Archive for the ‘Music Links’ Category

Wells Cathedral

Whit Sunday came to us with rays of sunshine, clear blue skies and finally a summer breeze. We celebrated the story of the Holy Spirit and the creation of the fulfilment of the Trinity through our choral evensong as the four small village churches that make up our rural benefice came together in fellowship.

Whilst getting ready for our morning Eucharist, I heard a reading of Philip Larkin’s compelling poem Church Going on BBC Radio 4.  Curious, I wondered how it might fit in with the theme of Pentecost. During the preparation for evensong, ‘someone’ forgot to supply the choristers with the Book of Common Prayer. After singing our introit, there was uneasy ‘spirit’ rustling through the quire stalls as our vicar announced which page to turn to next for the prayers. As Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had been one of my extra-curricular studies at uni 30 years ago, I quietly crept from my creaky wooden perch in the quire and attempted to walk invisibly down a side aisle beyond the prayerful towards the back of the nave, where I had earlier noticed the BCP’s were stored in a Sainsbury’s shopping bag. Our vicar had collected some extras as he went about his Eucharist round with the village churches that morning, in anticipation of an overflow crowd. (There’s always hope!)

I did not grow up with the BCP as a part of my church tradition. Although I have grown to love it, I have yet to commit it to memory as many of my fellow choristers have. Sensing a ‘spirit of unrest’ descend upon them as well, I made sure to grab an armload of these small treasures in faded blues and reds to slip to them surreptitiously and as quietly as possible when I found my way back to the quire. After I sat down and readied for the next bit of worshipful thought I had a sinking feeling the choristers around me who grew up reciting the BCP in their dreams might take offense. But I noted they all balanced the little book between pages of music and Psalter using it to guide them through the beautiful intricacies of our liturgical offering. Quiet peace was flowing through the quire once again.

Why all this fuss? Because I, a believer, hate to feel ‘cut off’ when worshipping. I need at least a few comforts of familiarity to guide me closer into God’s presence. I am already living in a land where very few of the hymns sung are those I grew up with. I am blest indeed to have the Lord introduce me to a variety of tunes and lyrics – in hymnals and Psalters – that have given Him such pleasure, honour and glory through the ages. There is a feeling of alienation when I cannot read the notes I am meant to sing or mouth the messages of lyrics I am expected to share when in fellowship with other believers. I want to know the moment I come to the altar the weave and wonders of the liturgy on offer.

Ah! So this is how a poem of Larkin’s would add to my worship thoughts. Imagine the nonbeliever or agnostic such as Larkin or some of my dearest friends, drawn into a sacred space and met with structures not familiar to their lives. As a believer I have no doubt that an agnostic’s ambivalence towards religions’ own pomposity can be stirred by a fresh breath from God. As for the indwelling and benefits of the Holy Spirit there is an air of je ne sais quoi even for the believer.




Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
“Here endeth” much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round. 


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Dawn Chorus!

On the wings of dawn...

A new day has just arrived, but it is early yet, and the wings of dawn have not yet come to serenade us from our dreams.

In just a few short hours, Dear One and I will awake to the miraculous wonder known as the Dawn Chorus. All those birds who weave their fellowship in melody and harmony through the branches of the trees in our garden will let us know a new day has begun.

Did you know the tiny wren sings 740 notes per minute? Incredible, that God in His divine creativity would fashion such waking splendour for our ears from a creature so small. The birds come early to lace my sacred space, inviting me to join God for an exercise in holiness when sleep, peaceful or non, escapes me. Would that my spiritual stamina rival that of the chirpy wren.

Celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day today as you praise God for the beautiful details of the world He gives us. Click here and enjoy!

