I've just read 'Strong Words' on a fellow blogger's post and had the pleasure of listening to an excerpt from the Messiah which has sent me spiralling back into nostalgia and thoughts of 'when I was young'.
I had a Methodist upbringing in the loosest sense - meaning I went with my grandparents to a Methodist Chapel every Sunday, where I thought the Vicar was the most wonderful man and whose words I hung on every week. I would be about 9 or 10 and when I hear his voice in my head, he has a strong Welsh accent, though at the time, I had no idea why he sounded different from everyone else around in our little Yorkshire village.
The chapel was quite small and the congregation sat facing the Vicar, the organ and the choir. My grandpa was in the choir and he had a very
My granny didn't sing, though she did play the piano - famously as the pianist at the local cinema when the movies were silent. She didn't sing in the choir because she was very deaf. Which also meant she didn't hear my grandpa's singing. Small mercies.
My mum sings and plays and singing with an excellent choir, The Tatton Singers, in Knutsford is one of her greatest pleasure. At Christmas and family get-togethers we would always sing, attempting the Messiah most years - with a glut of altos, my grandpa holding his own on tenor and various others delivering the 'tune'. We never had a reliable bass but we managed without. It was Perpetua's post that reminded me of all this. It also reminded me of a lovely period in my life after I'd finished my degree.
I was living in London and looking for a temporary job over the summer. A friend ran a music shop in Soho and promised to try and help. I was delighted to get a phone call from Ted Perry, who had a record company called Hyperion - then a family-run business with a growing reputation for quality productions. It was just after they had produced the now very famous 'A Feather on the Breath of God' album with the voices of Emma Kirkby and the Gothic Singers. If you have never heard it, it's worth having a little moment with these beautiful, pure, clear voices which reach back over the centuries to when Hildegard of Bingen wrote this down
I was invited to join the team to provide page-turning duties for recording pianists as and when required and in the months that followed, I can lay claim to having made around eight records (I don't know if they were CDs) - including working with Roger Vignoles and The Songmaker's Almanac.
My nostalgia kicked in when I heard the first few notes of 'Comfort Ye' (or 'Come for Tea' as we used to say) from the Messiah. Anthony Rolfe Johnson, who used to sing with The Songmaker's Almanac and was on a couple of 'my' records (or should that be the other way round?) had possibly the most wonderful tenor voice in my opinion. Not for the big Pavarotti-type arias, but for the things I love, like Handel, Bach - oh, and Britten. He sang 'Les Illuminations' one year at the Proms and I was in heaven. He died sadly of Alzheimer's disease last year. Anyway, I have a recording of the Messiah with Anthony singing which is my all time favourite. I could only find a couple of recordings on YouTube but this one captures the quality I like so much about his voice - to me, it's very intimate and personal, though I'm not sure if that's because I was lucky to be so close to him during the recordings made by the Songmaker's Almanac all those years ago.
In addition to this being one of the best little part time jobs anyone who loves music could possibly have, we made the recordings in a fantastic place - the Art Worker's Guild, in Queen's Square, London - AND I was invited to the company's Christmas party that year - probably 1983 - held in this wonderful Georgian building. I was terribly nervous about going as it was full of the famous musical names of the era but the champagne flowed very freely and rather a lot of it was going into me so by the end of the evening, I was accosting people and telling them I was the page-turner, who were they? I'm not going to drop names here...sadly I guess many will be dead now. But it was a wonderful evening even though I remember it with a touch of embarrassment and certainly don't remember getting home afterwards!
I haven't taken the time in recent years to listen to the Messiah but you can bet your life that I will be doing this year - probably more than once. I'm grateful to Perpetua for yet another lovely post and especially one that has taken me on my own little trip down memory lane.