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Wednesday 7 March 2018


V sends me an email that her house is accessible but I leave too early to read it. The final approach is steep and snow-scattered, followed by a blind right-angle bend. Fine. And there she is, gum-booted, scraping a path through the snow. I wind down the car window to shout, "I would not have you do this." and she laughs. But the scene is incongruous, she's been put on earth to sing and to teach others, not to clear paths. Unless today's a day for metaphor.

Hard pain dictates I must - yet again - sit down in front of a lowered music stand. I note a new score of Silent Witness ("Did you not see my lady...?") on the piano. Is it for me? No, for a new student with a great, though untrained natural voice who wants to sing a Justin Bieber song to his bride at their wedding two years' hence. Music and what it may do! I shall never meet him but I feel I understand him. Just sing confidently, young chap, as if you mean it. Sing right through the errors.

Today's about breathing. The second half of Purcell's An Evening Hymn consists of one word, Hallelujah, sung fourteen times, extended in all sorts of ingenious ways. Listen to Emma Kirkby.

Now me:

Hal - le - lu - jah (Breathe!), Hal - le - lu - u - u - jah (Breathe!), Hal - al - al (Breathe!) - al - le-lu - u - ja. (Breathe!) Hal - al - al - al - al (Breathe!) - al - al - al le-lu - u - jah (Breathe!) ...

The bold-face is V breaking off from singing and shouting out my instruction. I progress.

I wish everyone sang.


  1. I listened to Emma - wonderful. Are all the subtleties of all of those Hallelujahs shown in the music notation or is there a certain amount of improvisation?

  2. I'm touched that the young man will spend two years learning to sing a song for his new wife at their wedding.

  3. And yes, I wish everyone sang, too.

  4. Sir Hugh: Not a single quaver is improvised. What Emma sings is what I must sing. Incidentally Emma sings the longest Hallelujah (the thirteenth, next to last) without taking a breath; it may be some time before I can manage that.

    When I first heard Evening Hymn, I despaired of ever getting the structure right (ie, making all those extended words - "sun" and "rest" in particular - fit neatly into the singing line). Yet such was the appeal of the song that after a single week's work at home I had a rough and ready version for the next lesson. I was so keen to sing it a capella for V, but she, suspecting this was the case, immediately plunged me into rehearsal of the details. Not from any sense of cruelty, simply to highlight the difficult bits so that when I finally did sing it end to end I didn't embarrass myself.

    Colette: I hoped readers would be touched, as I was. I was thinking of passing on a copy of Opening Bars, via V, as some sort of encouragement. But I'm uncomfortable with the thought that I - the perennial student - had by implication become capable of guiding others.

    Perhaps "enjoyed singing" is better.

  5. Definitely share Opening Bars with him. Your latest book is a first hand (and honest) description of learning something new. And, of course, it happens to be about singing. If he is as thoughtful a young man as we all think he is, I suspect he would love it. Being a perennial student is the best part. You will have to become less humble.

  6. Colette: So I'm a regular Uriah Heep, am I? As I recall it was all a stratagem on Heep's part. Hmmm.