   The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
       where morning dawns, where evening fades,
       you call forth songs of joy.  (Psalm 65.8, TNIV)

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lookspan_LangLang (New York Times)lookspan_langlang (New York Times) 

After an extended break from blogging, I’ve decided to post a link and a few thoughts from a music review in this week’s NY Times. Critic Bernard Holland tells us what he thinks about the current climate bringing up today’s young pianists and world performers in his piece When Histrionics Undermine the Music and the Pianist:  

Wandering from one television channel to the next the other day, I came across young people playing the piano. One man, bearded and a little hefty, rippled through a Beethoven sonata, sharing with the camera complicit smiles, exultant grimaces, gazes to the right and left, and a gentle swaying from side to side.     

The next, a young woman, sat down to Schumann, bending her back, lifting her head and gazing straight up. Maybe God was sitting in the rafters just above her, and she was using the opportunity to say hello. Both pianists were perfectly fluent. They kept time, played the right notes and sounded expressive when they were supposed to.  

I had to turn away. I could listen, but I couldn’t watch. Two performers, four glazed eyes and four waving arms were too much for my stomach. And if someone with a lifelong love for the piano repertory has this kind of reaction, what about those coming to classical music from the outside? Think of the smart young people ready to believe, filled with curiosity and good thoughts, and imagine with what astonishment and amusement they must come away from such scenes.  

It’s another reason classical music is not reaching more young people: not because of how it sounds, but because of how it looks. Even worse, lugubrious gymnastics like these advertise the feelings of performers, not of Beethoven or Schumann. Music is asked to stand in line and wait its turn.  

I love Holland’s suggestion for teaching students in the studio:  

Serious theater in the wrong hands turns unintentionally into physical comedy. I have always wanted to make athletically inclined students sit in a chair away from the piano, writhe to their heart’s content and then ask themselves what they just heard.  

He has a couple of other suggestions for piano instructors to try with their students:  

1.       For those students prone to feign melodrama from their piano bench, why not restrain them and force them to watch videos of Arthur Rubenstein, whose economy of body movement allowed for optimum finesse in musicality?  

2.      Hire a team of consultants, ‘…time-and-motion experts…who could point out the flailing arm, the bulging eye and balletic upper torso are extraneous work in a business best devoted to doing the most with the least.’    

And then he proffers this little gem, echoing words of wisdom most of us pianists have learned from our best piano professors and musical mentors:  

And a note to the larger ego: playing the discreet middleman does not sacrifice the spotlight. It is neither meekness nor submission nor self-effacement. At the end of the day, whom do we take more seriously, Rubinstein or Lang Lang?  


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This will date me terribly, but when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I developed a really keen passion for the sounds of modal scales, and began adding folk music to my repertoire of Mozart, Schubert, and Grieg. If my memory serves me faithfully the musical source I turned to again and again was a small but thick compilation of folk tunes by Burl Ives. Because Mr Ives played the guitar, this musical morsel introduced me to the musical world of chord symbols and progressions. I fell in love with haunting and plaintive minor melodies and the ways the modal harmonies added certain colours – all great stuff for a little girl with an active imagination. I remember liking the Dorian mode so much that I thought one day, if I ever had a little baby boy, I would name him Dorian. But instead I grew up to inherit a little female puppy dog and Dorian just didn’t seem to fit.

Anyway, from these playing sessions inside my treasure book of folk music – which quickly became worn and dog-eared with use, with pages unhinged from glued binding – I learned about other composers of folk music, and learned that we Americans have been gifted with a lot of early music from the British Isles.

Some of the songs I would play over and over again, and much to the dismay of my long-suffering family who had to listen to me practice, would be those of John Jacob Niles. Black is the colour of my true love’s hair and Barb’ry Ellen must have been a couple of tunes I drove them crazy with! As an adult I still appreciate his lovely contribution to our music repertoire for hymns and Christmas carols. For his last work, he turned to the poetry of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, to give us the Niles-Merton Song Cycle.

For the Christmas season Niles’s I wonder as I wander has always been a favourite of mine when I introduce his music to some of the English choirs I’ve conducted here in the UK. Its tonal colours and poignant message never fail to transport me to another time and place. Born in 1892, by the time Niles set this work to music and lyrics in July of 1933, he had travelled the world several times and become a keen observer of the human condition. Here are his recorded notes of how this lovely creation came to be:

‘I Wonder As I Wander grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, coking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance. Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out–a tousled, unwashed blond, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of “I Wonder As I Wander”. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material–and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, “I Wonder As I Wander” came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.’

