An Adventure in Cornwall
Your scribe hadn’t been on a concert tour before, nor even sung in public or appeared on stage, so this was a week to be relished – and it turned out to be one never to be forgotten!
We set off on an indifferent Wednesday morning, with a ground mist obscuring the beauty of the place we were leaving, but the sun didn’t take long to burn the mist away and by the time we were properly under way it was turning into a lovely day. Well, if you can have a lovely day on a motorway.
We duly arrived at Newquay and discovered that we couldn’t park the coach on the beach, so we thought we’d better take it to our hotel instead, where we found a warm welcome awaiting us. Time to settle in and find the restaurant and the bar.
Thursday morning woke bright and early, even if some of us didn’t, and we got straight into rehearsing our test pieces for the competition: the fourth Cornwall International Male Voice Choral Festival contest. No time for easy banter now; all was in earnest and we had to get our concentration to work. We had an early dinner (4 o’clock!) and set off to Falmouth for a joint concert with three other choirs.
Eight in a Bar started the concert, with some wonderfully precise singing, a full, rich sound and fine clarity. Sverdlovsk Male Choir College were next. Words cannot express the quality of the entertainment from this choir (at least, mine can’t): two boy trebles singing as one; a magnificently full, mature bass solo; some heartfelt folk songs; and a couple of novelty items. Nankersey Male Choir, a Cornish choir, came on after the interval and gave a programme from their standard repertoire which was received warmly. We were last to perform, being glad not to have had to follow Sverdlovsk!
The next day we had another rehearsal (we didn’t intend to fail for want of trying) before squandering the rest of the day on sight-seeing, golf, exploring and generally relaxing.
Saturday started with an early breakfast before the bus set off at 08:30 for Truro and the Hall for Cornwall, where we were to be judged. Our three pieces were soon over and we retired to chew our fingers until the judgement was given at 13:00: we were placed third behind Eight in a Bar (1) and Nelson Arion Glee Union Male Voice Choir (2).
You can listen to the performance by clicking here (this is a 9MB ogg-encoded sound file) or here (this is an 11MB MP3 file). The ogg file gives better sound than the MP3, but you may need to install a plug-in to play it.
No time for agonising over what might have been. We had to get back to change for our evening concert, back at the Hall for Cornwall again, where we appeared with five other choirs.
Sunday had another treat in store: an appearance at the Minack Theatre at Porthcurno, just round the corner from Land’s End. Some wonderfully tortuous Cornish lanes conspired to prevent us from being early, but what a place! A natural amphitheatre set in a semicircular bowl overlooking the sea at a vertical angle of 45 degrees. Tiers of stone and grass seats climbed above us as we gave another performance of our favourite pieces, the spectacular scenery reinforcing the performance. We had no keyboard here, so we had to rely on John’s pitch-finder to give us our first notes. No problem there though, and we were well received – as well as most of us getting sunburned! We were all slightly awed at the surroundings, and felt privileged to have performed there.
Then back to the hotel for another early dinner before the short trip into Newquay for our second concert of the day, at St Michael’s Church. First on were the locals: Newquay Male Voice Choir. "Follow that!" challenged one of their number as we awaited our turn. We did, but first we enjoyed the highly accomplished Colne Valley Male Voice Choir and their varied programme. This is a larger choir than Tideswell and made some very rich sounds. We came next after the interval and gave another well received programme, even earning a few cheers and whistles from some of the Colne Valley choirmen for our An American Trilogy. We were proud to have "followed that" in some style!
Monday was our last day in Cornwall, and we spent most of it at the Eden Project. We gave a 35-minute performance in the Mediterranean Biome, third in a sequence of nine choirs. This was an extraordinary performing venue, with a clear, sonorous acoustic which I hope we made effective use of. We were followed by the Sverdlovsk choir again (this was our third meeting in performance), who were applauded by all – several of our members stayed behind to listen to them. Fancy the Flight of the Bumblebee on voices? No trouble to this choir.
In the evening, after dinner, we were treated to a series of informal performances by individual members, and the ladies put on a very funny skit on Morris dancing, lampooning one or two of the men (of course).
Finally, on Tuesday morning we got off to a good start 80 minutes early on our journey back home, where we eventually arrived tired but happy – exultant, almost. One or two of our number were visibly moved by the intense experience of the week just past.
Thanks are due to so many people that I cannot list them all here, but I must pick out a few. Our committee of organisers, of course, with Sean Jennings (chairman) at the helm; the festival organisers equally, who must have put in a prodigious amount of work to ensure such smooth running of the week – no wonder the festival isn’t held annually! Our ladies too, for their unstinting support without which we should have been much the poorer.
Apparently, 3,000 men sang in 34 concerts during the week. That it all went so well is testament to the professionalism of the organisers. Well done, all!
See you at the next festival...
PRH, 06 May 09