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Entente musicale


Angel, ceiling of Muchelney Church, Somerset – photo by Sarah Smith, The Geograph Project

Nadia appeared on my doorstep yesterday, pyjama-clad and brimming with excitement.
“Come with me tonight – the choir are singing at the church over the road! My friend is with them, and it’s for a good cause!” Sensing indecision, she yanked on my arm: “Come! It’ll be fun!”
Off she scampered across the landing, the compact bundle bursting with youthful energy and enthusiasm that she both is and is not.
An evening in front of Arte’s transmission of Adriana Lecouvreur with none other than Jonas Kaufmann beckoned, so the choice wasn’t easy.  Still, Nadia is nearly impossible to resist.  Besides which, why bother?
After supper Nadia, Mado and I went forth, charging across the main road and then another street, attempting to intercept a taxi’s progress without success. I dragged a disapproving Nadia out of his path.
“He must be gay” tutted Nadia, “otherwise he would have stopped for us, such belles filles as we are!”
In the churchyard, volunteers had set out their wares – a choice of snacks and cakes, drinks hot and cold, that we eyed with intent: something for the interval.
Inside the joint was jumping, or rather a crowd of small children, dressed to the nines in page-boy or princess style, were. Although they were remarkably quiet, their restiveness compensated for by buttoned lips all round.
But not for long: the concert began with the children’s voices competing with tom-toms. No contest, I fear: kids nil; tom-toms 3. Proud parents (except those of the tom-tom smiters) tried to hide their disappointment in mobile phone flashes and digital camera filming. I sighed inwardly, already feeling deprived of der Jonas, and his ability to balance unrestrained romanticism with integrity of heroic proportions. The kids and, later, the adult choral singers had … competition.
Or so I thought. Gradually, the sheer convivial energy of live music-making worked its habitual magic. On most of  the audience, that is. A few sneaked away after the first set. Their loss, for the offending drums were discarded and the second half of the evening consequently came alive: an unforgiving acoustic was triumphantly overcome, and the concert ended with wholehearted audience participation followed by a cheering, stamping standing ovation.
In the interval, Mado, Nadia and I had joined the crowds in the churchyard to eat cake and slake our thirst. I met some of the choir who’d recognised Nadia as a former member (she’d been too busy with other matters this year to participate), and we all agreed that those blardy drums had been too much: “they spoiled everything,” lamented Nadia, as Mado and I nodded in frustrated agreement. “It would have been better not to have had any drumming.”
We went back inside to join a more … intimate audience.
The two soloists, Coline and Alex, were fabulous in their own ways: Coline a trained mezzo, and Alex with a less refined – but still rounded, rich and full – pop-style voice. The material selected was just right for each one, with the inevitable trotting out of Gounod’s syrupy Ave Maria, which at least served to showcase Coline’s voice as the powerful and beautiful instrument it is, and complemented Alex’s full-throated and dramatic interpretation of the old Aznavour standard, La Bohème.
Time sped by, and suddenly it was the end: the place erupted with a final rendition of Oh, Happy Day – complete with Nadia, Mado and me all bawling along loudly (and with entirely appropriate cheerfulness) – before we all spilled out into the semi-darkness of late night on a Saturday.
Walking the short distance back home, our conversation tripped and bounced from topic to topic like the child choristers at the beginning of the evening. Tipping ourselves into the lift, we toyed with the idea of disturbing the residents – “Our turn,” said Nadia, “to show them what it’s like!”
Mado and I grinned ruefully.
I asked if they’d heard the racket last week, when the lad on the top floor held a mid-week party that went on ’till after 4 o’clock in the morning. They had; how could they not?
“I came back from my shift around the time they were leaving,” snapped Mado, “and so had the dubious pleasure of bumping into some of them – they were rat-arsed and stinking of booze!”
“Monsieur Pastorelli told me he’d asked them to pipe down at 2 o’clock,” I reported. “But they just carried on. Honestly, the very idea of anyone ignoring Monsieur Pastorelli!”
Three minds duly, simultaneously and tacitly, boggled at the thought.
As we sighed, agreed our musical evening had been fun and made our farewell embraces, another thought struck us: the event had been a huge success, raising an impressive sum for the charity it was sponsoring. Thanks to one of the charity organisers, we had already heard the good news: “Musicality, conviviality and solidarity,” he’d said. “All conjoined to great effect.” A recently-founded charity catering for homeless youngsters had received just the cash booster it required. In raising the roof of the church, they – and we – had helped provide shelter for people in need.
So Jonas Kaufmann (and Cilea) can wait. For a while anyway.

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