Posted by: njs44 | September 9, 2010

African Sanctus

I wrote a while back, on July 19th, about the death of David Fanshawe, the composer of the African Sanctus. At the time I didn’t know that I was going to get another chance to sing in a performance of this astonishing work quite so soon. As it happens I took part in such a performance on Tuesday evening in Canterbury Cathedral. There are full details of this project on a website and I have just a few small observations about this event to record for posterity.

First and foremost it was the young people who took part who impressed me so much, closely followed by their amazing teachers, who went way above and beyond the call of duty in the hours they must have spent waiting around while nothing much seemed to be happening. Taking kids on a school trip is always hard work, but this outing was more demanding than most. When we arrived at 1.30pm the youngsters were already rehearsing. I am not sure what time they arrived, but the performance did not finish until 10pm and many of them had long journeys home afterwards. I found out later that they had been there since the day before, attending workshops to continue their preparations for the event.

The performance itself was extremely well received by the audience. The atmosphere in somewhere like Canterbury Cathedral is always going to be something special. As we filed in from the Chapter House the dimly lit cloisters were redolent with history. We stepped over the very stones where it is believed St Thomas a Becket was murdered. The choir consisted of over 300 youngsters from 16 schools, both Independent and state-funded, up and down the country. They had rehearsed during the previous year, and then just come back from their summer holidays in time to sing what is the most challenging work I have ever sung.

At the rehearsal things were not always as they should be. The amplification needed adjusting so that we could hear the soloist, the piano, the backing tape, and each other. Not everyone could see the conductor, Allan Clay. Those sitting in the side aisles had to have a second conductor to bring them in at the right place, no easy job this as they needed to watch the main conductor and keep in time with him. The sheer size of the Cathedral makes it a challenging place in which to sing. The sound you make seems to get swallowed up and it is hard to hear what those around you are doing.

There is, however, something about live performance that creates an experience that goes beyond anything that a studio, with all its special effects and auto-tuning devices, can produce. There were some magic moments which I hope those young people will remember and take home with them. The opening part of the Kyrie, the Muslim call to prayer, was particularly poignant in this Christian building. The sad Love Song, a piano solo which was normally performed by David Fanshawe himself, was played this time by Alison Manton and I felt that David was listening in particularly at that moment. What a responsibility for this music teacher from Shoreham Academy. Lastly, of course, there was the Our Father, which was encored at the end, as it had been in our Barnet performance, as a prayer.

The photos show the West end of the Cathedral and the Logo for this performance.

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