Riding the choral wave

· culture ·

This Sunday, my Mum and I took part in the 'Singalong with the CBSO' event. I took part in 2005 and thoroughly enjoyed it, and Mum and I both went along in 2006, because she enjoys singing too. This year's piece was Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. If you're not a fan of Classical music, you probably know at least once movement from either the Old Spice advert or The Omen, depending on your age and cultural tastes. It's one of those Classical pieces which a lot of aficionados look down their noses at, but I think it's wonderful, particularly if you see it performed live, or -- even better -- if you sing it.

There are a nice mixture of movements, including jolly, bawdy songs about drinking, pretty, lyrical pieces, and even a very strange song from the viewpoint of a depressed roasted swan on a spit who is about to be eaten. There's plenty of orchestral colour too, with two pianos, plenty of timpani, bells and even something that sounded like a football rattle. But you can't get away from the fact that 'O Fortuna' (the aforementioned advert/horror film music) is the real star of the show.

Even if the association hadn't already been forged in my mind by the Old Spice advert, singing O Fortuna is a lot like surfing. If you're singing it with about 2,000 other people as we were on Sunday, it's like surfing one of those monster waves off the coast of Hawaii, where you have to get towed on to the wave by a jetski.

As you are travelling out to the wave, it opens with a few big, slow chords. They seem pretty impressive at the time, but it's nothing to what comes later, when you're right up close to the wave. Then, as you're towed into position, there is a soft, staccato passage where the choir sings in unison. Gradually, this builds in volume and tension as the parts of the choir spread out on the scale, and you see the gigantic wave you're going to ride. Just when you think you can't stand the excitement any longer, you let go of the tow rope, stand up on your board, and tip over the lip to career down the mountainous face of the wave. Ten kinds of orchestral and choral hell break out as the Symphony Hall is filled with 2,000 voices giving it some serious vocal welly, booming timpani and a full orchestra having a blast. As the wave starts breaking behind you, you gradually coast to a halt on a chaotic turmoil of unwinding music, desperately trying to sustain the long, last note as the adrenaline knocks all the breath out of you.

Phew. Woohoo! Can we do it again? Luckily, we get to do just that, because the theme is reprised at the end of Carmina Burana.