When I sneaked into a choir rehearsal one Tuesday evening, preparation for the concert was well underway. Despite the huge scale of Gustav Mahler’s second symphony and despite there being less than a month to go, spirits were running remarkably high. The first hour commenced with vocal exercises, including memorably Grease-like ‘uh huhs’ and appropriate pelvic movements to accompany them as well as much giggling.
Then it was back to the symphony and this week the softer parts of the piece were the focus. One may think the challenge of singing is not only to sing in tune, but also with clarity and volume. However, singing quietly can be demanding too. David Lawrence, the choir conductor, managed to bring comfort to the difficulty as he had the choir sit down to sing, the idea being that if the choir could achieve a full sound by sitting then once standing with the ability to draw more air into their lungs, it would be even better. He also brought levity with his jokes about the ‘illegal ppp’ to get the tenor and bass parts to sing louder.
Towards the end, David played a recording of the finale as a way of putting the practiced section in context and envisioning the entirety of the piece once joined by the orchestra. The work on it was still in progress but one could sense from the sheer confidence in the room that the impressive sound that the piece demanded could and would be achieved in all its fullness.