One day nearly 40 years ago, a bear went for a walk in the hills. With his Mother’s blessing, he sets off for a jolly trip, encountering his friends Edward Elephant and Bill Badger along the way, who are too busy to join him. After a while, Rupert props himself up against the trunk of an oak tree and enjoys the glory of the countryside. Suddenly, he finds himself enveloped by a rainbow cloud of butterflies previously masquerading as leaves on the oak tree, and all of them swarm away from the leafless tree towards a rocky outcrop; Rupert cannot resist following them. As he leaves, a large white barn owl and two black cats decide to follow him.
Thus opens the 1984 animated film Rupert & the Frog Song which was written and produced by Paul McCartney. We all Stand Together is a song from this film which reached number 3 in the UK singles chart way back in 1984. The “Frog Chorus” backing on the song was recorded by The King’s Singers and the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Standing together is a common theme in music and particularly with choirs. Of course I realise at this point some of you will be shouting at your computer screens. Yes ok I haven’t forgotten the Venetian Polychoral style which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation. The style arose from the architectural peculiarities of the imposing Basilica San Marco di Venezia in Venice. Aware of the sound delay caused by the distance between opposing choir lofts, composers began to take advantage of it as a useful special effect.
Since it was difficult to get widely separated choirs to sing the same music simultaneously (especially before modern techniques of conducting were developed), composers such as Adrian Willaert, the maestro di cappella of St. Mark’s in the 1540s, solved the problem by writing antiphonal music where opposing choirs would sing successive, often contrasting phrases of the music; the stereo effect proved to be popular, and soon other composers were imitating the idea, and not only in St. Mark’s but in other large cathedrals in Italy.
All of which brings me to a recent concert I was involved in at the Baptist Church in Cirencester. This featured two of my choirs, Cirencester Male Voice Choir and Blue Notes performing alongside the Southampton Youth Concert Sinfonia directed by my friend Anna Robinson. The biggest issue we had was one of space.
As the concert was being held in Cirencester Baptist Church and not St Mark’s in Venice there were no galleries for the choirs to sing from. As such therefore the choir had to stand in front of the orchestra. This required the introduction of ‘shadow’ conducting. Essentially Anna was in charge of the orchestra with the choir behind her. I was therefore put in charge of directing the choir in accordance with Anna’s beat. This was a marvellous concept. The only slight issue was that I didn’t have the orchestral score and so had no idea where the choir was meant to come in!
Somehow, it all came together really rather splendidly. In fact the entire concert was a resounding success and was also the first occasion that the men were performing on stage with our new accompanist Anne-Marie.
Jules Addison directs 3 choirs in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Sometimes he conducts, sometimes plays the piano and on occasion just watches. Despite this the choirs continue to flourish!