While helping my sister dispose of my mother’s estate, I realized that as the oldest sibling, I have memories the others do not. We discovered a tarnished gold chain that my sister was going to discard. I, however, recognized it as a precious memento that my grandmother wore around her neck with a gold medallion attached. Similarly, as a member of London Pro Musica Choir for 31 years, I have become one of its memory keepers. I have cherished stories of pivotal moments in our history that others may not have. This piece is about sharing those memories.
Ken was a wonderful conductor --- encouraging, interested in creating community connections, and rarely angry. One season, however, something was terribly wrong. Ken was often confused, would re-rehearse a piece right after we had finished it, and sometimes misread the musical road map of a piece. At first, we put it down to Ken’s easy-going approach. He trusted that we were professional enough to perform whatever he gave us to sing, even if we had rehearsed it for just a week before a performance. And usually he was right! Once, at the dress rehearsal of a particularly complex joint concert, the co-conductor had us practice his pieces over and over again. When it came time for Ken to rehearse us, he lifted his baton, and said “You know the music. Now just sing it and enjoy yourselves”. We did one run through of his pieces and nailed them. He had given us back our confidence.
At the end of this season, he put his baton down – a signal that he had something to say. “You may have noticed” he said, “that I am not always on the ball. I have just been diagnosed with early onset dementia. He continued, “I am to begin treatments that are supposed to help alleviate the symptoms, and help me cope with them. But, he added, “Whenever I get in front of the choir, the clouds seem to part, and everything becomes clear again.” That final season, Ken came to each rehearsal with a binder which contained the order of pieces and carefully prepared notes on each one. The Victorian Christmas concert, his last with the choir, was a triumph of professionalism over adversity.
Ken’s values as a choral conductor deeply registered with me as a member of the choir. He taught me humility and the confidence to sing pieces I wasn’t secure with. He taught me the importance of sight-reading, and of listening to the rest of the choir when we rehearsed in quartets. Finally, he taught me to accept challenges with dignity.
London Pro Musica Choir has undergone many changes since Ken left us, and I have learned different things from each new conductor. The choral aphorisms that Ken taught me may seem tarnished but they are the gold that will keep me singing and enjoying the music. By sharing them here, I hope to inspire others to do the same.
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