My love of choral music, in its many forms, is long-standing and even embraces one of my more memorable sexual encounters. It was late summer. It was a Friday and the last but one night of a Proms season but also the night before an early season rugby match.
I had planned to stay home and have an early night when Fran knocked on the door of my flat. Fran was a special sort of girl. We had dated a few times but what God had given her in looks and a wonderfully toned body he had taken away in brains. I may have been a shallow youth but even I knew that our relationship would not last long. She arrived at my door because I had failed to make any weekend or Friday night arrangements.
I was torn between emotions. I wanted to listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a perennial of the last but one Prom night. I was particularly eager for the last movement, a choral piece of wonder and amazement. But Fran was with me and this was not the piece she wanted to play.
To shorten the tale we were in bed as the music played and a game came to my head and not a game to describe to Fran. The last movement has crescendos and false endings and I determined to try and ensure that the orchestra, soloists, choir, conductor, Fran and I all managed to finish as one with the anticipated climax. For my part, I can report total success.
This may seem an odd way to write my first piece after a weekend in Cambridge during which Ben and Hannah have married.and although long and tiring, it was happy beyond any description. It was special. It was a day that exuded and radiated love and in the very nicest way, sumptuous. Ben and Hannah had gone out of their way to meet every possible whim and requirement of their guests.
Other than love, there was one joyous theme of the celebration, music.
Hannah comes from a musical family. Her father is a professional musician and she has been singing at the highest level in national choirs since she was a teenager. She sings both classical pieces and in a rock band. I learnt from the speeches that Ben’s support for Hannah is diminished and far less enthusiastic when she is singing from her classical repertoire.
Many of Hannah’s friends share her musical skill and it was no surprise that during the marriage service the chapel of Trinity College was filled with the soaring sounds of supremely talented singers.
Nothing raises my spirit more than when I hear a choir in full voice. It was awe-inspiring as the sounds resonated around and above us. Those that held back a tear at the wedding were reaching for tissues with the music.
During many a car journey, I have mused about the eight songs I would take to that isolated, proverbial desert island. While there have been many changes around the fringes, the heart of my selection has always been songs performed by massed voices.
If it’s not a church choir, you may think with my rugby tradition, that a Welsh male voice choir would be my choice but for me the home of the very best is Russia. There are very many things wrong in Russia but the heritage that will never disappear is singing.
For a very long time, the ringtone on my phone was the Russian National Anthem. It is a powerful song and would still be one of my desert eight but after the invasion of Crimea, I felt uneasy walking around Kiev hoping that my phone wouldn’t ring. I changed it to the Ukrainian National Anthem which is almost as inspiring. Now all I have to worry about is a restaurant standing to attention when I am phoned.
Normally, the highlight of any Russian choir is Kalinka, the Russian folk tune and on YouTube, there are many fabulous versions. I am not going to give you all the links and, you can easily find them yourselves. If you want to search look for the Russian Red Army and the Russian Police Choirs.
But back to the wedding.
There was a lot of debate among the guests about the tune Ben and Hannah would choose for their first dance. I was told Hannah’s favourite song is Bryan Adams’ Everything I do, I do for You. That would have been totally fitting but more so if it had Ben’s choice. It was, however, Happy by Pharell Williams.
What they didn’t know is that my favourite version of that song is not the original but that of Russian Police Choir while being filmed on the streets of Moscow. Go check it. That really will make you happy.
These Russian choirs may sing Kalinka and other folk songs in the homeland but for the Western market, their repertoire has been extended. I encourage you all to hunt out the Russian Police Choir singing Daft Punk’s Get Lucky or even better the theme to Skyfall.
I want you to listen first before you watch. Try and imagine the singers. I’ll try not to give too much away but Skyfall was recorded on a breakfast time TV show. There are cut off shots to the presenters pretending they are in a disco! I can assure you that beautiful tunes are not matched by the pictures you will see. These are not good-looking boy bands.
If this sparks your interest and becomes your thing then hunt for the Red Army Choir sing Jingle Bells, God Bless America or best of all Sixteen Tonnes. If these don’t make you feel good, make you smile and hum as you walk off to work then I guess there is now no hope.
A sad postscript to this is that in December 2016, 64 members of the Alexandrov military music ensemble, or the Red Army Choir as we know them in the West, who were to perform for Russian troops in Syria were killed in an air accident a few minutes out of Sochi airport.
Choral music is not just for churches and classical music concerts but enhances every emotion. I wonder what Fran remembers most of our night together? Was it me or was she also revelling in Beethoven?