Summer 2009

Fitting tribute for American Independence

Saturday 27 June 2009

When you’ve followed the South Chiltern Choral Society for a number of years, like I have, you come to know that their music changes like the seasons. And this summer it was an opportunity to listen to a wide selection of American music. Originally billed for July 4, the date had to be moved because of a clash with other events, but no matter — it was a good early celebration.

I’ve got to say at the outset that the star of the show was Madeline Bell, an American soul singer accompanied by her regular accompanist David Arch, son of the South Chiltern conductor Gwyn Arch. Anything involving David is bound to be good. In fact, Madeline describes him as “the best gospel pianist in England”. I was just captivated however by Madeline’s singing. She sang a huge variety of blues and jazz numbers finishing up with the rock classic Great Balls of Fire. She was such a professional and she absolutely won over the audience’s hearts.

The South Chiltern choir had a full programme of singing as well and inevitably many of the songs were spirituals but there were also cowboy songs (Red River Valley), folk songs (Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair), and some unusual arrangements. One of these was Frankie and Johnny, which was really nice. There was an extract from Bernstein’s West Side Story (Somewhere) which was probably the best singing that they did. Was it because it was sung from memory rather than have the music in front of them?

The choir was also accompanied by David, apart from one male voice arrangement of The Blue-Tail Fly, which had Clive Waterman at the piano.

The concert finished (naturally) with Battle Hymn of the Republic, where the audience were encouraged to join in and, magnificently, Madeline Bell came to join the choir.

 John Evans

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