JR: The thing is, women can bring an adult sensibility to choral music, quite a different effect than what the boys can do alone.
JD: It seems to me that the emotional content is desperately needed in most Tudor music. Boys can certainly be taught musical shaping of phrases,;but when an adult can do that intuitively, because they bring their own life experiences to the equation, it seems to me that the music gains.
JR: Well, of course, it’s lovely to have both options!
JD: I want to talk about sight-reading. Sometimes being an excellent sight-reader can be a bit of a curse if it precludes the possibility of spending real time with a piece of music, sinking into its depths, finding out what it has to say.
TB: Yes! That’s an increasing problem in England because we sight-read so much and are so adept at it.
JR: Well, in the orchestral world it’s all about money; rehearsals cost money. Most of the concerts you hear in London by the leading orchestras, except for the BBC, are working with only one 3-hour rehearsal before they perform.
TB: I was listening to an orchestral recording on a drive the other day, and I could imagine that the ensemble probably made the recording in two sessions; and on repeated listening, it was very obvious that they missed a lot of important details about the music. This is simply because they don’t have time to rehearse.
JD: Our culture is so used to instantaneous results. How are we going to interest young people in learning violin or piano – which take years of work before anyone really wants to hear you?
JR: You don’t get quick results on a stringed instrument. But to the point about sight-reading in choral settings, our chapel choir system means that one has to get through a lot of music in a short time. It becomes more and more expected that you can Hoover your way through masses, motets, recital programs, etc. Whereas in the days of David Willcocks and George Guest, it was quite rare for chapel choirs to go on tour. But now, it’s commercially, and in terms of the outreach of the college, much more important to travel around, do lots of recital work, and record. That puts pressure on the singers to be able to do things right away.
TB: I must say that this is not true on the continent, where much more time is spent with the music, and there is a noticeable difference each day the ensemble lives with the piece.
JD: In closing, with the direction choral music is moving, in general, do you think that choral music will detach and become mostly that of collegiate choirs, concert halls, and choral societies of various cities?
JR: It’s certainly true that those developed a big audience for sacred music as Art – music you can put on your stereo and chill out to. Probably church music is heard more often on discs and in concert halls than in church.
JR: And in England, there is a split between the music you will hear in cathedrals and collegiate chapels versus the music of the parish churches. Up until the 60s, it was more of a piece, culturally – albeit more elaborate and better done in the cathedrals and collegiate choirs. But now, the parish churches in England have mostly gone towards pop music, evangelical, and “worship songs,” completely different from the music of the cathedrals. The risk to the cathedrals is that they are an apex without a base. Not to mention that our cathedrals are all under financial pressure.
TB: In the past, the church was an important patron of the Arts. Composers wrote FOR the church. Now, many of the great composers don’t write for the church, as if it’s too trivial. The language of music has changed.
JD: When I was young, sacred music was rarely performed in concert halls; but now it frequently is. No one thinks twice about this. Which tells me that the “sacred” arts are moving away from sacred spaces and into secular spaces. Very interesting! This is quite possibly a very good thing for humanity in general.
You’ve both given me many things to think about. Thank you!