July 19, 2010

National Youth Choir of Australia 2010 Season



Having just arrived back from an intensive week in Adelaide on the National Youth Choir of Australia (NYCA) 2010 tour in Adelaide, I thought it would be nice to share some developments that have arisen from singing with the group.


Back in late March, I sent audition materials by email to the NYCA admin including a link to a website with recordings I had made of my unaccompanied scales and a prepared work. This material was reviewed and in late April, I was lucky enough to be invited to the tour. Four other friends in Perth, including one who had gone on tours in previous years, were also accepted. Once we all communicated our success to each other, we arranged local accommodation and planned some flights together. A large portion of the music for this course was sent via post and email so that some initial preparation could be done. Some of these works were quite difficult, including Take Him Earth for Cherishing by Herbert Howells, Three Shakespeare Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Laudibus in Sanctis by Byrd. After a good deal of browsing and comparing, we found a nice unit in North Adelaide for lodging through the week which the 5 of us (Ariel, Andrew O, Andrew H [Hissy], Lucien and myself) would share.

Departure came on the 2nd of July when I arrived at the domestic terminal with 2 of the 3 others that would be taking the same flight to Adelaide. Only minutes before boarding I received a call from the 4th member to be on the flight who had left his wallet (eg, identification) and mobile in the car after getting dropped off at the airport. He would have to miss the flight, book another and arrive later the same day.

After the remaining 3 of us arrived in Adelaide, we took a taxi up to Gover Street in North Adelaide to our accommodation for the week. Andrew had arrived earlier in the day and was just on his way back from the nearby supermarket with groceries to let us in when we got to the unit. We were all pleasantly surprised by the new interior and well equipped kitchen that we would be using for most meals. After getting settled into our new home, we all prepared for an evening out to dinner with the other intra-national members of this NYCA Season.

All five of us ended up catching a taxi to the Brunelli restaurant on Rundle street in Adelaide after the bus didn’t come on time. We came to meet Urszula, the administrator and a couple of the members. Others arrived a little later including our conductor for the course, Mike Brewer, the musical director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. After a hearty meal we all proceeded along Rundle street to a chocolate cafe where we got to know a bit more about the people we would be singing with for the next week. After our inaugural 30 minute walk home, we settled in to bed for our last night of proper sleep for the week.

Rehearsals began at 9am at the University of Adelaide music department the following morning with a gentle warm up and run through of some of the easier music in the program. It was great to participate amongst other singers who could quite happily pick up and read through a lot of these new repertoire, allowing for good flow through the different pieces. After a short break, we had our first sectional rehearsal, touching up on some of the more difficult areas covered in the combined rehearsal just prior. This method of full rehearsal and sectional note-bashing would be a common procedure over the next 3 days. After a full day of rehearsing with Mike, it became obvious to us all that we were very lucky to be able to share in his expertise and to absorb such a wealth of knowledge. Right from the beginning, he would promote a good sitting position and would be relentless in the production of healthy, on-the-voice tone which would help us all through the long week of rehearsals. Seeing the way he talked about the voice gave a very comforting feeling, that we were not being asked to over sing or damage anything prior to the final concert on the last day of the tour.

Days began to take a regular form with a 9am arrival at the Madley rehearsal space, a 15 minute tea break and wake up, then a comfortable warm up before getting into a full rehearsal at 9:45. We would normally work for 2 hours before the first coffee break, coming back to a sectional rehearsal, more full rehearsing then lunch. I often found myself getting very hungry through these long days and found it very useful to make up sandwiches for the breaks before and after lunch. Full rehearsals would then continue after lunch and then on into the afternoon till 6pm with a couple of small breaks in between to rekindle the sort of concentration required for the demanding rehearsal style. You quickly learn that Mike will always be ready to add another layer of perfection to the music once the singers are ready, “failing at every higher levels” he called it and he obviously had a lot of higher levels to explore.

