Sunday, December 12, 2004

I see the King’s College Choir.

And it was excellent. I arrived at First United Methodist Church Dallas 45 minutes early. I actually wanted to get there an hour early to assure a good seat. But my third row seat was great. I could hear the voices much more from the choir themselves than from amplification and could see them very well also. The concert was sold out by the way. One man out front was trying to get a ticket.

I had two expectations, both of which were gladly not met. I expected them to do mainly more accessible Christmasy tunes for an American audience. They did a few, of course. But most of the programme (Love those British spellings.) was obscure, arty pieces that were very traditional, but not the sort of thing Americans are used to. I even heard one lady say after a piece, “That was strange.” Good! I didn’t want a watered down “pop” concert.

Second, they did not sell any cds or the like at the concert. Now I wanted to buy some stuff, but I’m glad they didn’t sell anything. The Choir has a reputation for being a bit commercial, and I was glad to see that debunked.

The concert was in three parts: Four Christmas Motets in Latin, A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, and then a programme of various carols.

My favorite part was A Ceremony of Carols, performed by only the boys with a harpist. They had a singing procession and recession. It was a very nice effect to hear them singing beyond the doors, then come in right in front of me. Ditto for when they left.

Now a stereotype of boy choristers is that they are plaster angels. Not so with those of King’s College. The boys’ personalities show through the performances. I’ve noticed three main types of choristers: 1. the showmen, about three tonight. They are animated and confident and love to put on a show and receive the applause. 2. the nervous kids. They are very careful to do things right and look slightly ill at ease. Most of these were the younger boys on the two sides of the choristers. 3. Taking care of business. These are most of the boys. They don’t show much emotion, but are relaxed and do their job with a natural exactness and confidence. But even some of them clearly like the applause.

There was this one kid, a showman, who really stood out. He was one of the smaller boys, but he had The Voice and did the only solo piece of the night, very well I must add. (It was That Youge Child during the Ceremony of Carols, I believe.) When he finished his solo and during other times, he wore a very pleased expression that said, “Yeah, I’m good. I’m the man.” He was a hoot! I noticed one of the choristers was named Maximus Rex. I wonder if it was him, because the little man carried himself like a Maximus Rex.

He also did an excellent duet with a less animated but equally proficient boy the very next song, Balulalow.

The conductor, Stephen Cleobury, who also had some ham in him, had the congregation sing part of two carols (Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel and God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen, two favorites of mine) in the third part of the programme. That was fun and sounded very powerful with the organ. But I’d rather hear the choir. Although the boy choristers did manage to sing a high harmony that wonderfully soared above the congregation’s singing.

I could go on, but obviously this is the sort of thing where description falls way short.

I did notice a problem early on. The acoustics of the church were not very good, to some extent swallowing up the voices and even the impressive organ. I knew it wasn’t me when a last strong organ note was swallowed up by the space immediately. That’s sad, since First UMC Dallas puts a lot of emphasis on the arts. And the sanctuary, though big, is intimate, especially if you’re a lucky guy on the third row like me. Nevertheless, I hope the choir chooses a different venue the next time it’s in Texas.

Still, it was a great evening. By the way, the concert lasted two hours. We got beyond our money’s worth.

This was the first concert of their U. S. Christmas tour. If they are coming near you, see them! Get tickets ahead of time, however.

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