Friday, 9 January 2015

The haunted stereo

We had a wonderful rehearsal for Oranges and Lemons last night, a piece which The Rebel Chorus is recording on Sunday. It turns out recordings are like buses, you wait a year and a half for one, and then two come along at once! Anyway, about half the choir was there, and we all crammed into our bedroom (where the piano lives) and went through the piece in quite a lot of detail. Everyone was really well-prepared so we were able to make all kinds of performance-related decisions. The work was last performed about 5 years ago, so it felt quite nostalgic to dust it off and hear it sung again. It all came flooding back. All those intricate internal parts which I'd spent hours teaching to the first choir who performed it. I was also able to tell the choir some of the stories relating to the creation of the piece. The soundtrack features 200 actual bells, recorded in 16 real-life churches which are mentioned in a lesser-known longer-version of the famous nursery rhyme. Some of the bells in some of the churches had fallen into disrepair and not been rung since VE Day, so on one or two instances, the sound recordist and I would have to crawl into dusty belfries and manually strike a bell with a rubber mallet. My foot went through at least one floorboard, and I very nearly fell 20 feet onto concrete floor in, I think, Shoreditch church, which where they film the sit-com Rev. I'm inherently clumsy and have always thought it's conceivable that I might badly injure myself one day simply by getting over-excited in the wrong location!

The choir hung around after the rehearsal for tea and biscuits in the sitting room. We're so rock and roll!

Three was a very peculiar occurrence in the night. Some time after 5am, I was awoken by the sound of distant string music. Moments later I recognised what I was hearing as the opening to the ABBA song, As Good As New, which is the first track on the Voulez Vous album. As the track kicked in, the volume got considerably louder and I realised the sound was actually coming from our kitchen. Plainly the little stereo we have in there had randomly decided to start playing, which, in the middle of the night, is not necessarily a sound you want to hear. I got out of bed, and crept along the hallway, half-expecting to find a masked intruder trying to shut the sound system down. The nearer I got to the kitchen, the louder I realised the track was playing to the extent that it seemed quite deafening as I reached the room itself. In the darkness I couldn't find the off switch, or the eject button, or in fact anything useless, and in a panic to make the noise stop, I pulled the plug out at the wall, and was rewarded with an electric shock.  Exciting biting, as my Dad would say...

I stumbled back to bed and lay there for some time wondering how freaked out I'd be if the music started again. The incident was genuinely like something from a horror movie.

Speaking of which it's been rather muggy today. There's a very strong wind blowing, but between gusts it's positively balmy in a deeply sinister way. It reminds me of a quote from Pepys' Diary. We think of Pepysian winters as being all about the second ice age and snowy fairs on the Thames, but in the early 1660s, London winters were unseasonably mild. This worried everyone immensely as there was a known link between mild winters and the arrival of the plague. In fact, Parliament ordered a day of fasting and prayer for colder weather. On January 21st, 1661, Pepys wrote, "it is strange what weather we have had all this winter. No cold at all. But the ways are dusty and the flyes fly up and down and the rose buds are full of leaves. Such a time if year as was never known in this world before here." And if you like that quote you can hear it sung by the lovely Llio Millward (who I was rehearsing with this evening) on the Pepys Motet, which is being released on the same CD as Oranges and Lemons. How cyclic life can be!?

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