For this Christmas season, I’ve been asked to introduce another American Christmas carol to another English choir. As I was trolling through my choral library this summer, a hidden gem of Niles’s seemed to float to the top of my choral octavos. Soon I will begin to teach Sweet Marie and her Baby (Aeolian mode) to the kids in our Village Children’s Choir.

Hopefully these precious children will become enthralled by the magic of the modes in melody and harmony, and as touched with the message of the text as I was – all those years ago when I was close to the age they are now.

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They came…
They sang their little hearts out…
without a karaoke machine! 🙂

They wowed…

And when all were sung and wrung, THIRTY-THREE children became the very first new members of our Village Children’s Choir.

What a privilege for me to take part in their new adventure with music!

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This post, in part, is inspired by a recent post of my dear friend’s, Jim Clark, and also an unwarranted reflection on the dismal turnout for our vicar’s first attempt at Liquid Church (See last post. For a description of Liquid Church, click on that title for a link).

Sometimes I wonder if our American Christian society – which I, and others, see slowly seeping into the British church culture – hasn’t been going ‘Hollywood’ or ‘Nashville’. We can’t be ‘just’ loving, caring ministers from the pulpit or with children or in other ministries, whether as professionals or as laity. We have to be ‘celebs’ in whatever ‘field of ministry’ we were called to – a concept, it would seem, to be uniquely American. If we’re not, then those who could come to our churches, attend our programmes, etc., won’t, because they just have not heard enough great and marvellous things about what our clerical expertise has produced. In their estimation, the entertainment value is just not significant enough for them. Their benefits and our success seem to go hand in hand.

What is wrong with this picture?

A couple of illustrations I am familiar with:
Young composers/songwriters, no matter how theoretically and educationally trained, or how ’God inspired’, might never complete their projects or fully develop as the composer God intended for them to become. Why? Because before the notation is even correctly edited on their manuscripts, those who hold the power in the music industry have already thrown flaming arrows and judged a young composer’s work as insignificant, invalid, and against the bottom line: it won’t sell, it won’t have great video or marketable value, and it most definitely will not be a hit. The kid doesn’t have what it takes to be an instant celeb – in looks, weight, or bless, personality. Fix their teeth, work on their image, for God’s sake! Success and significance are merely pipe dreams. Forget that the song or work of music might be uplifting to a body of worshippers who just want to please the Lord.

Gone are the days when the composers of hymns – tune or text – remained faceless. The hymn was the cause celebre, not the hymn writer.

Within my own field of ministry, I am ‘called’ on at various times to produce music suitable for worship. Whether it meets a certain liturgical criteria, or fits in with a specific spiritual theme for the corporate benefit of the choir or congregation during worship, I am tasked to compose something, hopefully compelling and inspiring, much as a preaching minister would have to come up with the next week’s homily, even when I might not feel so inspired.

Whatever ‘work’ comes out of the creative process, it is nonetheless my offering, one to be shared, yet more importantly one to be presented to my God. My prayer for the process is always twofold: one, that it will edify fellow worshippers, and two, that it will be pleasing to God. No matter if there will only be twelve choir members singing on the day, or a congregation of just thirty-five, whatever piece of music I supply for the worship has to function as an offering pleasing to Him. It might never be sung again. Some congregants might politely sing praises to my face of its artistic qualities, yet diss it behind my back. It quite possibly will not be accepted by a big established publishing house. It most definitely won’t get a mention in Variety or be in the Top Ten on the radio. And (sniffle), it might never win that Dove or Grammy award!

How easily it is to paralyse our walk with God when the focus of our God-gifted abilities lies on our world’s spectacular circus of fame and fortune. Those of us who were born to please others can certainly fall prey to this spiritually debilitating paralysis, and our cycle for failure is set, sadly, for life.

