New Dublin Voices travelled to Navan on Sunday for the Bord Na Móna Choral Festival. We were entered for three competitions: the popular music competition, the living composer competition and the Choir of the Year competition.
In the popular music competition we sang Sing a song of sixpence by John Rutter and Drive my car (an arrangement by the Swingle Singers of the Beatles’ opener from their ‘Rubber Soul’ album). We were delighted to win the first prize.
The living composer competition was held in the Church of Ireland building, which had a much nicer acoustic than either the community hall where the poplar music competition was held or, indeed, the Solstice arts centre that the festival has been held in for the last two years. We performed a piece we’d premièred at a concert in Trinity college chapel in January, Enda Bates‘s Sea Swell. The piece is written for four choirs of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, positioned at corners of the room. It starts with a notation of the sound of the tide on a beach, moving throughout the sixteen parts and growing in intensity until a series of notes is picked out in the female voices. A number of other melodies are passed and overlapped between the singers and the effect is very mesmeric. We enjoyed performing the piece and it was fun to see the audience twisting and turning while trying to figure out where all the sounds were originating from! Next we performed Ian Wilson‘s setting of the e.e. cummings poem nine(birds)here. This went better than it had in Cork – it’s one of the more difficult pieces we sing in terms of the richly dissonant writing – and we were again delighted to win the first prize in the first year of this competition class. It was interesting to hear some of the other pieces, too. I particularly liked a piece written by Martin O’Leary (who was present) called donna nobis which was impressively performed by three students of NUI Maynooth.
After some well-needed carvery food at the hotel next door and some more practice we went back over to the church to sing in the main ‘choir of the year’ competition. We were up against some excellent groups from various parts of Ireland and, when it came time for the adjudication to be announced we were all really impressed and wouldn’t have minded not winning (well, maybe…). We had performed our two most exciting pieces: Wade in de water, with its foot-stamping build-up in the middle, and Iuppiter, which left us all completely drained with its relentless drama and sheer density of texture. The last two pages of Iuppiter consist of hammering semiquavers in all (eight) parts, everyone intoning the names of Jupiter (“…TonansStatorVictorIuppiterPluviusSummanusCaelestis…”) in a barrage of sound that culminates in everyone chanting louder and louder in free rhythm until there comes a pause and we all forcibly whisper “Iuppiter!” in unison. When it works, the effect is electric…and it worked on Sunday! The prizes were announced in reverse order – distinctions went to Grovesnor choir from Belfast and Enchiriadis from Malahide; second prize to Vocare, a fledgling ensemble from Wexford who were great crack and are definitely ones to watch. By this stage the tension was almost unbearable in our stuffy gallery seats as we flashed excited looks to each other. When the affirmative pronouncement came we exploded into cheers, reserving a extra big one for when Bernie went up to collect the cup. Onwards now to the competition in Tours in a couple of weeks!