Category Archives: music

The end of The Wye Valley Chorus

A couple of Tuesdays ago, a few of us held the last meeting of the Wye Valley Chorus in Monmouth. There was no singing and the mood was sombre as we took votes to decide on which charities would receive the remainder of the bank balance. Instead of the usual banter, there was awkward smalltalk. As individuals left afterwards there was no “see you next week”;  instead there was, “Well, I suppose I’ll see you sometime…”.

The chorus had been for many years a familiar part of the barbershop scene in Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. In the last two years though, despite the heroic efforts of director Paul Mills, membership dwindled and at a meeting before Christmas 2008 the membership voted to wind it up.

Some of the membership have joined Synergy, a chorus based in Abergavenny.


A German musical coincidence

Last Friday K. and I went to a birthday party in Llanfoist, outside Abergavenny. The host had invited a recorder orchestra made up of mostly middle aged ladies from near Stuttgart who were performing in the area. They played some mediaeval-sounding numbers which were charming, but after the fourth one I went outside where little A. was complaining that she didn’t like it. Made me reflect on how the world would be if adults were as frank as children.

By chance, tonight, I’m singing barbershop songs with the Wye Valley Chorus to a group of Germans from Monmouth’s twin town in the Black Forest. I hope our performance we will be sehr gut.

Bow ties, cricket and close harmony

This month has been notable for singing. The Wye Valley Chorus, with whom I sing songs in the barbershop style took part in the Herefordshire Festival last week. We were pitted against one other choir in our class on Tuesday night, singing “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Yesterday” with camp actions and sentimental yearning respectively. Winning the class, as we eventually did, was less memorable for me than the vignette with which I was briefly presented shortly before our performance at the Hereford Cathedral School.

Having arrived at the wrong venue, we eventually turned up at the school and were ushered into an old fashioned gymnasium, about a hundred feet long, with high ceilings and windows with a pair of cricket nets at the far end. As we came in our rivals were changing, some standing bare-legged as they put on formal white shirts and bow ties. We did likewise, then started warming up by singing some old favourites as two of our number bowled cricket balls in the nets. At one point I stopped and pondered the scene: bare legged men in shirts and bow ties, a huddle of nervous men singing barbershop songs in an echoey (I know that’s not in the dictionary but you find an alternative) acoustic while others bowled overarm at non-existent batsmen.

Looking back on it I can better appreciate its mild absurdity. I’m beginning to think that Proust was right to suggest that we miss so much in everyday life that can intrigue, amuse and enlighten, if only we would take the trouble to look.

Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

As a surprise evening out to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary (it was in June!) K had booked us tickets for dinner and the concert at Wyastone last night. Wyastone is a stately home and HQ to a classical music recording company in the very pretty Wye Valley five minutes drive from Monmouth. It’s a sort of less elitist Glyndebourne (although that may be uncharitable). In the summer there are various classical concerts, before which you may picnic next to the river or eat dinner in a pavilion outside the concert hall, then go on to the concert itself. During the interval you stand outstide sipping your G&T and enjoy the splendour of the warm summer evening and the lush scenery of the Wye Valley.

Last night’s concert was given by the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The highlight was a rollicking performance of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. Based on the the poems of itinerant mediaeval German monks preoccupied with boozing and sex, it starts and finishes with an ode to the goddess Fortune who rules the world. I bet the surfer in the Old Spice ad from the seventies (which used this particlar bit) wasn’t aware of that as he negotiated that huge wave to its pounding strains. I had sung in this work when at St. Lawrence College Junior School when I was about 9 years old. Lucky I couldn’t understand the words, in mediaeval Latin and old low German and which include passages such as:

Mea mecum ludit
mea me detrudit

Veni, domicella
cum gaudio
veni, veni, pulchra,
iam pereo.

My virginity
makes me frisky,
my simplicity
holds me back.
Come, my mistress,
with joy,
come, come, my pretty,
I am dying!

And no, I have not selected the rudest bit – there’s stronger stuff. No wonder our teachers were coy about the meaning of all that weird language we were singing so lustily.