Cornwall choirs cranks up the volume for 'wall of sound' concert at the Royal Albert Hall
The last time a choir of several hundred Cornishmen sang in unison at the Royal Albert Hall the audience's appreciation was described as resembling the Last Night of the Proms "but without the same sense of reserve".
London audiences aren't up to that level of excitement too often so the Cornish Federation Of Male Voice Choirs waited 12 years before organising a return trip.
Last Sunday saw the first rehearsal, with some 600-plus men packing into St John's Methodist Church in St Austell to practise a programme of 16 songs. Even though the concert isn't until next November, the four musical directors leading them say it will take a full 12 months before the singers have reached the necessary level of vocal perfection.
Federation chairman Terry Knight explained that 25 Cornish choirs, plus two associate choirs, were involved in the project.
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Mr Knight, who spent 40 years with Imerys Choir and 10 years with St Columba Celtic Male Choir before joining Pelynt Male Voice Choir 12 months ago, said: "They will need a lot of time because it isn't just a matter of learning the parts and learning the songs, but getting to know the personalities of each of the four musical directors and learning what it takes to sing in such a large ensemble."
Charged with the task of overseeing the entire enterprise, Mr Knight added: "This will be the fourth time the federation has done it and I have been involved on every previous occasion. It's becoming a bit of a tradition. It's a big commitment for all those involved but it's very much a joint effort, with a lot of people doing a lot of jobs. We've been very lucky in that the Royal Albert Hall staff are lovely people to work with. They're very helpful and accommodating and will do anything to help us."
Billed as Kernowyon Agan (Men of Cornwall Sing), the concert aims to generate what has come to be known as the Cornish male voice choir "wall of sound".
It will be led by musical directors Stephen Lawry of Mousehole Male Voice Choir, Judith Pinguey of Newquay Male Voice Choir, Elaine Tangye of Nankersey Male Choir and Phil Taylor of Burraton Male Voice Choir. The programme aims to reflect the traditions and heritage of choral singing in Cornwall, combining traditional favourites with modern pieces. Among those chosen are White Rose, You Raise Me Up and Away From The Roll Of The Sea.
In addition to the massed choir, there will be a recital by Liskeard pianist Jonathan Delbridge on the great Albert Hall organ, along with contributions from boys choir Cambiata and Cornwall Youth Orchestra. The show is to be compered by the Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Tim Thornton. Proceeds from ticket sales will go to the RNLI, Cornwall Hospice Care and the BBC Radio Cornwall Appeal.
Sunday was the first monthly rehearsal, with future practices arranged for Penzance, Redruth, Launceston, Saltash and Liskeard. Almost before the men had found their places and settled in, Stephen Lawry was up on the rostrum and guiding them through the opening bars of Let There Be Light.
An exacting MD and tough taskmaster, Stephen was soon displaying the qualities which have helped take his Mousehole men to such heights in recent years.
Combining direction and criticism with his own brand of stand-up comedy, and tempering praise with barbed wit, he told the assembled singers: "Remember to practise your breathing, gentlemen. You can do this at home: it goes in and out, in and out."
Under a painted banner, proclaiming "Sing to the Lord all the world", he took them through the emotionally-charged Hail To The Homeland before handing over to his counterpart at Nankersey choir. A familiar face in Cornish choral circles, Elaine Tangye has an altogether different style to Stephen. Like a sports coach hungry for victory, Elaine coaxed, chastised and haranguing her choristers through With Cat-like Tread.
Punching the air, she shouted: "Spit those words out. When you get to the end of this song you should feel your stomach muscles go 'ow'."
Each with their own individual approach, Judith Pinguey and Phil Taylor will also be sharpening and refining the singers' performances. Having said that, if these men can achieve such a level of emotion on a dreary afternoon in St Austell, it can only be imagined what they will sound like after 12 months, fuelled with the adrenalin and expectation of performing at the Royal Albert Hall.
Speaking after the rehearsal, federation publicity officer Jim Christophers said: "The last time the federation organised a spectacular event at the Royal Albert Hall was in 2000. Next year's concert will be part of our 30th anniversary celebrations. The Albert Hall is one of the few venues of an appropriate size and acoustic to hold such an event."
Jim, who is from a choral dynasty and has sung with Loveny Male Voice Choir, Tamar Valley Male Voice Choir and Newquay Male Voice Choir, added: "I enjoy singing in my own choir but nothing can compare with the thrill and excitement of singing in a very large massed choir. It is really only choirs of such a size that can produce the famous Cornish 'wall of sound' that is as much felt as it is heard.
"I have been to the Albert Hall three times, firstly as a member of the audience and then twice as a member of the massed choir. The concerts always finish with the massed singing of Trelawny – and I have not managed to sing this yet without tears rolling down my cheeks."
The previous appearances at the historic London venue were in 1983, 1988, 1994 and 2000, the last three being organised by the federation. One chorister summed up the atmosphere by saying: "What we put on at the Albert Hall is not so much a concert but an experience."
Kernowyon Agan (Men of Cornwall Sing) is at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 2 November 2013 at 7.30pm. Around 1,500 tickets have already been preordered through the choirs, with general tickets available from the Royal Albert Hall box office from December 1.
For more details, visit: www.fed-cornishchoirs.org.uk