So, last week I just wandered in with the crowd at the Sydney Philharmonia and looked over someone's shoulder, more or less hoping I'd blend in. But some of these choir dudes are pretty sharp, and anyway Shelley who invited me had introduced me to some of them, so last night I had to audition.
It was not a friendly audition, let me say. Not like auditioning for the Victoria Chorale, where I have only the faintest memory of even having to do it, or for the Melbourne Chamber Choir, where the delightful but slightly dotty Faye Dumont told me what a wonderful sight-reading job I was doing. And although it was not unfriendly either, this was more like being hauled up in front of the judges in one of those 'You've Got Talent' things you see on the telly, except without the audience; in the back room with a small piano. (Do you remember the bit in John Safran vs God where he auditions for the Harlem Gospel Choir?) Short on time, down to business.
I was hoarse, it's been 10 years since I sang in a serious choir, so there I was with my Christian Praise hymn book in hand, slightly nervous. Cheerful hello from Brett the director, "Come through here please." No warm-ups, brisk "what are you going to sing for us?" I launched tentatively into verse one of No. 89, Thou who was rich, beyond all splendour. "Second verse please, this time would you sing out, sing operatically and give us a lot of sostenuto".
Limped through that, and we went straight into some frighteningly atonal sequences of five to eight notes at a time. "I'll play these once, then you sing them please." Half a dozen of those."Sing the bottom note of each of these chords please." Half a dozen of those. Now are there any of these hymns you don't know?—actually that's a leading question isn't it, here's what we're singing tonight, start from there please." I sing. Brett stops playing and stands up "OK, now I'm going to stand next to you, you take the bass line, I'll take the baritone, from here, 3—4—." We sing.
"Good, I'll need to listen to you again. Oh, you're in by the way, what part did you sing last week? OK, you'll need to look on again, make sure you sit at the end of the row."
Polite, to the point, and so I sight-read my way through another evening of choir. It was quite the most intense audition I've ever had. But nothing at all compared to the three young people auditioning for the part of assistant conductor. They had half an hour each, doing Brett's work for him, on some of the most difficult choral music I've seen in a very long time indeed (Poulenc's Stabat Mater).
So now we perform in about three weeks. I got my own copy of the music for the first time at the end of last night's rehearsal. For some reason I'm thinking about the badges I used to get after doing first aid tests in the Air Scouts.
I couldn't be happier!
Oh, and Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour has a glorious statement of the reason for Christ's incarnation in the second verse, so I was happy to sing it out loud and strong:
2. Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan!
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.