The joy of bringing Mozart's Requiem back to life

Torbay Weekly

One of the highlights of my week recently was the reconvening of my choir after an 18-month hiatus.

I have been a member of choirs since I was a small child.

When my family moved to Torquay, and I was eight, we lived in a lovely house a stone's throw from the local Catholic church.

My mother, a music lover and gifted vocalist, was eager to join the church choir, which was presided over at that time by the late, great, Mr Ron Thompson.

He was a larger than life character, by turns jovial and exacting, disarmingly twinkle-eyed, and a superb organist.

Watching his ample fingers dance with skilful speed across the keys was mesmerising.

The music preferred by Mr Thompson (never Ron, to me) was glorious: as well as hymn-singing during the service in the organ loft at the back of church, at Holy Communion we would relocate to the Nuns' choir, a room with its own small organ situated to the right of the altar, where, hidden from view, we would fill the soaring vaults with the exquisite melodies of various motets and anthems.

My chorister capabilities flourished under Mr Thompson's tutelage and, without ever sensing how privileged I was to be in such a position at that age, I fell in love with choral singing.

Of course, I was also a mere child, and had no qualms about identifying the best part of the equation: the weekly toffee that Mr Thompson would offer the younger ensemble members.

Soft, buttery and cloyingly sweet, wrapped in shiny dark-blue rustley plastic, they were toffees the like of which I have never tasted again, their fulsome flavour forever embedded in my sensory memory.

In my second year of secondary school, a dynamic new music teacher took over from her rather fearsome predecessor, filling the music room and syllabus with a breath of fresh, sweet harmony.

Under her enthused direction, groups sprang up and blossomed: wind band, string orchestra, choir - even an entertaining teachers' choir for special occasions.

I was a member of the popular school choir for four years, and my happiest times at school were spent in the music room, which was like a magnet to anyone who enjoyed singing or playing an instrument; we would hang out there whether we were needed or not.

Sixth Form saw me change schools and join the highly reputed school choir and a small chamber choir for senior singers.

Expectations were far more rigorous, but I responded instinctively and loved the disciplined sound we generated.

At university, I was too intimidated to audition for the formidable university choir and abandoned choral singing for some time until, in my final year, I joined a gospel choir.

Our leader, a blind, effusive South African, and our pianist, a taciturn French man, appeared an unlikely melding, but we had a fabulous time at rehearsals, where we were invited to create our own harmonies.

Once I had left uni, my mother invited me temporarily to join a choir she had recently found, to support their learning a challenging Christmas song that I knew well; I ended up staying for 18 years, by which time the choir had seen several MDs and had shrunk to a compact and bijou membership of eight.

A few months after I left, a great friend of mine persuaded me to sing in his new community group, which was a lovely experience.

However, I missed the drama and focus that formal singing demanded, and left to join my current choir, immediately finding myself tackling fiendishly difficult scores with an equal blend of elation and terror. I loved it.

And then Covid hit, and we could sing no more.

Thus it was with joy - and some apprehension - that I heard we could meet again.

I approached the first rehearsal with trepidation in my heart; I had not sung in public - unless you count a summer pub karaoke session with friends in Barnstaple, and I really don't think you should - for 18 months.

Could I still rise to the challenge, or would I dissolve into a snivelling wreck as I failed to hit the right notes?

Thankfully, my fears were (largely) groundless.

Perhaps my A flats were a little flatter than they should have been; certainly my sight-reading had deteriorated, and controlled breathing was more of an effort than of old, but that first practice, as we brought Mozart's Requiem back to life, provoked a palpable thrill in the room.

Ensemble singing is back: joy to the world.