There is a special hymn from my childhood, one I loved whenever we sang it in worship, and one I dearly miss hearing sung congregationally today. I will sometimes, as a reminder of its noble message and beautiful music, pull out my old hymnal and play it on the piano, committing it to heart once again.

I dearly hope the text of this hymn uplifts you. But keep in mind that even this lovely hymn offering had to suffer an earthly trial. Literally. In court. All the hours spent arguing its case, for both musicians involved, no doubt paralysed further service of real significance in their own strolls with God through verdant meadows green. At the end of the text, I have included a portion of the court’s ruling from Judge Duffy’s Opinion. (You can read the entire case by clicking on the link with his name. As a musician, I especially like that last paragraph below.)

As I continue this season of Lent, I am grateful for friends like Jim who – though far, far, away – help me wrestle with such reminders. So, for this week, perhaps my Lenten focus will be more on walking, step by step, with my loving God, who simply wants to clasp hands, and go for aye together.

Now where’s that hymnal?


IB Sergei (Wihtol), 1935

My God and I go in the field together;
We walk and talk as good friends should and do;
We clasp our hands,
Our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.
We clasp our hands,
Our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

He tells me of the years that went before me:
When heavenly plans were made for me to be;
When all was but a dream of dim conception –
To come to life, earth’s verdant glory see.
When all was but a dream of dim conception –
To come to life, earth’s verdant glory see.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk as good friends should and do.
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.



Wihtol VS Wells

Plaintiff Wihtol was born in 1889 in Riga, then a part of Russia, later a part of Latvia. He studied music in his childhood, and has followed that art professionally all his life. He has written many musical compositions, especially ecclesiastical pieces. He came to the United States in 1909, and to Chicago in 1936. Prior to August 15, 1935, while in California, he wrote the song “My God and I.” Plaintiff testified that in his early boyhood, an organ grinder used to make weekly visits to the neighborhood in Riga where plaintiff lived, and that among the tunes played was one similar but not the same as the tune in “My God and I.” He testified that he had never heard the song sung. He carried this tune in his mind for many years. Plaintiff’s composition was designed primarily for church choirs and had soprano, alto, tenor and bass scores.

The accused composition is also entitled “My God and I.” It appears in a song book entitled “Evangel Solos and Duets Number One.” This book was published in 1951 by the Evangel Music Company, Inc., which defendant, his wife and another had organized as a corporation for that purpose. On the cover of the book appears “Written and Compiled by Kenneth H. Wells.” A photograph of Mr. Wells also appears thereon. Wells was an ordained minister of an interdenominational group. From 1943 to 1951 he frequently used plaintiff’s composition, and was aware of the favor with which plaintiff’s “My God and I” had been received in church circles. The Evangel Music Company, Inc., was originally named a defendant herein, and was referred to as a firm. The corporation was dissolved and plaintiff consented in the District Court that it be dismissed from the case, and this was done.

The District Court found “In composing the accused song, the defendant used the melody of the plaintiff’s song which he, the defendant, had committed to memory.” The District Court found that the tune in suit was taken from an old Latvian, Italian or Russian folksong, and that tune was in the public domain for years prior to the time plaintiff copyrighted it in 1935. The Court said: “…the tune of the song in suit is incapable of being protected by copyright.”

Of all the arts, music is perhaps the least tangible. Music is expressed by tonal and rhythmic effects. People can enjoy music without a technical understanding or education, but to make music available, someone must write it. To make a song available, someone must bring the notes and words together.

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As the sands of time that make up this shortest month of the year are about to swirl swiftly to the bottom of the hourglass, I have just a few short days left to ponder my time of preparation before meeting with some of the children in our village. I am to help them prepare for and learn the music in their Easter musical, which they will present to the community the Sunday week from Easter Sunday. We will perform it in the Old School Hall. To be followed by afternoon tea.

