Having only recently read an interview with the composer John Tavener it was a surprise (despite his recent ill health) to hear of his death last week.  I first came across Tavener when hearing a recording of ‘The Protecting Veil’, used for a meditative prayer session about eighteen years ago.  Subsequently I was fortunate enough to have sung several of his pieces.  In 1996/7 I sang in the Birmingham University Chamber Choir’s performance of Tavener’s ‘Akathist of Thanksgiving’ – which I understood at the time was only its third ever performance (after the world premiere and the first recorded performance), with one of the original soloists, James Bowman, singing countertenor.  I have no idea how a relatively modest non-music department choir managed to pull this off, but it was an exciting experience.  To a relatively inexperienced singer, the music was taxing in places, and (because of the strange, sometimes eastern, harmonies) not especially intuitive, although when put together the piece was rewarding and built up like the constant wash of the sea against the shore.  As a natural baritone rather than bass, the bass parts were quite low in places (often providing the dirge/drone underneath the rest of the music).  I found I could only hit the lowest notes by drinking a couple of pints of beer the night before the performance which for some inexplicable reason tended to open up the lower register for me.  We performed the piece in St Chad’s RC Cathedral, Birmingham, to a decent audience.  During the first half, a number of us spotted a slightly balding, long-haired man with an open shirt and slightly Bohemian look, sitting mid-way back in the audience.  Could this be the man himself, come to hear his music?  Sadly it turned out to be a local music teacher – although his presence and resemblance to Tavener certainly gave our singing an added edge of dedication in the first half.

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