With good singing technique, even at the end of the 4th day, I felt in good shape for the next morning. By contrast, the next day I could start to feel myself getting a bit more tired and finding it a little harder to maintain good intonation. By the next day I was happy to find that it was just a stage in getting used to the heavy vocal load and that I still had my full range and vocal strength at my disposal. In the afternoon after a conversation over tea about my coming exchange to London, Mike asked me what I would be doing in late August. I told him that I would be involved with an Eton Choral Course in Oxford from the 11th till 19th of that month and that I was then planning to head to Sweden. Over time, he eluded to his involvement with the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) and the courses they have in the UK summer, right around that time. He talked to me about the main choir and impressed the quality of its 140 fully auditioned singers on me and how I might be able to sing with them. Throughout the course, Mike would often comment about his main choir or chamber choir back home, taking on similar repertoire but to an amazing standard in shorter time. Groups which seem very appealing to me while I will be away in the choral centre of the world.

The fourth day also brought with it our first publicity opportunity with our invitation to sing in conjunction with an interview on the local ABC radio. That evening, we descended on the studio ABC studio, hyped and ready to sing together on radio and also to get a hint of what we sounded when recorded. Our visit began with Mike being interviewed by the host, Andrew was selected on the spot to represent the singers and was very confident when asked annoying little questions about Rottnest and the quokkas on the island. The presenter didn’t ask very helpful questions and Andrew did very well to slip in some of the details for the Friday concert. Our publicity run continued when we sang on Rundle street mall the day after. We sang some of Mike’s light music arrangements and some other choral classics like Lay a Garland by Pearsall for a public appeal, pulling good crowds.

Day 6 was our introductory concert day with two concerts outside Adelaide. We boarded the bus early in the morning bound for Victor Harbour. After a good hour long bus trip to a church in the town centre, we settled in to the venue and rehearsed for our first concert. After the short rehearsal, the mostly elderly audience drifted into the church and we began our first performance. It was a great success, the audience responding particularly well to outward pieces where we entered the audience or acted the part. We soon moved on to the McLaren Vale retirement village where would give our second concert. The residents were very pleased and we were very happy to accept a big bag of limes for cooking and drinks back home from one of the grateful residents. We arrived back in Adelaide exhausted but more confident with some concert experience with the group.

The final day was intended to be somewhat more relaxed from a vocal perspective. The rehearsals in the morning concentrated more on notes from the concerts the previous day and using a rather targeted rehearsal technique to check on some more vulnerable areas in the music. As we approached the afternoon, we moved into the Elder Hall, our performance venue for the evening. We only had a couple of hours to rehearse in this more generous acoustic. After a little rehearsal with the Marryatville high school concert choir, working on the combined repertoire, we settled into the holding room in the bowels of the building and waited for concert time to come.

In this time, I took the opportunity to ask Mike a little more about the choral course he had mentioned earlier on. He said that he had contacted the general manager of NYCGB and that I had been granted a 100 pound travel bursary to participate as a guest member in the main choir summer course, beginning on the afternoon of the 19th of August, the same day as conclusion of the Eton Choral Course. This was an absolutely wonderful surprise as I had already been toying with the idea of auditioning for the choir in November when they have their annual mass auditions across the country. I found it rather astonishing how contacts are made in unassuming places, leading to unique opportunities like this. I never would have thought that I would go to Adelaide and find myself getting a place on such a wonderful course in an entirely different country.

The concert began with our entry to the French drinking song, Tourdion, processing onto the stage part by part, each with their own motif. We soon moved on to the more serious works, inter-dispersed with the light music. It was after around the two thirds mark that one of the choristers found herself feeling a little bit crook, feeling the toll of the long week and making a strategic dash for the stage door, not to be seen till the end of the concert. Unfortunately she had felt a little sick during the day and standing for the whole rehearsal prior in addition to the concert time must have pushed her over. The finale was marked by the collaborative work between NYCA and the Marryatville choir. The African tune gave a very loud and percussive finality to the concert, making for high back stage spirits. To listen to any of the tracks from this concert, please follow this link to download any of the tracks.

Soon after the concert had finished, we all set out to Brunelli’s Italian restaurant once again to close the tour with the other members. After a spirited post concert dinner, the 5 of us lodged at Gover house plus Jodie headed back home after dinner to enjoy some later evening shenanigans until the very early hours of the morning. A quick scrub down of all bathroom surfaces and a general house clean followed, leaving the house in fine condition before sleeping for a good 2 hours before the 6:30am taxi pickup for the flight back home.

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