Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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15/11/15: still racking up firsts

I mentioned in last week's post that I ended up missing the choir rehearsal for the cathedral carol service last week because of confusion caused by the sudden announcement of the public holiday for the inauguration of the new president.

Well, pleased to say that I did make it this week!  So, my first choir rehearsal since I've been here.  After some negotiation we agreed 5.30pm on Thursday, the normal 5.30pm on Tuesday a bit of an intrusion into the working week really.  So, faced with a drive that takes 5 minutes on a Sunday morning into the centre of town, how much time to allow?  Reckoned on 1/2 hour, then as I was setting out started to think that this wasn't going to be enough - then to realise that absolutely all the traffic was leaving town, going into town again only took me 5 minutes, most strange feeling sailing past huge great queues the opposite way.  (Note to self: need to be REALLY careful driving in these situations, temptation is to drive up to the speed limit but there's the real risk of traffic coming the opposite way doing something random to try to skip the queues).

Anyway, arrived shortly after 5pm. for a 5.30pm start - to find that 3/4 of the choir was already there!  A number of possible reasons for that, I suppose - if people finished work at say 4.30pm. there may not have been time to get home so just went straight on.  Although I have discovered before that, whllst the stereotype is that everything runs 2 hours late and this can sometimes happen eg. when I attended a wedding as reported here, in professional life things run pretty well to time, and it's not uncommon for things to start early if everybody's already there.  So teaching classes at the University I like to throw in some random starter (like my 'dance of 12') 15 minutes before the formal start - if most people are there then why not?

So we got going, started with the Sussex carol 'On Christmas night all Christians sing' which was not familiar to the choir, so the choirmaster started by teaching the tune, which is what I would have done.  Using tonic sol-fah, which I would not.

Now, thanks to, "Doh a deer" (or should that be doe?  Or do?) from 'The Sound of Music' I know the scale in tonic sol-fa, but have never actually used it.  So I felt some way out of my depth as the choir sang with gusto, "Lah lah, me fah lah me re doh re, te doh doh re me fah me re doh".  Which is to say, I can do this but at very slow speed one note at a time, with no idea eg. how accidentals are treated.

Speaking as a very fluent reader of music nearly illiterate in tonic sol-fah, it is of course easy to take the view that time is better spent learning to read full music, but clearly there are advantages using tonic sol-fah which I'm not quite seeing.  If any readers can help me on this point I'd be very interested to hear from you!

Anyway, the time came to put words to the music, I was then asked how to pronounce 'mirth' (rhyming with 'birth' in the carol).  Of course, very happy to answer the question, but it did occur to me to wonder why they should ask me.  If I was in the United States joining with an American choir they wouldn't be asking me that kind of question, and much as I would love to teach Americans how to pronounce 'tomato' and spell 'colour' I don't think they would take me entirely seriously.  So why here?  I suppose this is not quite comparing like with like, Americans are first language speakers of English (more or less) whereas very few people here are, so there isn't, I think, the confidence to say, "This is East African English, we're proud of the differences with English and American English".

I have to say, really enjoyed the rehearsal, the dedication and commitment of all was a joy to see and be part of.  So, if you're in Dar es Salaam on Christmas Eve, please do come to St Alban's Anglican Cathedral for the 6pm. Carol Service in English, we'd love to see you there and can promise you a service which is both worshipful and enjoyable.  What a privilege to belong to a faith practised across the world, many differences in cultural and economic circumstances but all praising the incarnate, crucified risen and ascended Lord Jesus.

2 Comments to 15/11/15: still racking up firsts:

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Ruth Lee on 15 November 2015 10:15
Hi Geoff, Sol fa is ingenius for singing.Think aural not visual notation. Sol fa is purely a matter of practice and once well practiced it really tunes your ear for singing. Easier still, you don't need accidentals very much because "doh" is moveable. Notation is less common because you use the system from memory and relocate your voice to the tonic whatever it is.However, if you have to read you see "a" after a Sol-fa letter it means sharpen it or an "e" (sometimes "u") it means flatten it. Keep at it and you'll become fluent. As Julie Andrews put it... SO - DO - LA - FA - MI - DO - RE SO - DO - LA - TI - DO - RE -DO *runs away*
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Geoff on 15 November 2015 23:32
Thank you, think this makes sense, understand the point about practice but not sure I'm ever going to use it enough to repay the investment. Certainly works here in Dar es Salaam1 Trust you're well, Geoff

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