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The Peterborough Singers’ next concert, Verdi’s Requiem, is coming up May 6, and director Syd Birrell shares some of his thoughts on conducting the great work.

Sid Birrell

With the label ‘Requiem’ you would be forgiven for thinking maybe this is going to be too heavy. Not so. Think opera, drama, great melodies, four virtuosic soloists (soprano Leslie Fagan, mezzo Laura Pudwell, tenor Ernesto Ramirez, and bass Jonathan Liebich), fourteen brass players, timpani and the great bass drum, with Ian Sadler on the organ, and the choir.

Verdi delights in creating passages of great beauty and serenity only to shatter the tranquility with explosions of full choir — a wall of sound if ever there was one. It’s opera in church. As a conductor my job is to persuade the choir that they can sing even softer, but then build their confidence so that when I give the downbeat for Dies Irae, or Sanctus, every chorister will give it all they’ve got, no holding back. Yes, tenors, this is the piece that you can all sing like Pavarotti. Sopranos, that really is a high B, and there are more coming.  Basses, take us down that descending chromatic scale to the depths of despair….

In February I had begun to wonder how on earth we would transition from the bundle of sheer fun that was our ‘Back in Full Swing’ concert to the serious business of Verdi’s Requiem. I need not have worried. The choir did a quick about turn, and four days later we were into the thick of it. Wow! What an invigorating choir practice! We had all forgotten just how rewarding it is to sing this work. Now there is not a Wednesday night that we don’t leave the rehearsal without smiles on our faces, so excited to be preparing this work for our audience.

If I’ve caught your interest, I’d like to suggest you watch this short video that has some fascinating background: The Complete Guide to Verdi’s Requiem. I look forward to seeing you on May 6!


Verdi’s Requiem is generously sponsored by TD Bank

Saturday, May 6, 7 p.m.
Emmanuel United Church, 534 George St. North, Peterborough
Tickets $35 adult, $10 students
Tickets are available online and at the following local businesses: Pammett’s Flower Shop, Ashburnham Foot & Ankle Centre, and Happenstance Books & Yarns (Lakefield).

Please note that at this time masks are required in order to attend Peterborough Singers’ performances.

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