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Inside the BBC Symphony Chorus

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Phil Hall Phil Hall | 17:03 UK Time, Thursday, 1 April 2010

Monica Todd works in Radio 3 production and is an alto member of the BBC Symphony Chorus. Over the next two weeks Monica will be reporting on the chorus's preparations for the world premiere of Ian McQueen's  Earthly Paradise, in a concert at the Barbican Hall on Saturday 10 April

BBC_Symphony_Chorus.jpgOk, I'll admit it. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, braving the London Underground's evening peak to get to a BBC Symphony Chorus rehearsal is not that attractive. But I like the fact that it is one of the few journeys I make in London that quite commonly involves running into people I know, and the 500-or-so metre walk to the studio from the station is busy with chorus members on rehearsal nights. (It is acceptable protocol to overtake slower walkers by the way. We all do the journey so often and have our own tight timetable of ablutions, refreshments and conversations which culminate in being seated and ready for the rehearsal to start at 6.40pm!)

maida_vale_plaque.jpgI remember the excitement (and nerves!) of arriving at the Maida Vale studios for the first time when I took my entry audition, passing the 'British Broadcasting Corporation' plaque by the door and timidly introducing myself to the security personnel in reception. Now I breeze in like I own the place, waving my membership card and heading straight to the canteen for a quick but much-needed meal. Lots of us use catering manager Said's food as essential fuel for singing, and considering we are such an assorted bunch, we're very friendly and sociable. This makes the canteen quite a buzzy and fun place to be. I enjoy it even if it does involve inhaling my food quickly whilst staring intently at the clock!

Unlike some choirs, we don't meet for a weekly rehearsal on a set night; instead, we work to the BBC's season of concerts which is planned far in advance. Once the decision has been made about how many rehearsals are appropriate for a particular piece of music, they are scheduled into the preceding weeks and months at about two per week. For a run of concerts in close succession (which sometimes happens during the Proms) there may be a set of rehearsals way ahead.  But, like the orchestra, the scoring of the music dictates the personnel needed. We then commit to individual concerts (and associated rehearsals) separately.

At the first rehearsal for a particular concert, we queue up to visit our lovely library team to collect our music. Handling a dusty old copy of a really familiar old classic work can feel like being reunited with an old friend, especially when our librarian succeeds in reuniting someone with the same copy used previously, complete with personalised markings! There is sometimes some trepidation when collecting a score for a newly composed piece though. We may not know what to expect at all. (Or we may know exactly what to expect, which can be worse...!)

But we are well-known for performing new pieces by living composers. This is what we are doing at the moment as we prepare for the world premiere of Ian McQueen 's Earthly Paradise at the Barbican. More about that next week!

To finish, here is a picture of us at rehearsal on Wednesday 31 March...





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