This week, we’ve been recording a CD of generally excellent music in the Lady Chapel of Ely cathedral. It’s meant long days – rehearsals in the afternoon, a journey on a packed commuter train, and then four hours of recording before catching the train back and falling into bed just before midnight. In the mornings I’ve been attempting to pack, tutoring, taking school group tours and cooking my meagre lunches.
Last night was the last night of the recording, and also the last of the choir commitments which I 100% knew I would be able to attend. There’s a wedding and a Commemoration service at the start of July but I can’t say for sure that my summer job won’t need me, so it’s rather up in the air at the moment.
Recording is very hard work. We try to sing well all the time, but when you’re being recorded everything has to be perfect. Each piece is sung over and over, sometimes in full and sometimes in short segments, to ensure that every last note is precisely in tune, in time, at the right speed, with the right tone. Occasionally we had to retake a section because a crow had cawed in a quiet moment, or a light fitting had clicked loudly. Sometimes someone involuntarily coughed, or rustled their music, and we would have to start again.
It’s physically challenging, because we’re on our feet for hours at a time and using our entire bodies to create the right sound. Singing loudly requires every muscle in the body to contract. Singing quietly needs strict control and concentration. For the last three nights I’ve been extremely glad to get home and roll into bed.
I’ve also found it harder than most because of the Live Below the Line challenge. Part of the challenge is that you can’t accept food from anyone else – all you can eat during the five days is the food you bought with your £1 per day. Because recording is so strenuous, and because we had two choir birthdays and one boy who came third in his year for his subject, people brought in cakes, brownies, cookies, wine and other snacks every day. Watching all my friends eating delicious home baking and having to refuse it when I was actually quite hungry was a serious test of my willpower. On any other week, I’d have found the challenge fairly simple. This week was a bad week to choose – but when is there a good week to deliberately go hungry?
Last night the CD producer and his assistant brought a video camera into the chapel and recorded us rehearsing for the first take. I’m not sure how usuable the footage will be, because the entire choir kept collapsing into giggles: an epidemic of onesies had broken out, and we had girls in a pink polka dot cupcake onesie, a pig onesie, a crocodile onesie (complete with tail and teeth), a white snowflake onesie, a tiger onesie, and a boy in a black skeleton onesie. Several other people were wearing pyjamas, including one notable outfit of shirt, blazer and snakes-and-ladders pyjama trousers. Almost everyone was wearing fluffy socks or slippers. When you’re standing up for four hours, you want to be comfortable!
I’m going to miss the choir. One of the girls who was celebrating her birthday last night was a guest in the choir, borrowed from the Masters music course to bolster the alto section, and she was amazed that we brought her a birthday cake and sang to her. She also commented that we found something to celebrate every night, which is quite true. Despite any individual differences, on the whole the choir is a tight-knit group of friends who know each other’s lives inside out and celebrate and commiserate together. I don’t know that I’ll ever find a group quite like it again.
And now, far sooner than I would have chosen, I have to finish the mammoth task of packing and moving out that I have to admit I have barely had time to start. I’ve emptied my kitchen cupboard and packed almost all my utensils, and filled two boxes with books and knick-knacks, but essentially my room looks the same as ever. This morning, late this evening and tomorrow morning I will have to focus. Pile things in, wrap up the crockery, pad the kitchen boxes with towels, take old books to the recycling point, figure out what needs to be accessible and what can be safely submerged under mountains of other things. I hate packing. Every year, I hate it more. But this year, finally, I am not facing the prospect of having to repeat the whole operation in twelve months. Pending unexpected disaster, this is the last time for at least three years.