A Blog of CR on tour (Nova Scotia, 2011)

May 25, 2011

Capella Regalis Round Trip Blog by Teddy Williams

1st Blog Post (May 25)
In several days, Capella Regalis embarks on their first tour and latest adventure. I am excited to have been asked to document the tour. As a roommate of the choir manager, Michael Blackwood, I have had an unenviable perspective on how the tour has come to be. I also have a secret to share right off the bat.

Nicholas Halley and Michael Blackwood are down to earth men. They are interested in teaching boys to sing. From me you should expect a dramatic flair, this is my caveat dear reader. Let me put it in this way. When I am reading the most recent Arthur Beauchamp novel -the example I try to set is one of leisure- and Nick and Mike discuss the tour, I imagine myself in the war room of Winston Churchill: convoys are planned, public opinion is polled, and speeches are written. And its true, the effort to conduct the tour is magnificent, it begins when the sun rises, and ends when the moon also rises.

Lest I get stuck in the nitty-gritty let me say a bit about myself.

I am a King's Alum who sang in the King's College Chapel Choir for five years. In my fifth, Nick Halley and I started the Kings Chorus and now I will sing with the men and boys choir on their tour.

On Sunday, the choir had their dress rehearsal and I arrived late. I was embarrassed, because I think part of the mission is for the men to be role models and that includes punctuality. As a result I got to hear and watch them sing Herbert Howell's Like as the Hart. I had sung this piece with the chapel choir on many occasions; during this rehearsal, I heard it for the first time.

What I want to say at this point is that Nick Halley brings the best out of the boys and you can see this during the rehearsal. Its watching an artist at work. And there is a huge level of trust. We trust that the sun and moon will rise every day. In the same way, Nick trusts in the men and boys and they in him. It is interesting to foil the artistic with the logistics of the choir and the tour. There is a certain artwork when it comes to fundraising, promotions, social events, scheduling and so forth. Unlike the choir, you must deal with everyone separately. Like the choir, trust has an important role. You need to trust that posters will be made; that press releases will be released. Its the combination of the artistic and practical that gives the boys the opportunity to sing. This is the adventure.

Ted's blog continues tomorrow...

2nd Blog Post (May 26)
The tour begins tomorrow when we will sing at the opening service of synod for the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island - we don't depart Halifax until Friday. Interestingly, many King's College students are proud that the Chapel is home to the choir, so they plan to attend the service. This will be the first time the boys will have sung in the Cathedral Church since Bach's St. Matthew Passion in April.

Even as the tour shifts into a higher gear, today is a regular day. After breakfast I helped Mike pick the colours for the choir tour shirts. And, in the afternoon, I walked across the King's quad and saw Nick doing a CBC radio interview. I think Nick and Mike are trying to get as much done before the tour as possible.

Needless to say, everyone is excited that the Capella Regalis round-trip Nova Scotia tour is soon to begin.

3rd Blog Post (May 26)
Call is at five o’clock at the Cathedral Church. For me, it is important to listen to the tracks of the songs one last time and to make sure I have all the music. I will write a blog this evening to say how it went!!
Another interesting aspect of the tour is that the choir needs to function as it would normally. For instance, the men sang at eight local schools over the past two weeks. They were so successful that a lot of choir auditions were arranged this week. I got to be part of a conversation with Nick as he explained how he enjoyed them. It goes like this: Some of the boys from the schools who auditioned may not have been convicted with the notion that they wanted to sing or be in a choir. Yet, as Nick gave them pitches to sing back, something took hold. Over 30 seconds, Nick might sing a dozen pitches which the boy will sing back more or less accurately, but it becomes FUN. The boys who auditioned probably realized this, and even if they are not certain about the choir, they leave feeling good about singing.

4th Blog Post (May 27)
The service was splendid; and now we sit, feast, and rejoice; on couches chairs and floor spaces. Reinforcements have arrived: Ness, Shay, and Wyn, who are members of the Halley family; and Tim, Mike’s brother,with Isaac and Rene, two young men and film makers from Denmark. It will be a relief to have another bass, Shay, to sing with us; and it’s a masterstroke to have a film crew, led by Tim Blackwood, to film the tour and then develop a video for it. This evening, we are happy to have sung for the Synod’s opening service and it is a blessing for families and friends to be reunited.
At the rehearsal before the service, the choir warms up with a hymn, time is short so we must blend our voices and engage our breathing to make the most of our time. What do I mean by this? Firstly, we listen to the other voices because we don’t want our voice to be singled out. I also think that as singers we are instruments that respond to the conductor. Oddly, although the choir must sound as one voice, a technique the conductor uses is to ask the boys to solo a line on occasion. Now, I should ask why he does this, but it seems to me that it allows the boys to lead each other by example. In any case, when the conductor demands us to sing our best, for the voices to ring and resonate, somehow we do this. When we don’t, we sound muffled, and the pitch of the choir can become flat. When we do, the sound becomes voluminous, except, it is not that we turned up the amplifier, but we literally fill the Cathedral space with sounds that reach the peaked ceiling and swirl around columns; indeed the archways are probably reinforced.
We do depart today from the quad at 2:30pm, and sing tonight in Lunenburg. It should be a blast!

