Am I mad to inflict upon my vocal cords the prospect of a 24-hour marathon of Requiems? Not to mention going without sleep all night. The last time I did much singing was in early June when my choral society went on a brief exchange visit to our partner choir in Germany. That was pretty intensive, but I otherwise opted out of the summer term and nor am I due for my annual Run By Singers fix until the end of September, so I’m definitely out of practice.
I missed the inaugural Requiem to Cancer in 2016 but was determined to take part this year as there was great feedback and it’s such an excellent idea: an opportunity for choral singers to get together to rehearse and perform a succession of Requiems and raise much-needed funds for Cancer Research UK. Last time the total was around £31,500 and organiser Simon Wood, who has himself battled cancer, is hoping that this year’s Come and Sing event will do even better.
Taking place on 14-15 September at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, it’s a bit of a trek for me from the Midlands. I imagine the majority of the couple of hundred people expected to attend will be members of London choirs, but no doubt there’ll also be singers from even further afield who enjoy a good romp through a Requiem (or several!) or who want to lend their voice to a crucial cause, perhaps having been touched by cancer themselves. I shall be singing particularly with my dear father’s memory in mind – taken far too young almost 40 years ago, he never knew how I came to choral singing relatively late. I rather think he would have liked to see me blossom with the joy of belonging to choirs and he would have been an enthusiastic concert-supporter. Had he been of a later generation, who knows whether advances in research might have given him a better chance?
So I anticipate an emotional occasion but also an uplifting and life-affirming one with a strong sense of shared endeavour as together we experience the power of music. What’s not so clear is how on earth we’ll keep going for 24 hours! I’m taking to heart some recollections and advice from a couple of friends who attended last time…
“The event is timetabled to preserve your voice,” says Amanda, “but my key to survival is none other than Vocalzones – they may taste like sucking an ashtray but they do work for me. Just when you think that you are flagging you get a new conductor who brings so much enthusiasm for teaching the next piece and the performances two years ago were supported by some lovely young soloists. From memory the mental notes I took last time were a) it gets chilly at around 3am so take a fleece, b) you need plenty of water and c) though there is loads of cake, I remember looking for fruit in the middle of the night and finding the 24-hour supermarket while wandering around Covent Garden in the wee small hours.”
“I can’t wait to do the Requiem to Cancer all over again,” says Maria. “Having heard the story behind it, it took no time at all to make the decision. On the day, with a soft seat cushion (highly recommended), a flask of good coffee, and a change of clothing in my wheelie case, I traipsed to the Actors’ Church. Only on arrival did the reality of a 24-hour stint of no sleep hit home, but the energy and enthusiasm of my fellow singers and the volunteer helpers was infectious.
“Performances were prefaced by a list of names of our friends and relatives who had been lost to cancer. The impact of this on me was huge. Singing a requiem to the memory of someone you knew was immensely moving and brought home the sentiment of the work. At one point during the night I thought I might catch a few moments of sleep, but sleep didn’t want to cooperate. Fauré Requiem was sung as ‘light relief’. There were plenty of breaks for food and drink and a snooze if you really needed one. In the early morning some went out to cafes for a hearty breakfast.
“With each conductor we also sang a version of a specially-written anthem, ‘Now is the time’. At the final performance the roll call celebrated those who had SURVIVED cancer, with a message of hope – now it is your time. I was exhausted, but exhilarated to have been a part of it.”
This year’s choice of works is a mixture of the well-loved and the brand new, including another commissioned anthem, composed by Will Todd. Jeremy Jackman is just one of the conductors who’s coming back for more, and he explains why: “I have been involved in Requiem to Cancer ever since it was little more than a gleam in Simon’s eye. It’s a brilliant idea, last time we had a brilliant time, and I know that this year we will have a brilliant time again. This year it is my privilege to conduct Grayston Ives’s lovely Requiem. You can sing for a short time, the whole 24 hours or anything in between. Please come and raise your voice for Cancer Research UK.”
Neil Ferris also conducted last time. Of his input into this year’s event, he says: “I adore the Verdi Requiem, we have arranged for some outstanding young soloists who have recently graduated from the RAM and RWCMD opera schools and National Opera Studio, and I have no doubt that despite being the last piece in the marathon it will give everyone renewed vigour and see us through in grand style to the end!”
I’m convinced – are you?
To read more about the event, please visit https://www.requiemtocancer.org/
To apply to take part, please visit https://www.requiemtocancer.org/apply.html
To donate, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/requiemtocancer2018