Gig Report: Pipes V Mics – the view from the stalls

The Pop-Up Choir performing with Shlomo at Pipes V Mics at the Royal Festival Hall
The view from the Gods!

With an early start,short notice and Mothering Sunday to boot, not everyone who wanted to could take part in Sunday’s Pipes V Mics concert, in which Pop-Up joined Shlomo in his Rumble piece for voices and organ. So some Poppers got to see the choir from a different angle – the audience!

Here’s Emily Falconer (sops) on what it was like from the seats.

Rumbling with Pride: Watching Pop-Up perform with Shlomo at the Royal Festival Hall

My brow was sweating, my arms were aching, my wee lungs were puffing away and I looked like a bedraggled commuter as I bolted up and down the tube escalators between Euston, Oxford Circus and Waterloo, lugging behind my weekend luggage, spare coats and plastic bags of Sunday lunch leftovers.

I was on my way back from a relaxing weekend up north. I’m a soprano in Pop-Up, but was unable to commit to the ungodly rehearsal hour of 8am on Sunday morning to prepare – in fact, learn completely from scratch – the  Rumble arrangement for the choir’s performance. I reckoned the next best thing was to be a supportive audience member. And besides, I was curious; how on earth was this collaboration going to play out? An organ, a beat-boxer and the Pop-Up choir walk into a pub…….what is the punch line?

I trotted up the path from Waterloo station and into the Southbank Centre, flinging my baggage into the cloakroom and racing up the stairs to the huge concert hall. The concert had already started, and the hall was in darkness. I snuck in and collapsed into the nearest seat on the balcony. ‘Have I missed the choir yet?’ I frantically hissed at the woman sitting beside me. She shook her head- she had no idea what I was talking about. Good. They are still to come. I relaxed a little, and began to take in my surroundings.

pipes vs mics

The first thing that struck me was the organ. It was nothing short of utterly spectacular. Hundreds of silver pipes of all shapes and sizes, flapping mechanisms that open and close, and simply the sheer, historical grandeur of this splendid old instrument. I have since learned that the newly refurbished organ at the Royal Festival Hall boasts seven thousand eight hundred and sixty six pipes.

I realised that I had never really appreciated the organ before, having only experienced wee ones in churches or those strange electronic things at old-school weddings. I think I have always found the sound slightly unsettling, possibly based on ridiculous horror movies where it’s equated with dark and creepy biblical environments, or ghostly villains who play the organ in the dead of night in haunted houses. Yet now, this magnificent instrument before me was about to re-awaken my awe for such an amazing creative tool.

I was not alone in my admiration; the entire concert appeared to be one great ode to the organ, with commissioned poets and spoken word. I loved the concept of the ‘Pipes V Mics’, bringing together traditions and fusions, amalgamating organ music with beat-boxing, poetry and saxophones. There was no doubt that the organ had reclaimed its status as truly majestic.

The beatboxers going for it!
The beatboxers going for it!

Eventually the grand finale: Rumble, composed by Shlomo, performed with two-time UK beatbox champion Reeps One, organist Tom Bell and both the Pop-Up and Chaps choirs. I squirmed with excitement in my seat. The choirs filtered down into the auditorium in preparation, the men on the right and women on the left, and my did they look smart all dressed in black, like beautiful silhouettes against the silver organ backdrop. Totes profesh.

Rumble was magnificent, the audience were blown away with how such an interplay of different man-made sounds could produce such music. The Chaps began their lovely harmonic accompaniment, but it was when the Pop-Up girls came in with a mesmerizing chorus of ‘Fly Away’ that all voices surged upwards towards the roof and filled the hall.

I scampered towards the front of the balcony, snapping away on my phone, pointing and grinning like the village idiot. I couldn’t believe my beloved choral colleagues had managed to learn this all in one morning! They are an accomplished bunch of singers by all means, but to appear on stage at the Royal Festival Hall on the eve of the first rehearsal is quite a transformation. The audience exploded in rapturous applause. I quietly rumbled with pride.

Published by Kat


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