As the music we sing lends itself to great expressions of the highs and lows of human existence, it was perhaps fitting that choir returned this week with extremes of sadness and happiness: happiness at seeing each other and returning to the music we love, but sadness at mourning the loss of a much loved choir member and friend.
After restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, it was a relief and joy to be back, singing together to prepare for Sunday’s Mass, which was the feast of Corpus Christi. Of special note was the opportunity to sing Lauda Sion in procession. It was also very poignant to sing on Monday at Michael’s funeral.
Michael had been a member of the choir for twelve years; his knowledge of Latin was always appreciated, as was his searching intellect that had to understand every aspect of the music. It was a great privilege to sing the entire Requiem Mass at his funeral, a Mass setting which many of us had not experienced previously. As is so often the case at funerals, sometimes we discover more about our friends that we wish we had known during their life, and the very informative and moving eulogy for Michael, given by his son, told us more about this amazing man. Robert also spoke, and reminded us of the vivid emails Michael would share with the choir, from all parts of the world. Here is an excerpt from the last such email, which Michael sent from Honiara during Lent:
Owing to sudden border closures, my colleague and I are currently trapped in paradise. Almost literally, in the heart of these lush Solomon Islands. But today, here as in many other countries, I cannot attend Mass in person. Last Sunday I sat in the foreigner’s pew at arms-length from others, while the rest of the church was packed with more than 1,000 regular local worshippers, including a combined choir of local university students. The congregation spilled outside, with groups of people in the car-park and on the upper slope of the hill, many with parasols. My neighbour was the Accountant-General, with whom I have met several times during my 3 weeks here. I met the Archbishop and a visiting priest during the week while visiting the US WWII memorial on top of the hill above the cathedral. That is where I learnt of the prohibition on further Masses and church services. But social isolation on a wider scale is not yet prevalent here.
Requiescat in pace, Michael.
The fact that we would not see Michael again made it all the more special that the choir had been meeting together over Zoom during the lockdown. Michael was a regular and vocal participant during these sessions, until his sudden illness. Special thanks are due to several people who really helped to keep the choir together during this unique emergency. Michael, along with Anne, Judith, and Wendy, helped to set up Zoom meetings, corralling and cajoling us to attend, when we would sing along (with our microphones muted) as Robert sang through each week’s liturgy. Judith also catalogued scanned copies of music, and of Robert’s practice recordings. These sessions also led to the first posts of this blog. Especially worth a listen are the Robert’s recordings of the Offertory chants from Lent, such as Jubilate Deo universa terra (5th Sunday of Easter, 9). These offertory chants are not a usual part of the choir’s repertoire, but Robert introduced them to challenge some of the more advanced members of the choir. Their virtuoso nature was a reminder of how deep this musical tradition goes. That chant can continue to challenge someone of Robert’s musical experience and stature goes some way to explain the compelling hold which chant exerts on those who engage with it.
Robert, of course, continued to be unstoppable during our imposed absence, mastering new recording software, scanning music, and holding online sessions for us. He remarked, during the early stages of the restrictions, that of all the challenges he had faced in his 20 years as music director, this was the most difficult, as there was nothing for him to do. That he not only managed to find something to do, but led the choir and kept a core group engaged throughout this period, should be very satisfying to him. It was a testament to his passion and leadership that, after an absence of almost two months, our first Sunday together saw a choir of about 20 in good voice.
This confirms, as if we needed reminding, how much Robert will be missed when he leaves us shortly. He is filling in until his replacement takes over. There are two candidates for the post of music director, and those in the know assure the rest of us they are very good candidates. The candidates will each take the Thursday practice session over the next two weeks (18th and 25th June). I will shortly share posts with the music for these next two weeks, so that choir members can come well prepared.
We have also lost other choir members over the lockdown, though in less dramatic circumstances than Michael. In particular, Victoria has decided to leave the choir and will leave a big hole in the soprano section. Life changes have meant that some other members have left temporarily, so it is a good time to remind friends and acquaintances that new members are always welcome. One of the primary reasons for this blog’s existence is to publicise our existence for prospective members, so please help it to reach a wider audience by liking this post, sharing it, and subscribing to the blog. This is the main way that search engines decide what content is interesting to people, so you really can help publicise the choir by doing these things.