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Of Singing in a Movie Theatre and the Advantages of Extended Rehearsal Periods

April 20, 2010

britten.jpgThe Lark theatre in Larkspur is a gorgeous art deco movie house. But it's no place to hear live music, especially of the unadorned vocal variety. The Artists Vocal Ensemble (AVE), a professional choral ensemble from San Francisco, attempted to sing Benjamin Britten's Hymn to Saint Cecelia there last night as part of a Britten celebration which included a screening of a documentary about the composer's life.

I have never heard this normally slick-sonorous ensemble struggle so much. The acoustic was as dry as hermetically-sealed film stock and completely unforgiving. The singers had trouble hearing each other on stage, I gather. Some of the intonation was off. And the voices of the twelve brave singers did not blend as well as they would ordinarily have blended.

I gather that The Lark occasionally runs live entertainment programs. Marrying movies and live music is a wonderful idea in principle. But the theatre is going to have to find a way to enhance its acoustic or present only amplified music if it wants to make this programming truly satisfactory.

And as for AVE, the difficult setting exposed one of the shortcomings of the group's performance model, which throws a group of singers who don't necessarily consort on a regular basis together for just a few rehearsals before performing. When the room is this unforgiving, singers need to be absolutely on the same wavelength with one another to make things work. This synchronicity is really only possible when vocalists get to know each other in a rehearsal room over extended periods of time

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