5th Blog Post (May 28)
Our first concert was last night at St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg. The church is quite wide and the light of hanging lanterns gives a golden glow, especially when the light reflects off the walls and gold painted inscriptions and stars above the chancel. The front of the church is dominated by three archways between the pews and the chancel. The men and boys stand under the central archeway, which is the largest, and form a horseshoe – a shape reminiscent of the boy scouts of my childhood; the men, with their low voices are at the back, with the boys up front, surrounding Nick’s drum set and Paul’s grand piano. The repertoire included some of the sacred pieces that we’ve sung all year and folk songs arranged for a choir. One highlight was Tom Brosky’s solo in “The preacher and the Bear”. He sang about how a preacher encounters a bear and prays that if god can’t help him then – Well, I won’t spoil the punchline for those who have not heard it yet.
We arrived in Lunenburg this afternoon and we just finished the rehearsal for this evening’s concert in Annapolis Royal. A longer blog will ensue but at the moment I can just say “hello, we’ve arrived” at Muriel Halley’s, the grandmother of Nick, for our second meal with her today! Presently, most of the choristers – men and boys –  are playing ultimate frisbee. Indeed it has been a very active day, even though we drove from Lunenburg, because before we left we found an outdoor basketball court and played b-ball for 45 minutes. Anyway, I think everyone has a large appetite for the lasagna and chili prepared for dinner; there is also salad in a LARGE bowl. Bye for now!

6th Blog Post (May 29)
The church in Annapolis Royal seemed to be pentagonal, with the organ and main entrance way at opposite corners of the sanctuary. The pulpit was in front of the organ and elevated before the pews. The men and boys formed two lines; the men stood between the pulpit and the organ and the boys on the ground between the pulpit and the pews. One effect of this set-up was that the men had to make a gap for the conductor and organist to see each other. The organist has a little mirror but he can’t see through men. Before the pieces with the organ, the conductor looks over our shoulders, so he and the organist can make contact – is he looking at the mirror from that distance, or is the organist looking back? A mystery, but if I turn around then I ‘ll miss the signal to start. What’s interesting is that you can recognize the look in the conductor’s face when they’ve made contact.

After the concert we returned once more to Muriel Halley’s to meet our billets and for dessert, truffle, chocolate pie, and ice cream.

7th Blog Post (May 29)
Yesterday was sunny and hot, quite unusual. On our way to Annapolis Royal we actually got on the wrong road, which still ran parallel to the highway.When we stopped to take a breather, the car was filled with black flies. As a result, to get rid of the flies, we opened the windows, which included front and rear windows, and the the sky roof, and it became very windy. It was like being in a convertible, one boy said.

Today, it is still quite hot, and bright, but the usual overcast sky returned. However, we caught up to blue skies in Port Williams where we sang a concert for the Parish of Cornwallis.
We arrived at 12:30 and had a sandwich in a little park across from the church. The concert was at 3:30pm; much earlier than our usual 7:00pm concert, which means that we have a good chunk of time to sit for dinner at Smitty’s (where I write). YAY. This was our last concert on the road, and we’ll be back in Halifax tonight!

8th Blog Post (May 31)

Sunday night we arrived in Halifax. Our three day round trip from Halifax, to Lunenburg, across inland Nova Scotia to Annapolis Royal, then up the valley to Port Williams came to a close with narry a mishap.

Once such incident took place after playing Frisbee in the tall grass; someone got a tick. In fact they had the tick on their hand through the whole concert that night, they didn’t complain once. Afterwards, in the car, the boys decided a tick was present and the commotion that resulted was pretty fun. In fact, Gabriel knew a lot about ticks including the difference between a deer tick and wood tick and the best way to remove them. Apparently, deer ticks are octagonal in shape; this made me think of the pentagonal church we just sang in, so I asked the boys what they thought about the shape of the shape of the church. They were polite and humoured me, but, as one boy explained, I was trying to distract them!

Another time, a pick-up truck was driving up the road and the driver seemed committed to not giving the right of way to us, two pedestrians. A rude driver I thought as I stopped. My fellow pedestrian firmly planted his foot on the road, and the truck stopped. I meekly followed the boy across the street. On the other hand, in Port Williams, the quiet country road beside the church sometimes became a thorough fare. As a country road it was tempting to run around on. This was one of the few instances it was actually necessary to play the adult and stop the kids.
Later that night, we hoped to join the parish of Cornwallis for their chicken bbq to celebrate the annual apple blossoms festival; however, we drew so many people that the bbq was sold out. Instead, we went to Smitty’s, chain restaurant for families. This meant loads of ice-cream after the meal.

Yesterday, we had a day off, and, I neglected to write a blog, dear reader, however, an editor went over the previous “blogs”, and sentences have been clarified!

There is so much more to say, and it will be said, but presently, all I can do is urge you to attend tonight’s finale at the First Baptist Church on Oxford Ave. at 7pm. It will be transcendent. Pay good attention to the William Byrd piece. It has five parts and according to Nick Halley, the boys have picked up the knack for singing with four other parts.