Concert of Silences

Programme Cover Artwork by Alison Rushby

On 28th February 2022, The Bridge Singers are presenting a concert to invited friends in St. Michael and All Angels Church in Felton, Northumberland, and also hopefully out to the world via livestream. Below is the programme for that Concert of Silences, and also some extra thoughts about the repertoire selection and theme.

If you would like to listen to the livestream of this event, here is the link: https://youtu.be/Eytns7pRMAk

Introduction.
This is a concert of silences. All the music and readings have actual silence, or the words silent or silence in them. These songs of silence include some of our favourite pieces of music from past concerts, some songs we’ve learnt during the recent online, recordings and outdoors phases of The Bridge Singers, and some new songs written during these last two years. They represent our new home here at St. Michael’s Church, they represent the creativity that many of us have explored and nurtured during these two years of lockdowns and isolation, they represent those of us who are no longer with us, they represent our increased awareness of the sounds around us, and they celebrate the fact that this choir has not been silenced. We’ve found new ways to be a community of people who have at least one thing in common and we have continued to find new ways to make music together.

Zooming by torchlight

Further Introductions.
In March last year, towards the end of the Zoom phase of our lockdown choir experience, we hosted a “live” Zoom concert for our friends and family. We mostly sang along to recordings we had previously made (actual live singing on Zoom is really not for public consumption, due to synchronization and “voices sticking out” technical issues!), but we did attempt the world premiere of “Even A Subdued Sky” (mostly to show our guests the difficulties we were labouring under!) and there were a couple of solos and much chat and readings. Much of that same progamme is being presented tonight, and this time we will be singing live and together. The reason we are attempting to livestream it is so that all those people who Zoomed in from other parts of the UK and around the world can see and hear what we usually look and sound like!

In February last year the choir had a vote to see what our “favourite songs that we’d ever sung” were. Our two Factum Est Silentiums were in the top 20 and Lullaby Of Silences came third. “The Way Old Friends Do” was one of our new lockdown songs (we launched our recording of this at the March Zoom event) and also contains some silence in the lyrics. Always eager for a theme, silence became the new one. New songs were composed, and old and new favourites drafted in to explore different aspects of this theme, and now we combine all of these with some suitable readings to present a new Concert of Silences.

Programme

Prayerful, Thoughtful Silence

  • Reading from “The Rest Is Silence”, Aldous Huxley
  • The Beatitudes
  • Reading – Factum Est Silentium translation. Reader: Julie Armstrong
  • Factum Est Silentium, Felice Anerio
Poppies by Dawn Minto

Silence In Trying Times

  • Silent Night, Franz Gruber
  • Readings about the Christmas Truce, 1914 from “Silent Night”, Stanley Weintraub Readers: Claire Brown; Margaret Lediard.
  • The Last Post. Solo: Rebekah Hoskins
  • A minute’s silence
  • Lullaby Of Silences, Cheryl Camm. Solo: Connor Crowson-Lings

Lockdown Silence and Creativity

  • Reading from “There Are Many Kinds Of Love”, Michael Rosen. Readers: Claire Brown; Margaret Lediard
  • Footsteps, Gary Steward. Solo: Gary Steward
  • Silent Early Stroll Songs, Ian McMillan/Cheryl Camm. Reader: Shirley Reed
    1. Even A Subdued Sky
    2. The Light On The Leaves
    3. Fallen Leaf Runes
    4. Tiny, Temporary Pop-Up Puddles
    5. No Birdsong… Solos: Rebekah Hoskins; Alison Rushby; Jamie Day; Connor Crowson-Lings
    6. The Stars Hand Me Their Light
    7. Under The Masks
  • Reading – This Is The Dawn Singing, Ian McMillan. Reader Sue Chapman
  • And So It Goes, Billy Joel
  • The Way Old Friends Do, ABBA

Prayerful, Joyful Silence

  • Factum Est Silentium, Richard Dering

Programme Notes, by Chris Metherell (CM), Gary Steward (GS) and Cheryl Camm (CC)

The Beatitudes. Taken from the account of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel,  A slightly different version is given in Luke’s gospel and biblical scholars differ as to how they should be divided but most consider eight to be the correct number.   The Beatitudes, traditionally read on All Saints Day,  have been set by many composers. Our version has been made famous by the monks of Glenstal Abbey, Ireland, who have been recorded singing it on several CDs. (CM)

Factum Est Silentium, Felice Anerio. Anerio (c1560-1614) was born in Rome, sang as a chorister in the Capella Guilia, and began composing his own music about 1580.  He was later ordained priest (a common career move for composers in Rome).  We do not know when he composed this piece, which was not printed until 1854.  It is a motet for the feast of the Archangel Michael, describing the silence which fell in heaven while Michael was slaying the dragon and the subsequent rejoicing. (CM)

Silent Night. Stories about the origin of Silent Night abound however the core of the background seems to be that the words were written (in German) by a young Catholic Priest, Joseph Mohr, for Christmas 1818.  He asked local schoolmaster Franz Gruber to compose a tune for his words and the first performance was given, with Mohr playing the guitar, on Christmas Eve of that year in St Nicholas church in the parish of Obendorf. (CM)

The Last Post probably dates from about 1790 as a bugle call used by the British Army, originally signalling that the final sentry post had been inspected at the close of the day. (CM)

