40th anniversary

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Open University's 40th anniversary celebrations

As part of the Open University's 40th anniversary celebrations in 2009, the Open University Choir will be taking part in a concert with the Milton Keynes City Orchestra. This will be in the Milton Keynes Theatre on the evening of Sunday 28 June 2009. The programme for this concert will be:

  • Beethoven: Overture Fidelio
  • Jonathan Willcocks: In the beginning
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op.125 (‘Choral’)

The concert will be conducted by the principal conductor of MK City Orchestra, Sian Edwards. The soloists will be Angela Caesar soprano, Fiona Kimm mezzo-soprano, Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks tenor and David Kirby-Ashmore baritone.

In the beginning

In the beginning by Jonathan Willcocks was composed for the OU Choir and first performed as part of the University's Millennium celebrations in autumn 2000. We will prepare this second performance almost exclusively during our regular Thursday lunchtime rehearsals.

Beethoven's 'Choral' Symphony: invitation to sing

For Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony, we would like to augment our forces by inviting members of other choirs in the locality, as well as former members of the OU Choir and current OU colleagues who don’t normally sing with us, to join us for this special celebration. We hope to be able to attract 40-60 extra voices in proportions which complement the existing membership. We are particularly interested in Sopranos and Tenors joining us, although other parts are also welcome.

Because of limited rehearsal time those who do join us to augment our numbers will have to either:

  • have sung Beethoven's Ninth before
  • or be confident and competent enough singers to be sure that they can master it effectively within the few rehearsals available

In addition, it would also be useful to have some experience of singing in German.

The ranges in some parts, especially soprano and tenor, are famously high. Some guidance about these is provided below.

We are arranging two rehearsals for ‘guest’ singers for Beethoven 9:

  • Sunday 10 May, 2.00-4.00pm, St Michael’s Church, Walton Hall
  • Thursday 4 June, 7.45-9.45pm, St Michael’s Church, Walton Hall

In addition there will be a rehearsal for all singers with Sian Edwards on Monday evening 15 June at 7.30 in which she will concentrate on Beethoven 9.

Finally there will be a combined rehearsal for all singers and the orchestra in the theatre on the afternoon of 28 June (3-6pm, though presumably Sian will need Beethoven-only singers for only part of this time).

Please go to the rehearsal schedules page to check dates and times of rehearsals.

It may be possible to accommodate a few singers who are unable to attend all the rehearsals – for example, former members who have moved away from MK. However, we hope that most participants will be able to attend most of the rehearsals. Please indicate on the form below which rehearsals you would be able to attend.

We will be working from loan copies of the Novello vocal score (this is the edition, now superseded, with piano arrangement by Tours). Where necessary this will be brought into line with the new Bärenreiter edition by Jonathan Del Mar.

Registration form

If you wish to take part in what will certainly be an exhilarating experience, please print out and complete the registration form provided below and send it to the director of the OU Choir, Bill Strang at W.Strang@open.ac.uk or post it to him in Faculty of Arts, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, if possible by Tuesday 10 March. He will contact you to confirm plans by Friday 20 March.

Download registration form

Vocal ranges in Beethoven’s 'Choral' Symphony

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony involves the chorus in about 8 minutes of singing, spread over the last 16 minutes of the last movement of the piece. The notes, while not negligible, are not difficult by the standards of the OU Choir’s repertoire – not more so than late Haydn, for instance – but the tessitura is famously high. For your guidance here are some notes on the voice ranges.

D/E at bottom of stave (rarely) up to high A (plenty, and one spectacular long one) and very occasionally B (short). A lot of it is between D (4th line) and A above the stave.
Occasional G/A below the stave to occasional D/E flat or natural at top of stave. Centre of gravity F sharp to A at bottom of stave, possibly a bit higher later.
D at bottom of stave to F sharp/G above it, then later A (rather a lot of it). Centre of gravity D (4th line). There are passages which stay up on F natural for some time.
A, occasional A flat/G at bottom of stave up to occasional D/E flat above stave. Then some very exposed E naturals and Fs, but they’re in unison with the tenors. Centre of gravity is first of all F sharp to A, then there’s a section where it’s higher, with quite a lot of Ds, then it settles back down again.

If some of this seems intrinsically unreasonable, you have to remember that his text is in part concerned with the pursuit of ideals like universal brotherhood and the search for the Creator ‘beyond the stars’ - which are, after all, up high.