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A heartfelt plea to male choirs

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: January 01, 2014

SUCCESS STORY:  The von Trapp family from Sterts' summer 2013 production of The Sound Of Music.    : Courtesy of Sterts

SUCCESS STORY: The von Trapp family from Sterts' summer 2013 production of The Sound Of Music. : Courtesy of Sterts

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So how did we do?

AT THIS time of the year I usually take a look back as well as a look forward. I think to myself, 'haven't we done well'.

And so we have. I was going back over my words for the last year and I see a musical world in Cornwall which seems to get better and better as time moves on.

Within the county there is a wealth of talent and a great deal of teaching expertise to encourage and nurture this talent.

Sad it is that we no longer have the large number of chapels, with their singing tradition; that schools see fit to sideline music for the most part. Thank goodness we have private teachers who are still able and willing to help out.

Fortunately, we have a very hardworking group of volunteers who organise the competitive music festivals around the county.

I am told that numbers are up where young men and women are concerned. This, sadly, is not the case when it comes to adult entries, whether it be as soloists, groups or fully-blown choirs.

Somewhere along the line that youthful enthusiasm and encouragement has evaporated. I can well remember sitting through, and sometimes taking part in, an evening that went well into the night; male voice choirs from all over the county and beyond, singing their hearts out, proudly walking about afterwards in their striking uniforms.

The joy of winning, the disappointment (but never bitterness) in losing, the sheer love of the comradeship in music.

I am told that nowadays there are festivals which don't even see one male voice choir.

This past year, the sixth of the biannual International Male Voice Festivals took place. Besides bringing in male choirs from all over the world and becoming recognised internationally as a place to be, it has succeeded because choirs have the choice to compete or not, as they wish.

Cornish choirs, shy of competing in their own county, come out of their cubbyholes and sing for the sheer joy of it. At the regional concerts they can sing alone or with other choirs without the judges' remarks being important.

On behalf of our county music festivals can I plead that these same male choirs take the pieces they have sung in the international festival and show them off at their local festivals.

This last year has given programme makers plenty of opportunity to introduce a royal flavour. Some choirs have done this splendidly, not only going back to 1953 but back to the first Elizabethan era – and even before that.

There were three anniversaries in 2013 that I thought would be employed. Britten did very well and surfaced frequently in Cornwall; Verdi and Wagner proved, I fancy, a bridge too far. A pity. Neither Verdi nor Wagner wrote only large-scale opera spectaculars.

For this coming year I trawled through my musical 'bible' looking for (the anniversaries of) people's birth or death and found very few. Bach, I thought was bound to appear somewhere; after all, the family produced 53 top organists over a span of 300 years.

Sure enough, there was one Carl Philipp Emanuel (third son of JS) and born in 1714. Opera lovers would know the name Boris Christoff, a bass whose silken voice came straight out of his chest. He was born in 1914 not, as I thought, in Russia or Ukraine, but in Bulgaria.

Jazz lovers should know that things like ragtime, blues, swing, vocal came together and were accepted (indeed, almost worshipped) under the heading of jazz sometime between 1913 and 1915.

Paul Drayton has often strayed through showtime music into various forms of jazz with great success. Maybe he, and other courageous musical directors might like to take their Haydn, Mozart, Bach-guzzling choirs into this exciting world sometime soon.

The experiment with John Wilson took the Proms by storm and is now an accepted part of the Proms scene – and one guaranteed to sell out.

Lastly, a rather sad and personal tale. Larry Adler, the wizard harmonica player was born in 1914. Well into his nineties he came to the Hall for Cornwall and played like a dream. I was sitting right at the front, in the opened-up orchestra pit.

At the interval he was making his way off stage and confused by the lights, fell off right into my lap. He was very light, fell like a baby and other than being somewhat embarrassed, seemed physically unharmed.

Four of us gently carried him backstage, where a doctor checked him over and pronounced him 'shaken but OK'. After an extended interval, he came on and did the second half sitting down.

At the end of the show I went round the back and found him laughing and joking with his admirers. He reckoned he had 'gone down a treat' in Cornwall. He went home the next day and lived on several more years.


OVER the years I have written a lot about this unique centre for the arts on the edge of Bodmin moor.

I have been to many of its spectacular shows and have been almost disbelieving at the incredibly high standard achieved, using children of near-infant ages.

I am going to sit back and let Peter Woodward, the centre director, tell the story of Sterts.

"In 1982, Ewart and Anne Sturrock purchased the barns, outbuildings and land originally belonging to the Sterts' pig farm with a vision for an arts centre and theatre.

"In 1986 Sterts became a registered charity and in 1988, the studio facility was built. This meant that dance, plays and music could be staged in our own space.

"Sterts Open Air Theatre opened in 1990, a colossal achievement and a milestone for the arts in Cornwall that was built and funded by a huge effort by founders and supporters.

"Having run for four seasons with a variety of temporary canopies, which dripped copious amounts of water on the cast and audience, in 1994 a new canopy was purchased. Arts Minister Peter Brook attended the opening with support from MPs Robert Hicks and Paul Tyler.

"From day one, kids formed a major part of what Sterts set out to achieve. The aim was to encourage and then watch their development.

"Often after quite a short time children change, mature and progress as performers. They become much more confident in themselves.

