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January 5, 2005

The Shout shines

The Times (UK):

The traditional Advent service of nine lessons and carols is not for the Shout. This a cappella singing group — choir seems far too stuffy a word — gave us 13 lessons and 25 carols last week, wrapped in a show called A Day in the Life. Well, carols of a kind. Is Rodgers and Hart’s Blue Moon a carol? Or the Pet Shop Boys’ S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G? The lessons derived from the Christmas thoughts of Jean Cocteau, an Auschwitz diarist, or Francis Kilvert are not the orthodox religious ones, either. A journalist asks Cocteau what he would hang on his Christmas tree. “Journalists,” replies Cocteau.

Yet with society’s make-up the way it is, hijacking the Advent service format for a thoughtful but largely secular knees-up makes a good deal of sense. Experienced across music’s wide range, from rock and jazz to the singing of Congolese pygmies, the 15 core voices of the Shout sailed through the show with delicious exuberance, precision of attack (look, no conductor!), and a richly varied tapestry of vocal effects.

The group did most of their own arrangements, led by their director, Orlando Gough. Not every traditional carol suited the cross-cultural approach: the plainsong-derived flow of O Come, O Come Emmanuel cannot be bent with impunity. But the bulk of the repertoire chosen delivered the goods handsomely. Gough’s reharmonised edition of In the Bleak Midwinter made winter impressively bleaker, while the minaret calls sculpted into the dynamic version of The Three Ships created a sound picture far more vivid than anything painted in King’s College Chapel.

The show’s best moments, though, occurred when traditional repertoire was either abandoned or subverted close to death. Melanie Pappenheim took See Amid the Winter Snow and sang it backwards, words and all, once in solo, once in duet: brilliant music theatre, this.

Louise Sofield’s arrangement of the wordless Conference of the Birds skilfully built into a blazing dawn chorus from the gentlest murmurs. Gough’s Christmas Pudding — an ingredients list set to music, emulsifier, E numbers and all — proved a good brief joke, unlike the mundane, updated, sing-along Twelve Days of Christmas. Eleven mini-fridges, six furry parkas? Give me a partridge in a pear tree any day. But this was such a friendly show that even banalities didn’t much matter. Garnished occasionally by Giles Perring’s off-beat percussion, the Shout always sang out with humanity and joy. Just what 2005 needs.

Posted by acapnews at January 5, 2005 12:02 AM