The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 16, Part 1, 28 March 1962: First Rehearsal — Part 2 [section 1]

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Edgbaston,That Morning

The teacher did insist we sing the parts, but also offered to play the piano accompaniment.

The music we borrowed from the library thankfully had only the actual duet, not the interspersed alternating vocal solos, so singing the duet only took a couple of minutes. Though held together with little more than tape and wire, our duet came off well. Our voices were childlike, with minimal vibrato, thin and reedy by operatic standards, but sweet and more than serviceable for what we were doing.

Perhaps the teacher took a charm factor into account. In any event, we received full marks for illustrating parallel thirds and contrary motion, bonus points for singing and for using a real piece of classical music for an illustration and even a partial bonus for advancing a potential argument for use of a fugal form, though the teacher did ultimately find the argument unconvincing. It was auspicious enough of a start for Rashmi and I to resolve that, any time it was permitted, we’d be a full-time musical partnership.

It was also the start of a new, stronger friendship between us.

* * *

Birmingham (UK), That Evening

Mrs. Tippins finally appreciated that it might be best to keep a low profile as Ian and I rehearsed with Father Fitzgerald and that Bentleys, much less limousines, weren’t calculated to facilitate such a thing, whereas our two-year-old Anglia was.  Dad, for a multitude of reasons, took on the job giving a ride to Ian and me, and then acting as chaperone as we went over the music.

We arrived punctually at 7:30 pm, and Father Fitzgerald was just as punctual in receiving us. As he had before, he had tea and biscuits set out for us.

“Don’t think I’ll be doing this every week, boys, but tonight, for the first half, we’ll be going over the music, seeing what you know and don’t know; during the second half, we’ll see how you do with the music I’ve selected.”

And so, over tea and biscuits, with Dad in the corner going over papers from the university, Ian and I took a first look at what we’d be warbling for the next four weeks.

The evening began auspiciously enough.

We recognized the first hymn, “Be Still My Soul,” at once.

“It’s Sibelius,” Ian said brightly.

“S’from his tone poem ‘Finlandia,’” I added.

“Actually, the hymn, or one nearly identical, preceded both Sibelius and his tone poem,” Father Fitzgerald replied. “But, you’re right; he did adopt it as one of the themes in ‘Finlandia.’ You’ll be singing it a cappella initially, before a harp joins you at the start of the second verse. Can you do that for me now?”

Normally, I’d let Ian take the melody and support him harmonically, but in this case the person singing melody would be exposed and vulnerable, singing the first half of the first verse alone without either harmonic voice or accompaniment.

So, this time I made an exception and took the solo melody alone, with Ian – who was passing fair at sight-reading himself – joining me in the harmonic vocal two lines later. It was a pretty good first read and run-through, with the notes, dynamics and phrasing all about 90 percent where they should be. Our tones were a little harsh and the blend was off but, for a first run-through, it was better than anyone had a right to expect it to be.

Dad was still absorbed in his paperwork when Ian, Father Fitzgerald and I adjourned to the rectory parlor, where the priest had an old spinet that was almost in tune, which he played almost competently. He played well enough, though, to determine the strengths, weaknesses and ranges of our voices and had an astute enough ear to know of what each of us was capable.

Whatever he couldn’t play correctly he simply omitted, so that his accompaniment, although hollow and sparse, was serviceable at least, and he did capture every last note of the melodies correctly.

Neither of us had ever heard “Guardian Angel from Heaven So Bright,” the second piece he asked us to sing; both the third and fourth works, Mattioli’s “Ave Regina Coelorum”and Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum (K.339),” sounded far off bells of recognition in my memory, but I couldn’t recall enough of either to afford me more than slight assistance in my hesitant attempts at sight-reading.

Ian didn’t even have that to help him with those pieces, but he did have at least a nodding acquaintance with “By the Blood that Flowed from Thee,” the intended recessional, which we’d be performing with harp, organ and the adult choir, doing a vocal duet at the start, and concluding with a descant harmony, in the style of David Willcocks, which Father Fitzgerald had written. I knew nothing of it whatsoever, other than a grasp of how Willcocks tended to do his harmonies, and was relieved to have Ian and that kind of supporting artillery to help matters along. The other pieces would feature Ian and me, with occasional help from a harpist. The task was daunting, but not insurmountable. We would get through this.

Please, St. Cecilia.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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