Heaven on Earth: The Joy of A Capella Harmony Singing with The B Naturals

What is the greatest musical instrument of all?

I believe it is the human voice.

Nothing compares to the joy of a capella harmony singing – in perfect pitch, of course, and under the tuition of an inspirational musical director… or how about four musical directors, one for each voice part?

Recently I  took part in an Abba singing workshop led by the B Naturals, a fantastic A Cappella quartet.

The B Naturals - Abba Workshop in Leamington Spa 3 Nov 2018
The B Naturals – Abba Workshop in Leamington Spa 3 Nov 2018

We all gathered in a church hall in Leamington Spa and the group members, each taking on the task of training a different part – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – taught us four gorgeous Abba songs: Does Your Mother Know, Eagle, Name of the Game and SOS. When you sing Abba songs you realise how complex they are, and also how discerning and often very moving the lyrics are, relating to so many different life experiences.

The four workshop leaders – Nick Petts, Guy Wilson, Dave King and Jon Conway –  worked together, interweaving with each other as they taught the parts. What a joy it was, along with a great sense of accomplishment,  as we mastered the rich harmonies, and sang the songs all the way through.

As a singer who belongs to two very different local choirs – a traditional choir and a community choir – I have often marvelled at the precious gift of music in our lives. The experience of singing in harmony with others is pure joy and one of the nearest things to heaven I can possibly imagine.

This high spiritual quality of music was recognised by JRR Tolkien in his book The Silmarillion. This book sets out Tolkien’s created world, which grew with him throughout his life: the ancient drama to which characters in The Lord of the Rings look back. And it opens with The Music of the Ainur. He begins: There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar: and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought… propounding to them themes of music: and they sang before him, and he was glad….

Quite apart from the immense resources of classical choral music sung by traditional choirs, there is a vast repertoire of music suitable for arrangement for A Cappella Quartets and community choirs, and so many gifted composers and musicians who have created glorious music for us – the music of the Beach Boys, of Abba, of the Beatles among many, along with a wealth of songs of different types and genres from around the planet.

In the midst of a world where there is so much disharmony, tragedy and grief, let us uphold and celebrate one of the greatest and most spiritual gifts of all – joyous and uplifting music.

Joyful Atmosphere at the Leamington Spa Peace Festival June 2018

Each year in June the Peace Festival is held in the Royal Pump Room Gardens in Leamington Spa. Leamington Spa Peace Festival viewA colourful and eclectic mix of stallholders, different religious and activist and local community groups, musicians, street food vendors, and sellers of vibrant gypsy, bohemian and ethnic clothes, hats, bag and jewellery all converge on the gardens.

Kate's Story Tree at Leamington Spa Peace Festival

The result is a vibrant, joyful festival lasting two days, spreading goodwill and the message of peaceful co-existence, mutual understanding and acceptance of our fellow human beings in all our diversity.

Einstein quote at Leamington Spa Peace Festival

The local community choir Songlines conducted by our enthusiastic maestro Bruce Knight sang a cross-cultural set of songs which included fantastic gospel songs Egalile, I’m on My Way to Canaan Land, and Done Made My Vow to the Lord, along with community choir arrangements of I’m Still Standing by Elton John, Like a Hurricane by Neil Young, and the uplifting and moving song Hey Brother by Avicii.

The Leamington Spa Peace Festival is run, amazingly, by volunteers, and they do a brilliant job of organising this event. Long may the Peace Festival return to Leamington Spa each year.

