During a recent choir rehearsal, we started working on a piece for Lent, a lovely, dolorous motet by Henry Purcell entitled “Remember Not, O Lord, Our Offences.” And I immediately started to giggle.
I’ve sung this piece before, you see. Numerous times. And I cannot help but giggle, perhaps even guffaw, every single time, because… well…
OK, the piece starts out with the choir singing, then repeating the word “remember” before moving on with the rest of the text. The first “Remember” is almost parenthetical, fairly low in the register, usually sung quietly, while the second one rises in the register and grows significantly louder. And the very first time I sang the piece, the choirmaster was not happy with the way we were singing just these two words.
He wanted each word to swell and recede drastically, starting with almost no volume on “re” and then growing exponentially from there, a mammoth crescendo-decrescendo that for some reason we just weren’t getting. We clearly thought our efforts were perfectly satisfactory, and were impatient to get moving along to the next phrase of the piece – choir people are like ADD sheep, we all get bored and restless at the same time. So we engaged in a tug-of-war with our choirmaster, trying to drag the rehearsal forward while he kept trying to shut us up and rehearse just this opening phrase.
Finally, after several minutes of this fruitless back-and-forth, he slammed his hands down on the piano and said “Choir! I want MORE CONTRAST! I want that ‘member’ to throb!”
And that’s why I cannot sing this piece with a straight face.