So, it’s time to look at the final five highlights of 2011 for me, your dedicated choirfan. Here they are! 🙂
5. Roden Boys Choir
A discovery that keeps surprising and delighting me and the finest choir of the Netherlands as fas as I’m concerned. I first saw them in May at the Three Choirs Festival in Breda where they sang together with the choirs of the Cathedral in Haarlem and the Sacrament church in Breda. They stood out for me because of their concentration and the intensity and clarity of their singing. Their discipline, their diction – absolute class. They really had me glued to my seat. The highlight that evening was William Henry Harris’ Strengthen ye the weak hands. All the singers looked constantly at their director Rintje te Wies who directed with such control and grace. I became an instant fan 🙂 I found out more about them when I got home and was surprised to see they had used some of my pictures of the Three Choirs Festival on their own website. I contacted them and made sure they mentioned my name with the pictures 😉
I was lucky enough to catch them again two months later for Evensong in the St. Bavo church in Haarlem with its magnificent Müller organ. The Preces, by Peter Nardone, had a powerful closing chord on the word ‘praised’ and I noticed the magnificent echo of the church. The choir really sent a beautiful and glorious sound into the air, like a prayer of sound going up.
But nothing prepared me for the amazing Magnificat and Nunc dimittis settings by composer Bryan Kelly who I had never heard of. The Magnificat in particular is very dramatic and dance-like, full of contrast and staccato notes. The ‘Amen’ ended with a really long high note on the ‘A’ (I think four bars) and an abrupt and powerful ‘men’, almost like a door slammed shut. Once again the echo they sent through the building was amazing.
It was there I decided to become a Friend of the choir which involves an annual donation in return for a newsletter and benefits on CDs and concert tickets. I also had the chance afterwards to chat with their musical director, to introduce myself as the guy who made the pictures on their website and to compliment him on his fabulous choir. One of the first things he asked me was whether I sing too 🙂
This month I caught them live for the third time (I already blogged about it here) and I hope to see and hear more from this exceptional choir next year. I will leave you with a sublime live TV performance of a song from their recent Christmas album, with my favourite current soloist of theirs, Ischi Magna:
4. New Libera songs
Finally, the top 11 reaches the choir that caused this blog in the first place: Libera! 🙂 Apart from three international tours (Canada, USA and the Philippines), a lot of new faces and lots of live performances on TV, radio and online, this year Libera gave us two new albums: Miracle of Life and The Christmas Album. The mini-album Miracle of Life was released in Japan only and contained just one new song, Song of Life, the theme song for Madonna Verde, a mini-series in Japan. But it was one of the personal highlights of 2011 for me. I got to hear the world premiere of it at Libera’s concert in Epsom (see nr. 2) and it has played an important part as the soundtrack to an eventful year for me. I often sang it on my bike rides during the time I had just moved to my new apartment and quit my old job. The first words, sung by my current favourite soloist Ralph Skan, perfectly capture the meaning of the song for me: “There’s a whisper in the dark as a new life comes to be”. I wrote those words on one of the doors in my kitchen (which is painted with chalkboard paint).
The “endless song of life” puts me in mind of the Jewish people in exile who sang their stories of how they believed God made the world – the words which we now know as the book of Genesis in the Bible. Words that were originally sung, generation after generation, in order to keep their faith alive – telling of the breath of God breathing life into man so that man may be happy and free. The “whisper in the dark” – which is the same whisper that starts any creative process to this day. For me, there is a direct link between that first breath of God, that first dawn of life, and this song here, now. Libera’s Song of Life is like an echo of that ancient song of life that is still being sung day after day, through us and by us, as notes on God’s score.
Talking of scores, I also now have the score of Song of Life for piano and vocal, thanks to Mayu Hagy, a Japanese Libera fan who was kind enough to send it as a gift 😀
2011 also brought us The Christmas Album, which already came out in November but since I’m such a liturgy geek, I wanted to wait with listening to it at least until Advent had started. And on Libera Dreams I even blurted out I felt like waiting until after I got home from singing in Christmas Eve mass – and before I knew it, I had made a bet with LennesSL, another Dutch Libera fan (who I met at Epsom and who I then introduced to the forum ;)), to keep my word and wait. Which I managed to do! OK, I was allowed to listen to Veni, Veni Emmanuel during Advent but that was it.
I got home from a very joyful Christmas Eve celebration, made some hot cocoa with Christmas bread for me and my boyfriend, lit a few candles, put the CD in my CD player and… pressed ‘play’. The brass notes that form the intro to Joy to the World filled the room and it was Libera Christmas time! It was nice to finally hear what all the fans had already been talking about for so long 😉 I love Still, Still, Still the best, as it really captures the spirit of Christmas and takes me to the stable where Jesus was born. It is followed closely by Coventry Carol (a unique song in Libera’s repertoire as it has a tenor solo and there’s an unidentified deep bass voice singing in the background!) and Jubilate Deo.
3. Libera’s US Tour in August
No, I didn’t attend any of those shows (sadly), but it was still a highlight for me as the fans who did go kept us all up to date with everything that happened and the boys themselves too blogged more than ever. But what was more, they sang in the morning service at the Moody Church in Chicago with the cameras rolling! So it was on one Sunday afternoon that I sat in front of my computer and had the time of my life. Goosebumps, tears, everything. They sang Gloria (with a very full sound throughout), Exsultate (where you could really hear all the different harmony parts, making it my favourite version so far), Glory to Thee (with an incredibly moving solo by newbie Eoghan McCarthy) and How Shall I Sing That Majesty? (with wonderful high notes and again a very strong sound). Being treated to their live voices so splendidly, in a church environment, kept me spellbound as if I was there. There have been other Libera live performances captured this year which moved me (Carol of the Bells on ASAP Rocks and Himig Ng Pasko come to mind), but Eoghan’s solo on Glory to Thee definitely stands out as the most special for me.