"First we had Sterts4kids, which became Stagekids, which has gone from strength to strength and now runs two flourishing groups that meet weekly.

"As this generation of performers grew older, the opportunities available to them became more frequent, with shows like Brother Jacques in 2010, which was entirely performed by young people.

"By 2012 Sterts had a large group of regular young performers that were coming from Callington, Launceston, Liskeard, Looe, Plymouth, Saltash and Tavistock.

"After a successful 2012 season, during which young performers were hugely represented in Cornish Phoenix, Godspell, The Wizard Of Oz and The Little Shop Of Horrors, there was a hunger among the youngsters to have their own opportunity during the 2013 season. This hunger and passion for performance is what encouraged the hugely successful 2013, a youth production of Les Misérables.

"For 2014, the youth group will be performing Stephen Sondheim's classic Sweeney Todd.

"Over time, the voice that Sterts has allowed young people to have, and the ever-increasing opportunities that it offers young people, has attracted performers from across the county to come and be a part of what is now a thriving community of highly talented youth actors, singers, musicians, dancers and all the other disciplines that are encapsulated in the Sterts Theatre ethos.

"Sterts has been able to position itself as an established and sustainable part of the arts in South East Cornwall.

"We have several projects in the pipeline. We have been talking to a well-known local professional theatre company about the possibility of them being based at Sterts.

"This would mean them working here, encouraging and coaching our acting company and staging their new shows here first."

That is some story. Lucky kids, I say. Keep an eye open for events up at Sterts on 01579 362382 or www.sterts.co.uk.

Go and see for yourself and be really impressed.

A tribute to Haydn

ON SATURDAY, June 14, 2014, Paul Ellis, director extraordinaire of East Cornwall Bach Choir, will conduct the choir and orchestra in a performance of Haydn's Creation.

There is no need yet to go rushing out for tickets at the moment, but you may want to sing in this great work or become a member of the choir. On offer is a sort of 'try before you buy' situation, as you'll see.

An open singing day, at which the choruses from Haydn's Creation will be given an airing, will take place in St Bartholomew's Church, Lostwithiel on Saturday, January 18. Registration will be between 1pm and 6pm and there will be a short informal performance at 6pm.

If you participate, enjoy the work and your afternoon with East Cornwall Bach Choir, you will be able to audition for full singing membership and take part in the two summer concerts – and more to come. You can get more details from www.ecbc.co.uk or try 01579 382267.

The other summer concert I mentioned will take place in St Germans' Parish Church (as does the Haydn concert) on Saturday, May 17, and will feature a programme of uplifting classical and modern religious music from England and USA. More details will come nearer the time.

Truro Three Arts

THE NEXT concert in the 2013-14 season will be, as usual, in Truro College's Mylor Theatre, on Friday, January 17, at 7.30pm.

We are being made aware that youngsters in South Korea, who labour for 11 hours a day, are outrunning us in maths, science and reading. This is a relatively recent revelation.

Those of us who have been following the global musical scene for some years have been aware that South Korea has also been producing quite outstanding musicians, of great technical skill, very passionate and sympathetic in their playing.

One such young lady, Julia Hwang, who began playing the violin at the age of 5, came to Truro Cathedral recently and made a great impression. She was specially requested to come back to Truro.

With her accompanist, James Drinkwater, she will play music by Grieg, Debussy, Ravel, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Wieniawski.

Tickets, priced at £15, will be available from the Hall for Cornwall Box Office on 01872 262466 or at www.hallforcornwall.co.uk

Sandor Vegh Memorial

THIS is by way of being a reminder; I cannot promise that tickets will still be available, but it is worth a try. They are available from 01872 262466 or www.hallforcornwall.co.uk

Sandor Vegh put a whole new meaning into the interpretation of chamber music. The players at this concert are all pupils of this great master.

Now they are the experts, eager to pass on their learned skills to younger musicians. The music will be by Bach (chorales) and Beethoven (two string quartets).

If you cannot get a ticket for this concert, the players, and many more, at the two sessions of International Musicians Seminars will be in Cornwall, in springtime and in late summer. Watch this space for details.

News from the cathedral

AUDITIONS will take place at Polwhele House on Saturday, January 25, for boys currently in Years 2 and 3 (up to the eighth birthday) with an aim of becoming a cathedral chorister.

Find out about scholarships and other details from Alex McCullough, headmaster, on 01872 273011 or Christopher Gray, Truro Cathedral director of music, on 01872 245004. Ring the last number to find out more about young singers (between 7 and 14) and Cornwall Youth Choir (between 14 and 19).

If you are interested in this you might like to come along to the cathedral at 2.30pm on Saturday, January 11, with a cushion, so you can sit at the very front where the cathedral choristers, 18 boys, will introduce and sing a short programme of beautiful music, for free.

A reminder

CORNWALL Music Festival will take place between Monday and Saturday, March 10 and 15, at Truro Methodist Church. The closing date for entries is Wednesday, January 15. If you don't have an entry form, give entries secretary Michael Edwards a ring on 01872 270474. You might find www.cornwallmusicfestival.co.uk a useful reference.

... and finally

ON SUNDAY, January 26, The Band of HM Royal Marines, together with the Plymouth G&S Fellowship, will be back at the Hall For Cornwall to entertain and thrill. Tickets from 01872 262466 or www.hallforcornwall.co.uk

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