We had a wonderful experience again this year singing in a scratch choir at Puycelsi, a hilltop walled village in the Tarn. Last year was special since it was my birthday and we sang Mozart’s Requiem, one of my favourite choral works. This year was almost as good, except that the weather was freezing.
The 2013 theme was ‘Musique pour un Couronnement’ (Music for a Coronation). Some of the music was performed at Elizabeth II’s coronation 60 years ago. This included Handel’s Zadok the Priest, Samuel Wesley’s Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace and Hubert Parry’s I was Glad. We also sang Mozart’s Coronation Mass. Other pieces included an organ rendering of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no 1 – also performed at the coronation – and a soprano solo of Handel’s Let the bright seraphim.
Around 65 British, French and Dutch choristers, of whom almost a third came from the Choeur de Parisot, rehearsed all last weekend under the baton of Mark Opstad. He teaches at the Conservatoire in Toulouse and founded la Maîtrise de Toulouse, a youth choir that has established an impressive reputation. It’s always good to work with Mark. Nothing gets past him and he drives us hard but he achieves results. We were lucky to have Nick O’Neill again this year accompanying us on the organ.
The concert on Sunday evening was in aid of the restoration of l’église Saint-Corneille. It was a sell-out and more than 200 people packed the church. Given the programme, I expect that more than half of the audience were British. In fact, when Nick played the Elgar – which is of course the refrain of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ – quite a lot of the audience hummed along. No one actually had the courage to burst into song, though. Afterwards, several people said they were sorry we hadn’t sung it but I feel we were right not to do so. It sometimes worries me that southwest France is becoming a sort of retro outpost of the British Empire and I think it would have been over the top.
My reservations aside, the choir was well looked after in the breaks between rehearsals. Lunch on Sunday consisted of Coronation Chicken – what else? – and a delicious selection of salads, followed by cheese and homemade puddings. We were also well plied with tea and cake at 4 pm.
It’s a pity the weather wasn’t kinder. Last year, it was almost too hot. This year, we were bundled up in coats and pullovers. Before the concert, the choir had to wait outside the church in our flimsy concert gear in a draughty passageway before processing in. Once we were inside, though, the adrenaline took over. Nothing like a good sing-song to warm you up.
The Puycelsi concert has become one of the big events of our year and I wouldn’t miss it.
To finish, here are some shots of a classic car rally that was taking place on Saturday afternoon at Puycelsi. A selection of gleaming and immaculate cars fanned out along the esplanade at the top of the village. They don’t make them like that anymore.
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