After many weeks of rehearsal in 2018/19 we finally made it to the Tabard Inn at Southwark to join Chaucer’s Pilgrims as they set out for Canterbury.“Canterbury Pilgrims” by George Dyson, was initially unknown to us, it having fallen out of popularity many years ago. Paul Spicer, conductor of the Petersfield Musical Festival choirs, is an expert on Dyson and so was keen to perform the work.At our Monday rehearsals we gradually became familiar with the unusually addictive and tuneful music depicting the various characters in the story. Those who had studied Chaucer at school, particulary the Prologue and the Knight’s Tale could still quote large chunks of the text in the original ancient English but the rest of us had a more modern translation to work from.Jessica and Mary heroically tackled the difficult rehearsal piano part as we struggled with complex words and rhythms, gradually coming to like the music and to enjoy the depictions of the various pilgrims, such as The Knight, The Nun, The Merchant, The Shipman and, most wonderfully captured in Chaucer’s text, The Poor Parson.The music for The Merchant was especially memorable, causing several members to experience “ear-worms” when they were unable to get the catchy tune out of their heads.At last it was concert time and we gathered on a stormy Saturday at the Petersfield Festival Hall to rehearse with the orchestra. For the first time we were able to experience the full force of Dyson’s exciting score, having to rise to the challenge of singing over a large and very loud orchestra. One moment of humour came when the Horn player, having gone off stage to play the last fading tune as the pilgrims disappeared into the distance, was unintentionally ignored by the conductor and so held the last note seemingly for ever. We expected to hear him collapse!Paul seemed pleased with the results and we managed to stay in tune in unaccompanied passages; now for the concert.We performed to a full hall, quickly getting into the spirit of the work, especially the Basses who,like The Merchant, expressed their “opinions full solemnly”. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience and Paul later expressed his great satisfaction with the performance. We had worked hard to prepare but it was all worth it in the end.
Our preparations for the Petersfield Musical Festival were going well and we were looking forward to performing the two rather unusual works scheduled for the first concert. We had performed the Andrew Carter “Benedicite” before, in Easebourne church with a choir from Conifers School, the other work, “Mirror of Perfection” by Richard Blackford was a new challenge.Covid-19 was beginning to have an effect when we assembled for the final rehearsal and concert in Petersfield. The composer, Richard Blackford, was unable to attend as he was in “lockdown” in Spain. Both the audience and the children’s choir (for the Benedicite”) were somewhat depleted. Despite our conductor, Paul Spicer, beginning to feel unwell the concert was successful and we felt pleased to have met the challenge.Later events in the Petersfield programme were cancelled, a great disappointment to those who had prepared and rehearsed diligently in the preceding months, and we were all soon in lockdown in our homes. not knowing when we might next be allowed to enjoy singing together. Perhaps we should prepare for an on-line virtual festival for next year.