The Importance of Fun in Classical Music

The ESOC Chorus has developed a reputation, deserved or not, as a performer of Serious music. Yes, we sing the very best of the Classical choral repertoire at Christmas, Lent and other times, and we’re very serious about it, but we also believe that there comes a time when we all need to have some serious fun.

That’s what we’ve prepared for our audience in our "Sommerwonne" concert tonight. The word "Wonne" in English means "delight", and we are delighted to be able on this concert to present some of the most entertaining, diverting, fun and downright silly pieces in the choral repertoire.

Classical music audiences are used to sitting quietly, facing front and refraining from excess movement during performances (for which we performers are profoundly grateful), and we often take delight in a piece especially beautifully performed. How often do we, audience and performers alike, smile during a piece because we just can’t help it? Don’t you think we should have that experience more often? We do, too.

We want to have fun (not just enjoy – we always enjoy) performing – and beautifully performing – these pieces, which, while light, are by no means trivial. You are invited to join in our delight. Relax and have fun. And smile – we’ll be watching!

In the late 15th century manuscripts, "Dit le Bourguinion" has no text that can be found by scholars, indicating that it is either an instrumental piece, or one that has simply become separated from its text somehow. Therefore we have given it a kind of a text, bringing out the instrumental nature of the voices, while allowing performance by singing, and also adding to the nonsensical nature of the piece. The title, "Dit le Bourguinion" is meaningless in French.

Another of the themes running through this concert tonight is that of taking pieces with texts that come from odd or unusual sources. Two of our English songs are modern settings of 16th century texts. "Full fathom five" is Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ariel is a magical being who has caused a shipwreck and the composer, Charles Wood, is obviously fascinated by the sound of the tolling of the passing bell ("Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell") at the bottom of the sea. "Come live with me and be my love" is a jazzy setting by John Rutter and simply such fun to sing.

"I bought me a cat" is from a set of "Old American Songs" by Aaron Copland, who first heard the folksong from a friend who had learned it as a child in Oklahoma. It’s more complicated to sing that one would first imagine and some of the difficulty comes in convincing the choristers to really try to sound like the animals they’re singing about!

The ESOC Chorus likes to sing in many languages and tonight we have our first Czech song, ”Až já pojedu" chosen for its rhythmic interest. We’re grateful to our member from Slovakia for help with the text.

And of course, "Die Beredsamkeit" is on the program purely to inspire the audience to visit the bar during the Intermission.

What could be more fun than a big scene from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta? Tonight we have part of Scene Nr. 18 from H.M.S. Pinafore, "Hold!" The plot is a silly satire on the English Class System and the theme of love between members of the different classes. Captain Corcoran of the Pinafore has arranged for his daughter to marry the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter, but she has fallen in love with a common sailor, Ralph. (Sir Joseph himself has risen from humble beginnings to gain his office by political acumen, despite having never gone to sea!) Captain Corcoran is so amazed and taken aback by this revelation that he commits an (awfully low class) impropriety. He swears. (He says "Damme", a word that wasn’t so bad even in 1878, the year of the first performance.) Everyone on shipboard is so horrified by this that the Captain is disgraced and lowly Ralph is praised in a famous chorus, because, after all, "he is an Englishman!"

The finale of our concert tonight, "Forèt paisible", was chosen for its character as just a big bit of fun. In the original opera, Les Indes Galantes, the main theme is about the conflict between War and Love. Love wins, of course. The last of the "Sauvages" to illustrate this basic fact are American "Indians", who dance about their "peaceful forest", stating, in the words of Ira Gershwin, who has nothing whatever to do with this concert tonight: "Who could ask for anything more!"