Save the Pixies at Leamington Spa Peace Festival

 

Mountains, Castles and Inspiration in Bavaria

We are just back from Bavaria where we were inspired by King Ludwig II’s castles,

view of Neuschwanstein Castle

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delighted by glorious mountain views, view from the summit of Wallbergapple strudel in Panorama Restaurant at the top of Wallbergenjoyed delicious apple strudels

and slipped into Austria where we had a lot of fun on the Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg.The Original Panorama Tours Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg

But the most outstanding feature of our holiday was our discovery of a truly intriguing character: King Ludwig II. Ludwig was a dreamer and visionary whose image is now ever-present in Bavaria.The young Ludwig II

Whilst visiting his three castles – the castle on an island in a lake, Herrenchiemzee, the fairy-tale like apparition high on a mountain crag, Neuschwanstein, and the exquisite vision in a valley, Linderhof, I was fascinated by his romantic idealism, his passionate devotion to the idea of being “an absolute king” dwelling in Castle Perilous, his love of immensely rich and precious interior decoration, his total disregard of the practical implications of his various passions, and his intense relationship with the great composer Richard Wagner.  His story was often tragic, and his end terribly sad – he was declared mad and killed – yet Bavaria thrives on his legacy today.

There were several aspects of Ludwig which inspired me for a major character in my WIP.  So this visit to Bavaria came at just the right time as I’m about to embark on the second draft. With such a complex character, I cannot be entirely sure whether his passion, intensity and commitment to a world of the imagination will infuse my villain, hero or anti-hero. That is yet to be determined…

 

Great Time at the Sherlock Holmes Prom

Even lovers of Sherlock Holmes may have learned something new about the great man on Sunday 16 August at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

The Sherlock Holmes Prom, Royal Albert Hall, 16 Aug 2015
The Sherlock Holmes Prom, Royal Albert Hall, 16 Aug 2015

Matthew Sweet, BBC Radio 3 presenter, and Mark Gatiss, actor, and co-creator of the Sherlock TV drama series, together presented  a fantastic programme of music related to Sherlock Holmes.  Mark Gatiss read several passages from the original Conan Doyle stories alongside the music. I learned that the original Holmes was a lover of the opera and especially Wagner; and that Irene Adler, “the Woman” (the one person who outwitted Holmes) was an operatic contralto who had performed at La Scala Milan. In addition to this, although Conan Doyle himself was not much of a musical buff, nevertheless his creation Holmes had a very abstruse taste in and knowledge of music; he was an expert on the “polyphonic motets of Lassus.”

Additionally, Holmes’ gift for playing the violin was one aspect of the great detective which Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt chose to adhere to firmly when they re-created him as Sherlock for the twenty-first century. The deerstalker cap came much later; but the violin was a necessity from the very beginning.

Once again I wondered at and rejoiced in the fact that when we create fictional characters we may give them skills and abilities and awareness far beyond our own; and when they come to take on their own life in the minds of our readers, then who would ever guess the limitations of their creator?  An uplifting thought indeed for novelists!

Harmony, the Music of the Spheres and Glimpses of Eternity

Holy Trinity Church, Hatton, Warwickshire (creative commons)
Holy Trinity Church, Hatton, Warwickshire (creative commons)

The other day I was at an inspirational concert in a village church in Warwickshire, Hatton Church, listening to a small choir called Amici sing a mixture of early music and contemporary music.

They sang a capella music by such composers as William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Ralph Vaughan Williams. On one occasion the conductor pointed out that five hundred years separated the composers of the two pieces they were about to sing.

The loveliest pieces I heard were Alleluia, I heard a voice by Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623); A Spotless Rose by Paul Mealor (b. 1975); Hail Gladdening Light by Charles Wood (1866-1926), Northern Lights by Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978) and Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970).

As I listened to the glorious harmonies that the singers created I found myself gazing up to the stained glass windows high above the altar. Listening to music like this is like a portal into another world, a higher spiritual dimension, opened up by the singers who produce those exquisite sounds.

Then I thought, this must be what the Music of the Spheres is like. Many authors have explored the idea of the music of the spheres, “a universe bursting with music”. And this concert by Amici brought it to my mind again.

We all have the capacity to create heaven on earth with our voices, creating harmonies that are sublime. I experience this occasionally with the Leamington Spa community choir Songlines.

Never forget that the greatest of instruments is the human voice.