Half the choir is on holiday, at conferences, visiting family abroad — Choirmistress for one, and also A who directs when Choirmistress isn’t there, and Regular Bass, and Trainee Tenor’s alto wife.
But we have E, who is here for six months as an exchange student from Belgium (an alto), and J, a bass, who is finding out if singing in the choir is for him, and Trainee Tenor himself (another J so I’ll abbreviate him as TT), and me. And it was me that organising choir practice fell to.
E and J can’t be in the service on Sunday, but I wanted to do all the changeable parts anyway, if only to give an idea how it goes (and for me and TT, of course, because we will be in the service). So we sang the troparia and kontakia in several different tones — TT knows the tenor part of the first tone, even the little variations from the plain third-above that tenors do and sopranos don’t; E sang the alto part because we haven’t trained her to sing the melody part by default yet, and I told J to sing bass if he knew a part or could make a good enough guess at it, and otherwise sing along with the melody.
This worked. And then we got to the Theotokion, “Protection of Christians”, in the sixth tone, stichera melody. And that we studied. The sixth-tone stichera melody is everywhere, and once choir singers know it they have a powerful tool in their toolkit. It’s one of those “simple but not easy” things, but fortunately all the parts were written out. I asked E to sing melody while I helped J with the bass part, and left TT to fend for himself with the third-above. Then, when J was halfway confident, I took the melody part myself and let E sing alto.
We were singing the sixth tone stichera in four parts!
Not perfectly at once, of course, but it was almost there, everybody knew what they were supposed to do and whenever there were lapses they were fixable.
This made me very confident, and we went on to the prokeimena, which TT described as “as soon as I know what I’m doing it’s over!”
We had the first and seventh tone for the prokeimenon, and the first and second tone for the Alleluia (which is, after all, merely another prokeimenon with the text “Alleluia”; the prokeimenon before the Epistle, and the Alleluia before the Gospel). I find the first tone easy, because I sang it for years and years on Good Friday thinking it was an idiomelon for that service, and I was thrilled to learn that it was just the ordinary znamenny first tone! But E said she had much less trouble with the second tone than with the first, so we practiced the first tone, and again, and again, until we could sing that, too, in four parts with some confidence. And the second tone. And the first tone again. The seventh tone sort of fell by the wayside, but I know TT can do it if someone strong-voiced sings the melody (er, me, I suppose. It’s my turn to read, but I’ll read the verses from the choir if necessary).
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” was somehow harder than a full psalm verse. Perhaps because it’s not so obvious from the words where the changes in the tune are, though I could point out to J that both of his significant jumps fell on the “lu” syllable.
Then I showed them the two other things we sing to the prokeimenon tune: “Let every breath praise the Lord” before the Gospel, and the Sunday exapostilarion, “Holy is the Lord our God”, both in Matins. We tried those in the first and second tones too, and I promised more of the second tone next week (though A will probably be back, so there goes my program).
E thanked me when we were going home. And yes, I think I did well. I still have a sore-ish throat from my voice going all over the place, I don’t have the kind of range I was trying to deploy, but that’ll probably be all right in the Vigil tomorrow night.