A College so rich

in musical talent

Timothy Brown, conductor, former Director of Music (1979-2010)


Asia Tour Blog - Day 15

Date: Saturday 17 September 2016 6.15pm



Three perspectives on Choir Tour September 2016: Day 16


It was a hot and humid morning in Kuala Lumpur as Zikri made his way to work. The Petronas Towers were dazzling in the morning sunlight, but he barely had time to admire the view as he was running late for his shift. The Malaysian Philharmonic were due to rehearse with some English choir he’d never heard of and the stage needed setting up. Some members of the English choir were already downstairs in the main foyer as Zikri briskly walked towards the concert hall, situated at the very heart of the iconic towers. He noticed a chubby albino boy who must have belonged to the group who was also running late. He seemed to be waving his arms in front of him as he ran and was humming a tune he recognised - ‘duh duh duh duhhhh’ - though he wasn’t quite sure what it was. They were a strange lot, this choir; constantly singing and laughing at each other’s attempts to sing beyond what their range would allow. Singing must have extraordinary effects on physical appearance, he thought. Two blonde girls towered above the rest; another, with wild, dark hair looked like she belonged more in a prison than she did in a concert hall. There was a ginger, too.


Zikri finally made it backstage and immediately went about setting up the stage. The previous night they had tried to accommodate the choir in the galleries above the stage for the first item in their solo concert. This had proved difficult when some elderly audience members turned up in these seats at the last minute. Unwilling to compromise, their conductor insisted this was a good thing, and encouraged some of the less frail female patrons to join in with the second sopranos. The rehearsals that day largely were incident free, though the difficult organist continued to complain about a trivial problem with the organ console light. He recalled having worked with a choir from Oxford University that had visited Kuala Lumpur the previous year. They’d been far more pleasant, he thought. 




There were 20 minutes until lunch and Jackson had just asked another question. A deep rage burned inside Matthew, but in his usual manner he kept himself from showing any emotion. He’d recently completed a 12-month anger management course for punching a cat and he wasn’t going to do a minute more. Graham asked Tom to check some Russian pronunciation for the Tchaikovsky and once again Tom had confidently delivered a totally incorrect version of the text. Nobody knew, but Matthew was completely fluent in Russian from a previous relationship with the principal dancer of the Moscow Ballet. He let out a sigh as the clock slowly ticked towards one. The morning rehearsal had gone well; the Malaysian Philharmonic were a superb orchestra and the Bernstein totally came alive in a way it had never quite done in Clare Chapel, accompanied by that oversized chamber organ.


In choir he was known as ‘Beej’, a nickname he despised. He wondered how many times he had to be called that before he finally snapped. A few more minutes passed. “Hey Beej, can I borrow your pencil?” piped the resident countertenor. Joe was new to the choir and had not made a strong first impression on his new peers. Matthew’s eyes narrowed in contempt as he remembered his counsellor’s advice to think of positive thoughts during such situations. Avoiding eye-contact, he managed a singular Belfast grunt as he reluctantly handed his pencil to the young fresher. 12.58 - “Sopranos, perhaps a little more in tune in this section”. 12.59 - “I’m sorry, Stephen, but if you can’t see you’ll just have to find a stool”. Only one minute to go, Matthew thought. His anger threshold was at its limit when he heard the unmistakable sound of a fellow Northern Irishman: “Um..Graham…do you want a quaver off in bar 26?”. 




It was a typical Saturday and he had just arisen from his customary afternoon nap. In his youth, he was blessed with a physical prowess which was as likely to be witnessed in the navigation of Purcell’s virtuosic verses as it was on the sports field. He made his way slowly to his armchair and lazily flicked on the television as he awaited his carer, who was due to arrive shortly. Prime Minister Barber had finally delivered his campaign promise to legalise marijuana. The old man paused and considered the man he had once known at Cambridge, now the most powerful man in the country, but with whom he had never seen eye to eye. The last time they’d spoken was on a choir tour to the Far East in September 2016, some 40 years ago. 


The old man had once been an able singer, but after years of vocal abuse, he was forced to abandon his career at the age of 21, having ruptured a vocal cord singing the part of Rodolfo in a local production of Bohème, his favourite opera. The irony was too much to bear and led to a sustained period of depression from which he never recovered. The old man paused and glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. His carer was late again. He turned back to the flickering screen of his dusty television set and was overwhelmed with a sense of regret. After a few moments, he was startled by the sharp ringing of the buzzer that pierced this period of gentle reflection much like he too had once pierced through the sotto voce openings of so many choral works. He composed himself, quickly nabbing at his eyes with an old handkerchief, as he reached for his walking stick and made his way slowly to the door. “Non timebo”, he whispered softly.