Tallis Scholars

life

One of the things I really enjoy is watching people who are very skilled do something difficult, making it look simple and graceful. It doesn't matter if it's filleting fish, laying bricks, forging iron or singing polyphony — I find it all fascinating. We went to see The Tallis Scholars at Symphony Hall last night, and quite apart from the sublime sound they made, I was fascinated by how effortless they made the difficult task of singing Renaissance music seem.

They are only 12 singers (at a maximum — for some of the pieces, they used fewer people), and yet they sing intricate unaccompanied and un-amplified music in parts. I used to sing in amateur choirs, and it was always a disaster when I found myself on the outer edge of the other altos. I would start listening to the sopranos part, and find it really difficult to stick to mine.

They sang a number of pieces by John Sheppard which were exquisitely beautiful. You can lose yourself in the shifting harmonies, and then suddenly find that some of the voices are soaring away, and you get lifted up with them. We were in the second row of the stalls (the cheap seats, as it turned out), and the whole thing was thrilling and quite emotional1. I have a few recordings of the Tallis Scholars' work, but — particularly with choral works — there's nothing quite like experiencing it live.

1 I think I've mentioned before that while I'm staunchly agnostic, I'm unusually interested and moved by all kinds of religious music: Renaissance polyphony, Gregorian chant, Russian Orthodox Christian sung liturgy, Qawwali/Sufi devotional music, and so on. If religion only involved music, I'd be pretty keen about it.

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