It has been a long time coming; years in fact. When you have a history with something you can look back & see how you got where you are, all the sign posts & mile markers that define the journey. That has been our journey with Vocal Manoeuvres.
We began by default. At the time Cait was an instrumentalist: flute, violin, piano. She played with 2 school bands & a community band. She sang with our local primary choir with a very good choir mistress but instruments was what we did. It was never going to be a full on goer because Cait is double~jointed everywhere & her finger knuckles have a bad habit of dislocating & locking up in weird positions. You can imagine what happens! However our local council was workshopping & keen to have island kids participate. As it turned out we were the only lot that ever turned up to find it was not instrumental, as we had thought, but vocal & Alison was in charge.
We workshopped through the 2 weeks of school holiday, travelling every day in & out to the mainland, culminating with dress rehearsal for parents & a performance at the Strawberry Festival. I don’t think it’s called that any more but that is what I remember it as. And then I breathed a sigh of relief. It had been heaps of fun. We had both really enjoyed ourselves but it was exhausting & expensive.
You need to understand, Cait was never a child who asked for much. As a homeschooler her family was pretty much the centre of her existence & her wants few. She had a busy & interesting extra~curricula schedule & more we did not need. But Alison does something rather extraordinary with her singers. She challenges them to rise to heights they never believed possible & when they sit on the pinnacle they thought they couldn’t reach she points them to the next mountain. Along the way she gives them the tools they need. What she created, even with her junior choir, was professional musicianship: sight readers, who could read their score; children who were performance hardened & knew how to present on stage, take their default position, use their mike, take direction…& Cait knew she wanted that. It is the only time I ever remember her begging for anything.
I was horrified. I’d seen enough to know this was never going to be cheap but her father has always been a pushover when it came to his girls & so we began. Years of travelling every week. Hours of waiting: for boats, for buses, for rehearsals & performances. Auditions & meltdowns. Knowing Cait had to work twice as hard to keep up with all those private students. And despite her aversion to academics Cait benefited from being homeschooled when it came to her music; she knew how to learn for herself! Don’t mistake me. I was incredibly blessed to sit in on rehearsals & hear beautiful music week after week, month after month then year after year.
Alison has numerous choirs but her showpiece is Exaudi Australis. The cream of her singers land there & it was always the choir to aim for. This was what Alison was training children for 10 years ago. Last year Cait got her chance to sing alto with Exaudi. We had been hoping for this, preparing for it. We had organised the car, the parking & the licence in preparation for the extra Cait would be called on for. OK, so we were a little behind schedule but we consistently worked towards it & in August Cait scored her Ps & began travelling independently. For the first time in years I wasn’t privy to all the internal workings of Cait’s choir though after all those years I know individual voices, strengths, weaknesses, ability & I think I always will.
This year the core of AVAE, who have now been with Alison for 10 years or more, are a large component of Exaudi. Friday we went to hear their showpiece concert, Music for the Spirit Moved. Alison’s showpieces are worth coming for. This time it was just Exaudi, none of her other choirs. It is predominately an a capella choir specialising in Renaissance & chamber music & for years all Alison’s choirs have had one or two pieces they perform a capella & unconducted. This year Exaudi has been working towards an entire concert, a cappella & unconducted. Friday was it!
This was one concert I had no intention of missing. We rounded up the island contingent for a truly spectacular performance. This has always been an exceptional choir musically. They can perform even quite difficult pieces on short notice because they are so well trained in musicianship. They have sung with Mirusia, The Ten Tenors, The King’s Singers. Earlier this year they workshopped with The King’s Singers, not just on vocals but blocking for individual songs & stage craft. What Alison hadn’t been able to get through to them The King’s Singers did. The result was something else!
The repertoire I knew. Things like Gotye, the Lux, Paradisum, the Miserere are among some of my favourite pieces. Not so keen on things like Dido’s Lament, but I’m not an opera fan. Never have been. I have a tendency to want to strangle sopranos. Yet having said that I love how one of the younger soprano’s hits, floats, sustains her high C in Miserere Mei Deus. Exquisite.
Not only was this entire repertoire a cappella, & unconducted, the ensemble moved positionally around the stage to form & reform individual groupings for each song, then later they lined the outside aisles & finally formed groups in amongst the audience ~ still a cappella, still unconducted. Cait was right behind us at one stage. She had got us tickets in the first block of seats bang in the middle. Luverly. All the singers had headsets which made the most incredible difference to the sound. It wasn’t only that we could hear the individual singers but as they soloed they could be clearly heard. Yep, Cait was anchoring her alto section & had her moments. Always a bit nerve wracking knowing her tendency to space out at inconvenient moments & apparently so jiggly before coming onstage she was driving other choristers crazy but Alison, who knows her well, agreed she needed to get it out before she walked on stage!
Alison should have been seriously happy with the outcome. This is a choir that is very, very close to being able to compete with the best a cappella ensembles in the world. So impressed. Absolutely beautiful from beginning to end.