Tenor or Bass?

February 28, 2009

I once failed an audition with the Philharmonia Chorus, because, they claimed, I “could not decide” which my voice was. It was a blessing, in as much as I would never have been able to leave work early enough to make the rehearsals at 18:00. Their reason was total rot.

Meanwhile, I joined a local choir, and was a heaven sent tenor. I cannot be sure but the fact that I was there might have induced the conductor to try Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle, a bigish work needing only a piano and a harmonium in its original orchestration. This is code for cheap to put on. The full orchestration was stipulated by Rossini only to be used after his death.

This apparent madness of the conductor meant that while every other section was note-bashed through the work, and, I admit, put up a creditable performance in the end, because I already knew the work, I sailed through the thing, and was occasionally asked during rehearsal if I was OK. There must have been at least one other tenor, but I don’t recall, and in any case he learnt the part from me.

I left that choir over another concert which was a disaster, (due to the conductor) and then they asked me to put hand in pocket for their future…

I struggle to make the 19:30 rehearsals in the choir I do sing in now. I am officially a Bass, but I volunteered to sing Tenor on more than one occasion, and proved that I could do it – very few basses can reach tenor top A, or even sing low alto parts. All these efforts are officially ignored, even when I volunteered (tenors are rare beasts). One one occasion, I did transfer to sing first bass (a considerably different line) on the day, due to sudden illness of a lead singer; this conductor realised that I had the range and would have learnt the part or able to learn it during the dress rehearsal.

On occasion I still sing the tenor line (from the bass section), especially on works I know better as a tenor than a bass – and that is a surprisingly large number. The current concert, tonight, is a case in point; I remember the tenor line from heart, I have to read (or even, as my colleagues jest, due to lack of rehearsals sight-read) the line. And the tenors are in dire need of reinforcement, there being one good singer in the section, plus some followers.

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