The Season Begins

Alto and managing director Martha Keller is REALLY excited for some Benjamin Britten…or maybe just to see everyone again.

It’s hard to believe we’re back already! After a summer of relaxation, travel, and the occasional Call Me Maybe sing-along, Monday nights are rehearsal time once again. It’s been great to catch up with friends that I haven’t seen as much over the past few months.

We spent most of this week’s rehearsal working on Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia, a setting of a poem by W.H. Auden. Aside from the music, there’s a fairly interesting backstory to the piece that I’d like to share with you.

Britten began work on the piece while living in the United States in 1940. However, in 1942, Britten decided to return to his native England, by then in the midst of the Second World War. As he departed from New York City, customs inspectors confiscated the partially-completed work, fearing that it contained some kind of hidden code. Britten was forced to begin anew, and re-wrote the score during his journey to Europe. The finished piece was first performed by on November 22, 1942 – both St. Cecilia’s Day and Britten’s 29th birthday.

With our fearless leader Ben Olinsky unavailable this week, we were capably led in rehearsal by Assistant Music Director Sarah Redmond. Upon first glance at the 44-page score, I wasn’t sure how much we’d be able to cover. I was pleasantly surprised when we managed to work through a large portion of the piece, and I came away feeling like I had a great handle on it. Personally, I’ve had a mixed experience singing Britten in the past, but I’m really enjoying the Hymn to St. Cecilia so far. It has a nice mix of tempos, and selfishly, there are a couple of great tenor lines. It should make a great centerpiece to our concerts this season!

This post was written by tenor and 18th Street Singers webmaster extraordinaire Tim Schmitz.