9 Nov, 2020

DID – 1

Ok, let’s move on.

Challenge 1:  the USA has a President-Elect, subject to any shenanigans in the courts.
Challenge 2:  yours truly will be admitted to Hospital this Wednesday 11 with a PEG operation, standard or open surgery, on Friday 13
And Challenge 3: Desert Island Discs (DID), the eight pieces of music I’d want on a desert island, and why.

So here goes for the first.  Picture this:

It’s Saudi Arabia, 1984, and the compound where I live is hosting a concert.  The performers are all amateur and I’m one of them.  The law states that men and women cannot sit together in a public place and cannot appear on stage together.  There is no public entertainment other than for Saudi Muslim music.  Gatherings of large numbers of expatriates raise suspicions with the Saudi authorities.  Nonetheless around 100 have gathered in a building in my compound, many with cars parked in the streets outside the compound – a sure sign of expat groups.  How did they know about the concert?  Word of mouth.

That evening there were a number of different pieces: Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo, and madrigals, and recorder quartets, and one more piece: the Benedictus from Mozart’s Requiem.  It’s the Benedictus that I would want with me on the island.  I had appeared in the other items, but this quartet was special.

Julie sang soprano, Barbara alto, yours truly tenor, and Garrit Jan bass.  It’s a gorgeous piece.   And it’s a challenge, especially for me because the tenor line soars up to top A flat.  In rehearsals sometimes I’d made it, sometimes not.  In the event I did ‘rise to the occasion’.

What made it so special was this: the earlier items had been light-hearted and jolly, and it seemed to us, the performers, that the audience also was in a light-hearted and jolly mood.

When the pianist struck the first notes of the Benedictus everything changed: the audience sensed that this was serious.  Total silence.  Total attention.  We sang it with that feeling of giving something beautiful to those who needed beauty in their lives.  Our voices were moderately good and I would say that our rendering was moderately good – nowhere near professional standard, but in that musically arid part of the world not too bad at all.

As we ended it, each of us very relieved that we’d done it and that there had been no slip-ups, I felt a shiver go down my spine.  For a few moment the deep silence continued, and then sudden huge applause.  We’d done well.

One indelible memory: in the socialising at the end of the concert an American approached me, a complete stranger.  He said he had heard about the concert.  He had driven 150 miles to be there.  When he mentioned the Benedictus he broke down.  He had known it and had loved it.  To hear it performed there, in Saudi Arabia, completely unexpected, had overwhelmed him. Through tears he thanked me and my friends.  Quite moving.

Here it is – not our version, which I think I might still have on an old cassette tape, but the way the professionals do it.  I like to think we were pretty close to it:

11 Comments

  1. I remember that Musical Evening very well. It was actually 1983, my last concert in Arabia; I left two days later to try (unsuccessfully) to get home before my father died. Besides your Benedictus and all the other lovely pieces, we sang “Never Weather-Beaten Sail” and “Steal Away”, which soothed my heart at that time. I even have a couple of photos; I’ll send them to you.

    Reply
    • I remember it well too…. what a wonderful blessing to be able to make music in such a challenging environment. I still have my old copy of “Noah” and it always brings a smile to my face when I see it in my music cupboard. We were so lucky to have so many talented musicians and singers in our expat group…. getting together to make music always lifted the spirits (and I am not talking about uplifting the “Sid” spirit either!!)(Though there was plenty of that uplifted at times as well, but that’s for another story about DP, the Party Animal)

      Reply
  2. A stunningly beautiful piece.

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  3. Wonderful! It’s made my day to hear this and read your story. Thank you! x

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  4. I have so many happy memories (as I slowly slid down through all the voice types) of singing next to you in rehearsals and concerts, learning from you and being inspired by you. Thank you for writing this story. I remember that evening well.

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  5. Wonderful! It made my day to hear this and read your story. Thank you! x

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  6. Thanks, Dave: the Mozart Requiem is one of my favourites and it was lovely to hear the Benedictus again.

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  7. Thanks Dave, for the beautiful music. And great to read your memories. Wishing you all the very best now for the op and beyond…

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  8. As above. A lovely choice. In my thoughts tomorrow and thereafter

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  9. Such a beautiful piece Dave, and I love this story! xxx

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  10. What a lovely choice. We watched a lovely performance of the Requiem on the TV last night (14.xi) from the Coliseum, which was very moving, being the first performance there since the first lockdown. I enjoyed the performance, which seemed to include Sofie van Otter and conductor John Eliot Gardiner – lovely narrow-bore trombones and early style basset horns!) I was reminded of singing lessons at the Guildhall with Fabian Smith back in about 1964, when I would walk across Blackfriars Bridge from London Bridge Station singing ‘Mors stupebit’ from the Requiem at the top of my voice!

    Reply

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