But that was not all – Tom413, Lauren and Lexi from Libera Dreams managed to get a copy of the US Tour programme signed and sent to me, along with an actual concert ticket and a couple of flyers from the tour! It was such a nice gift and serves as a souvenir of the tour, which gives me happy memories even though I wasn’t there myself 🙂
2. Libera live at Epsom
Luckily enough I did get to see Libera live this year: in Epsom, a suburb of London, a week after my birthday :). It was great to meet fans from all over the world and the overall experience was amazing (and over way too soon ;)). These were the highlights of the set for me:
Always with you – Freddie Ingles and Jakob De Menezes-Wood made this song sound really, really good. Very good choice of soloists. I also loved how Jakob looked like an apparition the way the lights shone on him, great visual effect. The sound, the lights, the way the boys were standing in a line with Freddie alone up stage and Jakob towering alone in the back – everything was just right.
Lament – amazing that they included this!! And just the gesture of all of them – except nine (?) – putting up their hoods brought tears to my eyes. Everytime Libera goes all the way in expressing their church roots it’s becoming the most moving for me. Loved everything about this, also the dark and the blue lights. Just amazing.
The Fountain – the moment I had been waiting for, hearing this song live with Ralph singing solo. I think I must have nearly fallen off my chair, because I was leaning forward so far to not miss anything 😀 The high notes by Kavana Crossley blew me away. Ralph didn’t get the high notes of “again” in the chorus the first time and coughed right after, but the second time he was totally there again.
I have to say it was really his night that night. He was the main soloist in every way and carried the difficult parts bravely and without any nerves. A strong leader of the group with a very distinct personal charm.
Stay with me – I think in hindsight the song that moved me the most. The way Daniel Fontannaz delivered his solo, with such joy and conviction, touched me deep in my heart.
Going Home – Soloist James Mordaunt sounded like Michael Horncastle in his Far Away years to me. And Daniel complimented him perfectly. I dared to say right after the show that for me I thought this version beat the one on the Angel Voices DVD (which is saying something since that version made a huge impression when I first got to know Libera). But I still say it. I was just blown away by this live version and very, very moved.
Afterwards, I had the opportunity to compliment Daniel on his solo in Stay With Me. I was waiting outside with some fans when I suddenly saw Stefan Leadbeater, Ralph, Daniel and Ben Philipp walk out of the Playhouse in front of me. I did’t know what to say, thinking I should, thinking I shouldn’t – and in the end I just let it be. Because I don’t want to be a part of the “fame culture” that is hovering around the boys. I want to be able to express my gratitude in a pure way. By acknowledging at the same time that they are just boys. On stage they might be magical – but that’s due to what happens on stage, and in rehearsal. Something comes together that is bigger than all of us. They have been blessed with their voices and their training and the creativity of Robert Prizeman and others. I finally decided to take a shot when Daniel was given his peace again, and before he would scoot off, I complimented him on his performance. I told him “you sang to my heart” and he seemed genuinely thankful for that. That was enough for me. Because it was not just his voice that moved me but the way he sang it as well. May he never lose that.
1. Attending morning service at St Philip’s – twice!
Being a Libera fan, attending a Sunday morning service in the church of St. Philip’s in Norbuy, South London, was an experience I shall never forget. Because it is here that Libera started and where the boys are still rooted in the tradition of singing and worship. St. Philip’s is a very simple, unassuming but very warm church with a welcoming and friendly community. The last thing they want is to turn into a kind of Libera pilgrimage site so details of my experience there will be brief. But there is no doubt that attending Sunday worship there twice this year was the number one highlight for me in terms of choral singing.
The first time was on the second Sunday of Lent. As I entered the building the boys were still rehearsing Anton Bruckner’s Locus iste. I knew right then and there that it was a blessed moment and all was right. I was so happy. Because the words of Locus iste are very, very dear to me. And as the words are traditionally sung at the dedication of churches, to hear them the minute I set foot in St. Philip’s couldn’t be more symbolically perfect. Hearing it again during Communion was the icing on the cake. We also sang To God be the glory, as closing hymn, the chorus of which begins with the very appropriate words: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!” Which was ofcourse exactly what I did 🙂
The second time I visited St. Philip’s was on the feast day of Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit. It marks the end of the Easter period, the most important part of the year on the church calendar. Being able to celebrate this feast at that particular place was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I shall cherish forever. As closing hymn we sang Thine be the glory, a song of praise which is very dear to me in Dutch. Singing it together with the choir boys and congregation of St. Philip’s, on that particular day, looking up at the altar piece depicting the nativity of Jesus, the stained glass window above the altar which depicts His resurrection at Easter, and the altar cloth depicting a dove as symbol of the Holy Spirit, was perfect beyond words.
Afterwards, I asked Paul, the site admin for Libera Dreams and a regular at St. Philip’s, to take my picture outside the church.
I hope 2012 brings all of you moments of joy and harmony – wherever you are, whoever you are. Happy New Year!!