Seagulls, clothes pegs and bagpipes
11 August 2016
The first Inspiration Southampton open air concert was a wonderful experience for audience, choir and orchestra. We were able to join in with the BSO tradition of a Proms in the Park weekend with a Classical Extravaganza and an Abba concert on the previous two nights before we hit the stage for the ‘festival finale’, followed by the most amazing ‘Son et Lumière’ show to send us ‘like a rocket ship…burnin’ through the sky’, into the Sunday night stratosphere.
So, what was gained or lost from going al fresco? Well, on the plus side there was Prosecco, Pimms and plenty of picnic hampers. There were tickets, but no Southampton Guildhall style seat numbers. You brought your own chairs, blankets or inflatable sofas and if you needed a lie-down you could slap on the sunscreen and be serenaded by the BSO’s afternoon concert. The rugby club, whose pitches we were using, provided tea, coffee and an evening hog roast and, ‘from a distance’, in the afternoon sunshine of one of the best days of the summer, the park looked, ‘blue and green and the sponsors’ marquees white’.
Children danced, went to body percussion workshops or chased soap bubbles across the grass, alive to the giant video screens that also gave the audience a choir’s eye view of Pete, the musicians and themselves.
Some things were, perhaps, not quite so positive: rehearsals interrupted by seagulls, sudden gusts of sea breezes or even a bagpipe solo! Clothes pegs were needed to keep sheet music on stands and there were sometimes long, but convivial queues for the up-market portaloos.
For the early afternoon run-through there was a strange inversion of the usual concert scene with the audience brightly lit and them barely able to see us on stage; by the end of our actual performance it was them who were, ‘out there in the dark’, ‘hiding somewhere in the night’.
We all noticed the dulling effect of the great outdoors on our sound and it was an extra challenge to keep in time and tune. Sound engineers at open air festivals know the impact of ‘nothing but the empty air’ when there are none of the usual concert-hall walls and ceilings to reflect the sounds.
Evidently the best way to enhance the listening experience for festival crowds is to stick to up-tempo numbers. We certainly did that with Rolling in the Deep and Don’t Stop me Now, whereas the sound of slower-moving pieces (Love Never Dies or You’ll Never Walk Alone) ‘fades away’ and loses that lingering reverberance: unlike the ethereal ringing we sometimes get in the rehearsal hall on Wednesday nights.
The sound and light show to end the evening was simply stunning. When it was time to “ignite a blaze” the pyrotechnical team “set the screen aflame” and sent fairy-like apparitions onto the trees around the park. There were horizontal fireworks and “shootin’ stars…leapin’ through the sky” “travellin’ at the speed of light” “to touch the sky” and make it “shine as brightly as the sun”! It was “anything but quiet”!
So would we do it again? Of course we would – with the same sunshine, the same blue sky, the same great musical team – thanks again Pete, Teresa and the BSO – but perhaps we could lose the bagpipes! Maybe outdoors next year, Leeds and Newcastle?
Inspiration Southampton Singer