Thoughts of a Cantus New Joiner
Music has been a big part of my life for many years now, although I have moved from being primarily a pianist and violinist to doing a lot more singing. When I lived and worked abroad, I very much missed singing and so I wanted to find a choir in London that was both of a good standard and with a nice sociable atmosphere.
How I decided to audition for Cantus was something of a combination of being told about it and coming across it on Google! I had mentioned to a friend that I wanted to find a choir in central London, and one day, I received a text telling me that Cantus had tweeted they were auditioning during the upcoming weekend. I had already come across Cantus when browsing for choirs in London, so the name wasn't new to me.
I leapt on the website (being afraid of missing my chance as it seems many choirs primarily audition once or twice a year) and put in an audition request all of 2 days before the audition slots - clearly a lot of forward planning had been done...! Luckily Dom (the Director of Cantus) seemed very on the ball and rapidly sent me an audition time slot as well as an audition pack.
I don't think I'd ever received such a comprehensive pack for an audition - complete with info on the choir, key dates for the entire year, directions on where to go for audition, how the audition would be structured (including sight reading and aural tests), an unaccompanied solo piece to prepare (turned out to be an extract from the Durufle Requiem, complete with requisite high note for basses) and a choir piece to prepare (to be sung with other choir members who'd be there). Mildly panicking about the full singing work-out I was expecting, I set about preparing for the audition.
At this point, I noticed a familiar name on the Cantus website in the tenor section: a friend who I had sung with at university! So I was able to get a bit of an inside scoop on the choir, which happily all sounded very positive (Grazie Emanuel), so I went into the audition with slightly less trepidation than I might have done otherwise...
I turned up to St Gabriel's Church Halls in Pimlico early having tried (and not got very far) to warm up at home. Once I'd worked out which of the doors to go into, I was greeted by a few members of the choir (who were helping out with the auditions) and we sat outside discussing the football while waiting for the audition before me to end. This had me worried enough as I heard a resoundingly deep bass voice booming out from about 3 rooms away (thanks, JR). Soon it was my turn as Dom called me through.
Despite being an experienced singer, I'm always nervous singing in front of new people! A few range tests calmed my nerves. I then managed to work my way through the Durufle, successfully avoiding to crack on the high note, only to crack on a lower note well within my range! I thought that was probably game over. Nevertheless, I carried on gamely.
The prepared choir piece (a Villette) went decently (thanks largely to my perfect pitch, tremendous bonus...) which also very much helped the sight-singing (a Bach piece, which Dom seemed intent to do as quickly as possible). Overall, I thought I'd given a good account of myself so now it was just down to Dom and the competition. I was told I'd hear back within a week or so after the last set of auditions, and off I went.
Evidently, I received good news as I am now happily a Cantus member and have just completed my first concert, which was great! I must say that I think I've been very fortunate to find such a sociable group who also care deeply about the sound that we produce. Everyone has been extremely welcoming, and there are regular pub sessions after each rehearsal, as well as the (in)famous Warwick Pub Quiz on Sundays after evensong. I've definitely made a bit of an effort to do more of the social stuff which I think has been useful as I feel like I have got to know people better that way.
There was a mild shock at the first rehearsal when everyone (not just the new joiners) had to stand up and introduce themselves, say what they did and then say an 'interesting' fact about themselves - needless to say, the calibre of these facts went up as more people thought of good nuggets about themselves, and the basses were last, which was a tall order! But they were a great way to start conversations over a pint.
Cantus also has a Saturday rehearsal once every 3 months or so, followed by a big social gathering and a night-out - I just had my first one where we watched the Rugby World Cup final together and then went for karaoke with the UK's only live karaoke band - all excellent fun!
Next up is Christmas, with another concert on the way as well as some ad-hoc carolling gigs, more excellent repertoire for next year and the famous Cantus tour, this time we're jetting off to Slovenia!
Overall, I think finding the right choir for you is a mixture of being in the right place at the right time, having friends in the know, and trying a few different choirs out. I would definitely say that I’ve been incredibly lucky in finding Cantus, I’m just glad I took the plunge!