• What are Polyphony Down the Pub & Counterpint?
Polyphony Down the Pub & Counterpint are evenings of music-making for anyone who wants to get together with fellow singing enthusiasts to sing the great choral pieces of the Renaissance – plus a few Bach chorales thrown in for good measure – in the informal and relaxed atmosphere of a pub.
Register for a session via the links on the website, download the sheet music in advance, print it out (or better yet, save it to a tablet) and then just turn up on the night to sing – simple as that.
• What’s the difference between Polyphony Down the Pub London/Brighton & Counterpint?
Not much – only that PDtP London has a regular home (The Horse & Stables in Waterloo) and is always on a Monday. The set-list of motets and madrigals varies from session to session, but will always include interesting stuff.
Counterpint is not quite as regular and is designed to appeal to people who can’t make PDtP on a Monday. It therefore takes place in a different pub and on a different day of the week (except Monday) each time. See here for details on when and where the next Counterpint session takes place. The set-list is made up of material that has gone down particularly well at previous Polyphony Down the Pub sessions and so Counterpint sessions are guaranteed to be doubly excellent.
Polyphony Down the Pub Brighton’s principal difference from the other two is that it takes place in Brighton.
• Is it like going to choir practice and rehearsing for a performance?
Very much no. It’s more along the lines of a pub jam session – you turn up, sing (or listen), drink, sing/listen some more and maintain a healthy level of enjoying yourself throughout. No ‘rehearsing’, no ‘performing’, just a bunch of people making music together.
• Do I need to be able to read music?
Yes, you do need to be a pretty confident sight singer to get the most out of the event. (We don’t sit in sections so you may find yourself in among other voice parts, though you can always move to find someone singing the same part!) Ideally, you’ll also be familiar with how this style of music ‘works’.
However, anyone who doesn’t read music or who doesn’t want to join in is still very welcome to turn up and listen instead; we’ve had great feedback from people who have said that it’s an amazing surround sound experience!
• Do I need a good singing voice and is there an audition?
No audition at all – these are self-selecting come and sing events, so as long as you are happy that you know what you are doing and that you can hold your line alongside other singers then that’s all that’s required.
• How many people turn up?
That is entirely dependent on the night – we’ve had as many as 70 people in some sessions but a typical night sees around 40 – 50 singers. However, we always hope to get a good crowd and a fair spread across the vocal parts so tell your friends!
(Note however that Counterpint in the Cafe takes place in a small venue and so spaces are limited to around 25 singers.)
• What’s the profile of a typical attendee?
We get people from all backgrounds at PDtP: regular choir members who love this repertoire; symphony or opera chorus members who don’t usually get to sing this stuff; chapel choristers who do usually get to sing it but who want to let their hair down; instrumentalists who want to have a warble for a change; people who haven’t sung in years and want to give it another go; people who are unable to commit to a regular choir; students; retirees; people who are somewhere between study and retirement; we’ve even had a Radio 3 presenter along for a session!
What links them all is a love of Renaissance polyphony and a willingness to get stuck into some interesting material in a fun and convivial atmosphere.
• Is there any accompaniment?
No, we are full-on a cappella to the max, just pure voice-on-voice action. Whatever any of that means.
• Is there a charge?
Not at the moment but don’t forget to bring your drinking money.
• Why do I have to register in advance? Isn’t it supposed to be a drop-in session?
Both PDtP & Counterpint did indeed start as rock-up-and-drop-in-on-the-night sessions but unfortunately they have become just too darn popular and we have recently found ourselves in danger of breaking safety rules by having too many people turn up.
The registration process is very easy, though, and even when all places are taken we run a waiting list, as places often become free nearer the time of the session. We almost always fit in everyone who wants to come, so always register on the waiting list (though note your voice part after your surname).
• Is it just a load of hey-nonnytastic madrigals?
The aim is to try out both sacred and secular pieces, from madrigals to motets and even movements from masses. We definitely avoid the twee end of the spectrum and the main thing is that they are all great pieces of music. That is a fact.
• I like Bruckner/Whitacre/barbershop/Bohemian Rhapsody etc etc – why can’t we sing those?
Hey, who doesn’t like all those different types of music? However, the aim of PDtP is to focus on this one, rich period of music by exploring the gems of the Renaissance, in which (mostly) all voices have equal importance i.e. it’s not the usual set-up of sopranos banging out a tune with altos/tenors/basses as backing group.
• If it’s all supposed to be Renaissance stuff then why are Bach chorales included?
Because the c.400 extant chorales are a) great for warming up/breaking the ice and b) mini-masterpieces in their own right. And also because you should always sing Bach whenever you get the opportunity.
• Isn’t it disrespectful or inappropriate to be singing this music in a pub?
Absolutely no disrespect is intended whatsoever. In fact, it’s the opposite – the event is intended for anyone who loves these pieces as some of the greatest examples of our universal cultural heritage and who wants to bring them to life with other singers.
However, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of singing sacred music in a pub then please do not book a place.
• I have very high standards when it comes to singing; are you likely to meet them?
Probably not. What we lack in finesse, though, we more than make up for in enjoyment. And beer drinking.
• Do we get to sing Spem in Alium?
We used to have a light-heartedly dismissive response to this question but following a foolish tweet, we have now committed to including it in our 5th Birthday celebrations in 2019. Yikes.