In late January, a coach set off from Watford on a mild and damp Sunday morning to head up the M1 to Birmingham Symphony Hall taking 35 of us to join forces with over 1,000 singers from all parts of the country to spend a few blissful hours working on Haydn’s Creation with world-renowned choral director Simon Halsey.
We arrived in good time to get our bearings, collect scores and have a bite to eat before the first of the workshop sessions with Simon and his two entertaining accompanists. Entering the auditorium at Symphony Hall twenty odd years after its opening is still a breath-taking experience. The bright scarlet and gold décor harks back to the opulence of Edwardian theatres but with a modern sense of space and light – and very comfortable seats!
This session is all about getting to know the composer and his music in order to better appreciate its craftsmanship and texture. Simon Halsey frequently breaks off to share little insights – and anecdotes – with us, adding to the relaxed and collaborative atmosphere. We cover most of the great choruses in a couple of hours, paying attention to words as well as music and beginning to shape phrases and appreciate the inventive harmonies.
After a short tea break, we return to the auditorium for the second session, this time accompanied by the mighty City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and four excellent young soloists. Simon reminds us of how fortunate we are to be preparing a great masterpiece with them, and delights in show-casing individual musicians as well as continuing to expect keen attention to detail and respect for the music from his enormous chorus.
We then have about an hour and a half to explore the attractive canal-side cafes and bars immediately outside the Convention Centre before re-assembling for the last time to perform extracts of The Creation to a small audience of family members and friends. Trying very hard to remember all we have learnt in rehearsal, we give our all to ‘Papa Haydn’ and his inspirational interpreter, Simon Halsey. Altogether, a wonderful experience and as we leave the shimmering concert hall and the bright reflections of lights in the canal to make our way homewards, we are already looking forward to next year – happy in the knowledge that lots more opportunities for singing together await us in the months ahead.