Programme Artwork: “Elizabeth” by Sue Bairstow

Lullaby Of Silences. This lullaby was composed especially for our Autumn-themed concerts in 2019 and is inspired by the statue of Elizabeth Dacre Howard at Lanercost Priory, who died in 1983 at the age of only four months. The song channels the point of view of a bereaved parent who imagines the sounds of the baby in silent events throughout the year: the opening of a daffodil; the shimmer of a rainbow; the curling of the leaves; the fall of a snowflake. (CC)

Footsteps. Footsteps was written during the first lockdown. We discovered many different walks, each one well trodden over the years, so we were walking in the shadows of ghosts, enjoying the same views, with every path leading home. (GS)

Silent Early Stroll Songs. These seven songs were composed in the first half of 2021 and use some of poet Ian McMillan’s wonderfully evocative tweets. I selected tweets that included the word “silent” or “silence”. They were initially composed to be sung by The Bridge Singers during Zoom rehearsals, and elements of “being out of time with each other” were written into them. In March 2021 the choir held a virtual Zoom concert, the theme of which was “silence”, and we gave the world premiere of Even A Subdued Sky, actually singing live (and getting out of synchronisation!) before singing along with a pre-recorded version. The choir has since given performances of others in the set as we emerge from the restrictions and today will be the world premiere of the full set of seven. The songs can be performed individually, in small selections, or as a group, and in any order you fancy! (CC)

Programme artwork: “Leaves” by Yvonne Steward
  1. Even A Subdued Sky – the first of the songs to be composed and performed. It can be sung as a round and is catchy and optimistic, with plenty of silences.
  2. The Light On The Leaves – Each sentence of Ian’s tweet is set in a completely different way, but the pentatonic harmonies provide unity. I imagined a Japanese print, as Ian mentions, delicate and precise, with wafting patterns to imitate not only the light on the leaves, but also their gentle movement.
  3. Fallen Leaf Runes – a much-repeated pattern is occasionally broken by gradually evolving harmonies. This rather ethereal one lends itself very well to being sung slightly out of synchronization (as in our initial Zoom rehearsals of it!) or perhaps in a very resonant space. It was composed at a time when there was less optimism about the ending of restrictions and delays in our return to singing. It is quite a static song…a little pessimistic, perhaps.
  4. Tiny, Temporary Pop Up Puddles – This soundscape is inspired by the calls of blackbirds, mentioned by Ian, and witnessed by me on my own early morning strolls. It is perhaps the most contemporary sounding of the set as it uses voice percussion sounds combined with the singing, and some aleatoric or random elements. It also includes some improvisation in the timings, and can include ping pong balls, if you like. It is optimistic, quirky, noticing sights and sounds in a busy springtime.
  5. No Birdsong… – This one was composed on the day Ian wrote the tweet. It was the day after an England win in the 2021 Euros. I was walking along Warkworth Beach in Northumberland and logged in to Twitter to share one of my sunrise photos. Up popped this tweet poem by Ian and I spent the remainder of the day composing the song. It starts quietly and then livens up with great joy and exuberance…just like the poem itself!
  6. The Stars Hand Me Their Light – I was going for serene, magical, hopeful in this one, with each line of text being given similar calm music, and the melody passed from one section of the choir to another. This is another that I think would sound perfect in a very resonant setting.
  7. Under The Masks – The liveliest of the set with much use of dancing rhythms and exuberant melodic lines. This is one of the first ones the choir mastered and performed and is the one that just about sums up precisely our last eighteen months, during which we have kept on singing in whatever ways we can, in spite of everything. (CC)

And So it Goes. Written by Billy Joel in 1983, inspired by the well-known Scots ballad Barbara Allen. Our arrangement is by American choral conductor Dr. Kirby Shaw. (CM)

The Way Old Friends Do. Written by the legendary Swedish group ABBA in 1979 it featured as the final track on their 1980 album Super Trouper, which became the biggest selling album (on vinyl of course!) in the UK in that year. (CM)

We have learned these two popular songs during our Zoom and Outdoors phases in 2020 and 2021. They both contain “silence” and both reflect the loyalty and friendship we share with each other.

Factum Est Silentium – Richard Dering. Another setting of this by English composer Dering (c1580-1630), this time with an even more joyful ending.  Although brought up as a protestant he converted to Roman Catholicism at a time when religious tensions were high and from about 1610 lived abroad.  His setting of this piece was published in Antwerp in 1618 at a time when he was working as an organist in Brussels. (CM)

Whether you’re live with us in the church, watching us via the livestream, or listening in later to the recording, we’d very much like to thank you for your support today and through the last two years. And do send any feedback you have – good or bad – we learn from it all! via our Youtube Channel, or our website or through this blog.

We’ll add clips and photos of the event at a later date!

Silent Early Stroll Songs – bonus extra (because this is Cheryl’s website!) until the concert, after which they will be removed!

Cheryl: If you’d like a preview of Silent Early Stroll Songs, here are the learning tracks The Bridge Singers used when we were Zooming in early 2021, and to help with the more recent songs:

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One Response to “Concert of Silences”

  1. Ian Hoskins February 25, 2022 at 11:02 pm #

    I love all of these they show the versatility variety and depth of your work. The programme is really informative and the artwork and comments demonstrate your ability to inspire others to work with you. This variety, vivacity and ability to inspire is what makes the Bridge Singers such a wonderful choir to which it is a privilege to belong

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