There and back again: Sydney -Leura 

Just a short blog tonight, mainly because the weather was so dismal today I have very few pictures of my trip to Leura which is just outside the Blue Mountain National Park. Matt who is hosting me at the library invited me to come to lunch at his beautiful home. Despite the mist and rain, the trip up did have some stunning views of the mountains and valleys. It is just a shame I could capture them on camera very well!

We didn’t spend the whole day inside, but Matt and his partner Jamie kindly took me to a concert in Blackheath. The ensemble was Song Company who seem to be a specialist early music vocal group. The concert entitled ‘Sticks and Stones’ was a mix of Western early music works including pieces by Tallis, Purcell and Allegri mixed with Arabic songs sung by their guest artist Oday All Khatib and the choir. After seeing the programme I was quite inspired to hear how they brought these two very different musical traditions together and in a few places (such as the opening) they really pulled it off. 

However, as the concert wore on I started picking up on little issues that were more a demonstration of the separation between the musical styles rather than an marriage. The choir are all Western classical singers, trained to stand and deliver in a very stoic manner. Anyone who has seen/sung in a typical British choir will know what I mean: 

  • Dress in black
  • Stand tall with music in arm or on a stand
  • Fix your eyes on the conductor like he is a weeping angel! (For reference, please watch Dr Who).
  • Sing in an English accent

These are also other small choral singing nuances but I won’t get into that! I do all of these things too when I sing in a choir mainly because it is an ingrained way of being. My issue is that whenever this choir moved into singing the Arabic numbers all of sudden these ingrained behaviours were changed in a rather uncomfortable manner (I wonder if they had been told to act more free!) The typical English classical vocal technique kind of went out the window as I watched 7 classically trained singers awkwardly trying to act non-classical. 

But why? Why did they have to change their behaviour for these songs in particular? Could they not have acted with the same freedom for all the songs, Tallis and Purcell included? Did the Arabic songs have less value and so was not worthy of the same approach as had been adopted for the Western music? Does the Western music have less value if it does not conform to typical performance expectations? These are complex questions and I am not posing a solution at this point, merely observing the oddities a concert such as this highlighted. 

The programme notes also claimed an ‘authenticity’ particularly of the Allegri Misere that I just could not get behind, but perhaps that is my researcher brain working on overdrive! The group are a very good ensemble in any case and most of the concert was quite enjoyable. 

It was then a trip back to catch the 2 hour train to the city. I am hoping the weather clears a little tomorrow so that I can do a more outdoor sightseeing!


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