It will be an ecumenical effort – combining kids from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 3 who may or may not attend one of our three village churches: Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist. As a community of Believers we have joined hands, hearts, and resources, beginning this year, to meet with any children who would come for Sunday school. So it is through this format that we will be teaching and re-telling the Easter Story.

My husband and I moved from London to this village in the heart of the Shires six months ago. As most of the children will be meeting me for the first time, and will hear their first-ever American accent, I plead for prayers and forgiveness ahead of the musical task set before me. It is therefore right and proper that this week should be the advent of Lent, with Ash Wednesday in just two days. (Seems like only yesterday, in a different time and place, that I posted my thoughts about last year’s ashing.)

It is always exciting to meet with kids in a choral context for the first time. Most are about to discover the intricacies and musical idiosyncrasies of all things choral (well, in an age-appropriate manner, I hasten to add). I have directed six other children’s choral groups since living here in England, and learned that in addition to my having to translate whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth-notes, etc., into semibreves, minims, crotchets, and quavers, some children have the extra burden of trying to decipher my American vowels and consonants. Many are discovering that the ‘h’ consonant is a good thing and can keep their hands warm in a cold stone church or performance hall!

One thing I pray won’t be lost in translation: a fun time shall be had by all!

So with these things in mind, I leave you with the following …


In any chorus there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part, prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. There are also various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists, belong to some excessively hotshot classical a cappella group (this applies especially to countertenors), or are trying to make excuses for not really fitting into any of the regular voice parts, so we will ignore them for now. Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very different personality. You may ask, “Why should singing different notes make people act differently?”, and indeed this is a mysterious question which has not been adequately studied, especially since scientists who study musicians tend to be musicians themselves and have all the peculiar complexes that go with being tenors, french horn players, timpanists, etc. However, this is beside the point; the fact remains that the four voice parts can be easily distinguished, and I will now explain how.

THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any given piece. When they reach the high notes they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires. Then they complain that their throats are killing them and that the composer and conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins – nice to harmonize with, but not really necessary. All sopranos have a secret feeling that the altos could drop out and the piece would sound essentially the same. They don’t understand why anybody would sing in that range in the first place – it’s so boring. Tenors, on the other hand, can be very nice to have around; besides their flirtation possibilities (it’s a well-known fact that sopranos never flirt with basses), sopranos like to sing duets with tenors, because all the tenors are doing is working very hard to sing in a low-to-medium soprano range while the sopranos are up there in the stratosphere showing off. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth – they sing too loud, are useless to tune because they’re down in that low, low range – and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the F clef, anyway.

THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth – in their opinion, at least. Altos are unassuming people who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to. Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the altos know otherwise. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too). Altos get a deep, secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better. They like the basses, and enjoy singing duets with them – the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and it’s the only time the altos can really be heard. Altos’ other complaint is that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really loud.

THE TENORS are spoiled. That’s all there is to it. For one thing, there are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they’re always ready to unload a few altos at half price. And then, for some reason, the few tenors are always really good – it’s one of those annoying facts of life. So it’s no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads – after all, who else can make sopranos swoon? The one thing that can make tenors insecure is the accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn’t possibly be a real man. In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never acknowledge this, but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist and making them sing so high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder because there are so few of them. No conductor in recorded history has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Tenors feel threatened in some way by all the other sections – the sopranos because they can hit those incredibly high notes, the altos because they have no trouble singing the notes the tenors kill themselves for, and the basses because, although they can’t sing anything above an E, they sing it loud enough to drown the tenors out. Of course the tenors would rather die than admit any of this. It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.

THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything. They are stolid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors) despite the fact that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with – most basses are tuba players at heart. Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low notes. Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so far as tenors, whom they consider effete poseurs. Basses hate tuning the tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos – except when they have duets and the altos get the good part. As for the sopranos, they are simply in an alternate universe which the basses don’t understand at all. They can’t imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that sometime, somehow, he will end.

(Source: A Mystery to All)

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