A dear friend who works in theatre was coming from out of town. Discussing this much-anticipated visit over email, she commented that spending one of our few precious evenings at the theatre might be “a bit of a busman’s holiday”.

Intrigued, I had to know where this expression came from. It seems that back in the days of horse-driven omnibuses, drivers often grew very attached to their particular team of horses. During their days off, many would disguise themselves as regular passengers in order to keep a critical eye on the relief drivers.

Musical “busman’s holidays” seem to be the norm for many musical folk – either because they are performing at festivals or have signed up for master classes and workshops, or because they seek out festivals where they can hear music instead of rehearsing and performing it. Here’s another version: at least a couple of string players I know listen only to hard-core metal or classic rock tunes while they car-pool from summer gig to summer gig.

Read more: Birds on the Buses?

Would you like to swing on a star,
carry moonbeams home in a jar,
and be better off than you are....

“Embracing” is a word that can be used two ways. Interesting how either way it applies to making music, and particularly to choral singing.

Choral music is "embracing": like a hug that is big enough for as many as many need one. Simple folk melodies and great majestic scores all invite us to be "in the music" as choristers or as audience. This embrace can transcend all kinds potential barriers: age, gender, race, and other diverse but less visible socio-economic walls in our complicated lives.


We are "embracing music", when we sing with others. With our breathing unified, and often our hearts on our sleeves, we wrap a collective voice around a piece of music and hold it tight, and by extension, around one another. It's an act of love.

The Timothy Eaton Memorial Church Choir School "Sing Out!" (May 8)

Read more: Embracing Music

For a number of different reasons, I find myself sitting here preoccupied with the old question “How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?” The origins of the question are nearly as debatable as the various answers to it. What delights me is that the debate assumes that there are angels. And, equally delightful, that they can dance!

What got me thinking about this? One thing was that someone asked me “How many potential choristers will be reading WholeNote’s May Canary Pages?” I found myself trying to come up with a total, based on last year’s Canary Pages. How many choirs? How many singers already in each? So, that’s about 12,000. But what about lapsed choristers ready to take the plunge again? And what if each of them has just one friend, who had never been in a choir, but inspired by association finds themselves suddenly seized by a secret powerful longing… .

Read more: Paeons and needles

Gonna rise, gonna rise up singing

Gonna raise the bucket from down in the well

And I feel like I’m just beginning

Cause I made that choice, to raise that voice

And that bucket’s gonna rise, rise up singing

(Quaker, traditional)


Reasons for singing are probably as many as all the colours in all the windows of every windowed place of worship in the world, real or imagined. 16_watoto_choir_ colour

And at the same time, maybe there is after all, only one fundamental reason: to express a passion that cannot be conveyed so well in any other way. Shared passion is one of those things that keeps us feel fully alive, and fully human.

From start to finish the March listings illustrate this diversity within a unified purpose – to “rise up singing” as a way of sharing fear, hope, despair and joy. As the days begin to get a little longer perhaps you will feel more like going out to hear some inspiring choral music, so remember to be”alive” in the month which precedes traditional celebrations of rebirth and harbingers of spring in the natural world.

Read more: The Passionate Voice
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