What’s it like to sing and listen at Douai Abbey?

Having had a week to recover from our recent concert at Douai Abbey, we thought we’d ask a couple of people what it was like, both singing and listening.

First up, Lorna on her First Night Nerves…

The concert at Douai Abbey was my first opportunity to perform with Reading Phoenix Choir. I had been to eight weeks of rehearsals and had (just about) learnt six pieces. Because the choir sings most pieces entirely from memory, new members are invited to sing in the parts of the concert where they know the pieces and to listen to the rest. So, this was my first time hearing the choir as well as being part of it.

I was nervous and glad to have the support of my very knowledgeable and experienced choir buddy, who knew the choir’s system and the venue very well.

After two hours rehearsing, we went for an early dinner at a nearby pub where I had the chance to meet and chat to other members of the choir. They are a friendly, welcoming crowd, all were very keen to encourage me before my first performance.

Having changed into my black ‘uniform’, wearing my new patent leather shoes (all part of the Phoenix Choir dress code), I anxiously read and reread the music that I had learnt, trying to convince myself that I knew exactly where all the alto entries were. Douai Abbey has wonderful acoustics, but that does mean that a lone voice in the wrong place would be heard throughout the building.

The time came, and we walked to our places while singing Jerusalem. I had learnt earlier in the day that the choir always starts a concert singing while walking into position. I ducked behind a pillar and listened to the choir singing the pieces I haven’t yet learnt, and they sounded wonderful – rich, full and resonant. No pressure! I stepped into position for the last three pieces of the first half and managed to sing most of the right notes in the right order. Phew!

After the interval, during which lots of people asked how I was faring (well) and offered advice and support (very much appreciated), we were back on for the second half. Once again, I was grateful to be guided by my buddy who made sure I was in the right place at the right time. After singing another six pieces, with more confidence than in the first half, I moved to sit in the audience to enjoy the rest of the concert.

So, I have reached and passed this big milestone – my first concert. It is a long time since I have been part of a choir so this feels like a rite of passage. There is, however, no time for complacency as there is much festive music to learn before the Carol Concert on 16th December!

And here’s what Phil had to say about coming to see his new choir in action…

Douai Abbey must be almost the perfect venue for choral singing. It has amazing acoustics but also its shape and size offer wonderful opportunities for dramatic impact. The start of Saturday’s concert at Douai was spine-tingling as we heard the melody of Parry’s Jerusalem hummed softly by the choir from behind us. Then as the choir processed up the side aisles, singing the familiar words, we became surrounded by gorgeous harmonies – a totally involving audience experience.

I really enjoyed the concert. I have seen Phoenix many times over the years but this felt different as I Iistened not just as a concert-goer but also as a choir member, mentally following the bass line in the pieces that I am familiar with. There was so much to enjoy at this concert but I particularly liked the two Stephen Paulus pieces, the Victoria and the atmospheric Tebye Poyem at the conclusion of the concert.

During the interval (as well as before and after) I was manning the RPC display table. I am pleased to report that I was kept busy with CD sales and that there was a lot of interest generally in the choir. One lady couldn’t make up her mind which CD to buy so purchased all three!

I do of course look forward to performing with the choir in due course and I am hopeful of singing at the Carol Concert in Reading Minster. I have to say that I am still a little disbelieving that I am rehearsing with the choir that I have admired so much in the past. Singing choral pieces (as opposed to merely listening to them) is relatively new to me but I am enjoying the experience and loving the music. Did I read somewhere that the choir is bringing back Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque? Wow! Can’t wait!!

Joining a new choir can be a daunting experience but I only have praise for the welcome I have received and for the impressive organisation to kit me out with song lists, music, members access and much else. Thank you.