themselves. And there’s this collective rising sense of panic that you know is going to erupt in the sort of inappropriate laughter one gets at a funeral when you really, really shouldn’t be giggling. And the tightening in one’s chest of dread and hysteria knowing you are one to a part and there is no-one else to save you. And you’re going to end up having to sing an entire sentence on one note and you know, just know, you are all going to laugh.

It didn’t help that there was a distracting television screen downstairs in the shop that was displaying adverts for products to do with fishing tackle. At one point on the massive screen, there was a maggot wiggling on the end of a fishing hook, huge and monstrous in close up. And it was one of those moments where you think you’re going to have to stage a heart attack to get out of the fact that you have too many words to too few notes, and there’s a giant maggot taunting you from below, and you are laughing and cannot sing, and your musical life flashes before your eyes. You want to rewind to the time where you thought you could get away with a quick half hour run-through beforehand, and replace that decision with one that factors in more time, less music, and a paper bag to put over one’s shamed head.

Christmas was redeemed with a gig a week later outside a North London butcher’s shop

Christmas was redeemed, however, with a gig a week later outside a North London butcher’s shop where we got free packets of sausages, and no-one noticed that I went wrong in Hark the Herald at the moment when I spotted Charles Dance queuing up to collect his turkey. It’s the small things that make it all worthwhile.

Gratuitous picture of Charles Dance’s chest

They didn’t ask us back at the fishing tackle place the following year, but that’s ok because the butcher’s shop seem quite keen on repeated bookings, and there’s always the chance of a knockdown broiler and a celebrity sighting. The jobbing singer’s life is one of glamour, all the way.

Every day reveals something new and exclusive to A Musical Advent. We have been so excited to put together these videos for you, and we really hope you enjoy them.

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Musical Miniatures: recording workshop

Philomel is back with some socially-distant workshop-recordings of newly written musical miniatures. Stay, O Sweet from Virelais is a setting of words by John Donne by Canadian-born Glasgow-based composer Emily Doolittle.

Recorded in Richmond Unitarian Church, August 2020. Suzy Robinson, Janet Oates and Michael Keen perform.

Stay O Sweet (video)

Emilydoolittle.com

Philomel.co.uk

Folle Cor: Philomel at the Barn Church

Philomel’s last performance was an evening of 17th century passion and intimacy. ‘Folle Cor’ presented duets and trios from the courts of Northern Italy, by composers including Mazzocchi, Strozzi, Monteverdi, Luzzaschi and Casulana, on the themes of love and obsession. This was Philomel’s first programme of purely historical repertoire.

Here is a short video of sopranos Janet Oates, Suzy Robinson and Charlotte Bröker accompanied by Michael Keen and Arngeir Hauksson in the enchanting candle-lit venue of the Barn Church, Kew (http://barnchurchkew.uk/).

Philomel at the Barn Church, Kew, November 2019

Cecilia Sings: Philomel in concert 4 May 2019

The six sopranos of Philomel will be performing their Cecilia Sings concert on Saturday 4 May, 7.30pm, at St George the Martyr, Southwark. It will be a repeat of the eclectic programme performed at the Swiss Church, Covent Garden, last autumn. 

With music by early 17th century composers such as Barbara Strozzi, Maddalena Casulana and Domenico Mazzocchi, alongside specially commissioned works by Dominic McGonigal, Sheena Phillips, Joel Järventausta and Janet Oates, this promises to be an unforgettable evening of sublime music. 
Here is a short video of highlights from Cecilia Sings Cecilia Sings
Tickets can be bought in advance here https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/philomel or on the door.
Take a look at Philomel’s website for more information  http://philomel.co.uk/

Never work with…

…children or animals.

It was a beautiful christening at the Temple Church. Jimmy the corgi was pretty restrained on the whole. He only barked at the vicar once, growled but momentarily at the sleeping Knights, and while he did bite at his backside vigorously as I sang a bit of Mozart, he didn’t invade the performance space like little M. Nor did he try and join in, or do a little comedy routine, or dance a jig. Valiant efforts from others to encourage the mini-performer to vacate the stage were met with tenacity and evasion. She saw the spotlight and liked it. Like mother, like daughter. Oh well.

Philomel at the Swiss Church: listen

From Philomel’s recent concert at the Swiss Church, Covent Garden

Piangete occhi, Domenico Mazzocchi

Emily Peace, soprano                                                       Suzy Robinson, soprano

James Bramley, theorbo                                                  Michael Keen, harpsichord

Ahi possanza d’amor, Maddalena Casulana

Suzy Robinson, soprano, Michael Keen, recorder, James Bramley, theorbo

Folle cor, Domenico Mazzocchi

Suzy Robinson, Janet Oates, Emily Peace, sopranos

Michael Keen, harpsichord

James Bramley, theorbo

Io d’odorate, Maddalena Casulana

Sopranos Janet Oates, Emily Peace, Suzy Robinson, Felicity Hayward, Charlotte Bröker and Olivia Moss

Michael Keen, harpsichord, James Bramley, theorbo

Philomel.co.uk

Philomel: Cecilia Sings

24 November 2018, the Swiss Church, Covent Garden

Join us for an evening of stunning singing, accompanied by theorbo, harpsichord and recorder. The forthcoming concert for Saint Cecilia’s day, Cecilia Sings, will continue the theme of bird mythology that was initiated in the first three concerts, melded with ideas about Saint Cecilia. Text and artwork by students from Marylebone Girls’ School will illustrate newly commissioned works on the theme of female power, passion and spirit by Janet Oates (with new text by Euan Tait), Sheena Phillips, Dominic McGonigal and Joel Jårventausta. Further repertoire includes expressive songs by Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi, virtuosic duets by Mazzocchi, and beautiful madrigals by Maddalena Casulana.

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Book tickets

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/philomel

Location

The Swiss Church in London

79 Endell St, London WC2H 9DY

020 7836 1418

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Philomel in Richmond and Rotherhithe

In rehearsal, RotherhitheThe virtuosic vocal fireworks of the six sopranos of Philomel were displayed once again in a programme celebrating music from Hildegard of Bingen and Barbara Strozzi, all the way through to the present day and four specially-commissioned works on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 March 2018.

The sopranos

Charlotte Bröker

Felicity Hayward

Olivia Moss

Janet Oates

Emily Peace

Suzy Robinson

With Michael Keen (harpsichord) and James Bramley (theorbo)

http://www.philomel.co.uk

“More a work of art than a concert”

Musica Antica
Musica Antica Rotherhithe

Philomel: launch concert

Ego Flos Campi, Caterina Assandra (Suzy Robinson, Emily Peace, Emily Owen, Janet Oates)

Colombella, che di latte, Domenico Mazzocchi (Suzy Robinson, Charlotte Moss, James Bramley theorbo, Michael Keen harpsichord)

 

The inaugural concert of Philomel, a new group of six sopranos, in an eclectic programme which included four new pieces (by Janet Oates, Dominic McGonigal, Emily Peasgood and Miriam Mackie) as well as 17th century duets, trios and solos accompanied by theorbo and harpsichord was rapturously received by a delighted audience in the Brunel Shaft on 2 November.

The nightingales hope to repeat the programme in 2018.

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