St Andrews Chorus: Haydn’s “The Seasons”

Read Zeb Baker-Smith's interview with soprano Eleanor Gillespie, a second-year History student from Elgin, in preparation for St Andrews Chorus's performance of Haydn's “The Seasons”

Illustration by Reuben Morris-Dyer

As the spring (finally) approaches, it seems fitting, in a semester of Siberian blizzards, incessant squalls, and the current (fingers-crossed for publication) balmy warmth, that the St Andrews Chorus’ first offering of the year is Joseph Haydn’s The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten). Over the three months of this term, Scotland’s largest choral society have been working hard on the oratorio as they gear up for the single performance on Saturday 28th April, the day after teaching officially finishes for the semester and an evening to enjoy before the rigours of revision and North Sea dipping come into full force. After last term’s unorthodox choice of three separate pieces by three composers, this large-scale high Classical 1801 work by the Austrian composer with full orchestra, chorus and soprano, tenor, and bass soloists, is a thrilling prospect. Unquestionably, one of the St Andrews Chorus’ biggest pull factors is its status as a town and gown association, a chance for the students to interact with the locals and vice versa. The Saint talked to soprano Eleanor Gillespie, a second-year History student from Elgin, who is one of the two student vice-presidents, in preparation for next week’s performance to give a glimpse of this semester’s experience in the Chorus:

The Saint: How have the practices gone?

Eleanor Gillespie: It’s been going well if a bit of a disturbed process. The locals started a few weeks before this semester bagan and continued rehearsals through spring break so we missed a few because of that. The snow didn’t help either. So there’s been a bit of learning as we go — I hadn’t ever seen the movements that we practised last week before!

TS: Are you a fan of the The Seasons and Haydn generally?

EG: Really enjoyed learning it. It’s one big story through the year, with a flowing plot. The libretto is very conversational and easy to tell which seasons are which — it’s so well-written. From the bits that I’ve heard with the soloists there’s lots of interaction among them and the chorus as a whole too.

TS: How is it to sing?

EG: Pretty tricky, especially the soprano’s part, but fun nonetheless. Need some high stamina levels to get through it because it’s nearly two and a half hours in its fullest performance — we’re cutting that down! It’s also emotionally quite tiring — you have the joyousness of Yo-ho the wine is here straight after the intense movements about summer thunderstorms.

TS: How big is the Chorus’ part and roughly how many are going to be singing on Saturday?

EG: There’s loads to do — we have our own chorus section but also join in with the soloists in their movements too so there’s not too much sitting around! And our work is seriously cut out for us in the double chorus finale. In terms of numbers, we have about 120 which is quite influx from last year and gender balance isn’t too bad either. There are probably slightly less students — maybe 60 per cent locals, 40 per cent students.

TS: Do you enjoy the interaction with the locals and do they enjoy the interaction with you students?

EG: The older folks are really open — no inhibition. Really friendly and keen to chat. Lots of them have been and some still are involved with the University. A few have been students and are always wanting to know what has changed about Raisin etc, so a bit of reminiscing for them too. So I think they do enjoy it and get a bit of a buzz out of being in contact with the current students and vice versa because, for all the so-called proximity, there isn’t too much mixing. Fun to gossip with them!

TS: How long have you been in the Chorus and what do you sing?

EG: I joined at the beginning of this year. I was encouraged to get involved by my academic mums who were members and whose last concert it sadly is! And I got asked to be in the committee.

TS: What does that entail?

EG: Aside from the interview, it’s representing all the students and being hands-on in the decision-making processes behind the society. There’s lots of publicity and recruiting; trying to get more involved through Freshers’ Fayre etc. And fundraising events too like the Chorus coffee morning, which was disappointingly disrupted by the snow so we’re banking on a really good turnout at Usher Hall on Saturday!

TS And what’s next piece-wise?

EG: A well-known favourite — Handel’s Messiah for the Chorus’ 40th anniversary. That will be around the end of November or beginning of December. So either join up to sing or come to the performance.

TS: How can one go about getting tickets?

EG: Tickets are being sold through the Byre Theatre website, which some of us have been showing the more senior members how to use…We’re aiming for a few more than last semester’s concert. So please come along and enjoy!


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