It’s 5am in the morning and a hardy group of stragglers(including me) are making their way to the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral. I haven’t been up this early on a Saturday morning since when I was in short trousers and had a milk round.
It’s a grey, but thankfully dry as we’re ushered onto the dew wet grass in the middle of the cloisters. Hardly anyone says a word. Most people can barely manage a nod or a grunt at this time in the morning. A lack of caffine renders me dumb.
Unannounced – almost ghost like –the choir emerge and file round the Cloisters so they surround us on all four sides. Dressed in cream with pale faces they blend into the ancient stone work as if they have been there for hundreds of years. The only noise – the call of a peregrine and the hum of the cathedral’s air conditioning. And so begins Singing the City – described as a musical mystery tour wending its way through Norwich’s medieval heritage in three parts.
Part I – a welcome to the morning – was a contemplative mix of music, nature and architecture . As the moon faded behind us and the sun light got stronger the music beautifully underscored the action – action provided only by history, nature and the imagination – gently calling the living and the dead to listen in together. At one magical point the steeple seemed to shimmer with a Ready Brek style glow as if responding to the sounds below.
Part II began some 9 hours later at 2pm. By then both audience and choir had grown in size for a performance that quite literally took its audience on a musical mystery tour – willingly picking up bemused passersby on the way. Starting with the triumphant vocal fan fare ‘ this is our city’ in St Andrew’s Plain the piece took audiences on differing journeys – to churches, crypts and garths, we rested in cafes and leant against Elm trees. It asked us to look up, down and around as we followed and fell back.
The very nature of the work meant that it was something of a rough, but at many times dazzling jewel. There were moments that felt messy and under rehearsed (especially in the drinking song), moments of back chat (I told them we wouldn’t be able to make it through murmured one choir member as she passed) and some curious decisions (the blue plastic bags being a case in point). But all that kind of misses the point. As the last chords of the The Final presentation rang round the Art School Garth it was impossible not to break into a huge smile. ‘The great end of civil society is happiness’ was a fitting final line to a happiness inducing collective work which celebrated place, participation and the human voice.
(I was only sorry I couldn’t catch the conclusion of the work (at 10pm in the Cathedral). Given the choir was called for a 4pm hairdresser call like the rest of the work it wasn’t just the music that was set to be special!)
Singing the City from Dawn to Dusk
Presented by The Voice Project
Commissioned by Norwich and Norfolk Festival 2012. Performed Sat May 12th 2012
Jeremy Avis, Jonathan Baker, Helen Chadwick, Orlando Gough, Sianed Jones – composers
Andrew McDonnell & George Szirtes – libretto (commissioned by Writers Centre Norwich – texts here http://www.newwriting.net)
Performed by Askew and Avis, The Voice Project Choir and Human Music.
Conducted by Sian Croose
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