I might have supposed it had gone in 2007, the year I left Summerhouse. My time with that extraordinary vocal ensemble – all a cappella and secluded, that had climbed to unimagined heights – was over. I had left for good my friends and compatriots in the ensemble in which I had learned to be part of so many different types of music, types that were unavailable to me as a soloist: with Summerhouse I could be a part of music that was sung tenderly, beautifully, ravishingly. The comic efforts upon which I had plied my artistry as a soloist were left behind – no more patter for me, thank you Mr Gilbert. I felt that with Summerhouse I could be taken seriously. All kinds of thing that my dear little doll-like voice could not achieve on its own, collectively we had a shot at: we made beautiful music out of my arrangement of the Janis Ian ballad “She must be beautiful “; sang the Armenian hymn Aravot lousaber as if we were fresh from a monastery; took to new pathways the Stephen Taberner arrangement of Rex Sexsmith’s poignant lullaby “Sleeping with the angel’”; and fell under the enchantment of Monica’s piece “Gaia’s Voice”.
And since that magnificence, I’ve enjoyed six years as director of Close Harmony Choir, a community choir, in Subiaco/Nedlands (2011-17). We have likewise pulled off some audacious projects: Christmas songs under a gazebo in Kings Park; a reenactment of that Christmas cult movie, called Christmas, Actually this time; two appearances at Dunsborough Songfest; a weekend retreat for our own pleasure at New Norcia; and, my personal favourite, in support for my one-man show Adventures of a Poet. But now that’s all come to a close as I pass the reins to a new Prince and crown him Young King Ryan.
It seemed fitting that this cycle of ascendancy took place at the Guildford Town Hall, where many years ago it had witnessed my giddying rise to glory as the EmCee in Garrick Theatre’s production of Cabaret (1985?). And if then I sang the opening number “Willkommen”, now I had an exit to make. But there was no farewell song, although there were rousing cheers.
There were 12 singers today (plus 2 conductors) – a small enough size for a choir. But despite having the odds stacked against them they clutched for grim mercy against the occasional musical demands I asked from them – the crescendo to a shattering last chord on Yawei; the subito pianissimo on verse 2 as Brothers got a farewell from the womenfolk in Stand by the shore; the surprising swell that emerged in the bridge passage of Great is He; the precision of the choreography in Akekho, and the unbridled delight of releasing Pete Townsend’s familiar pop hit “Left my love” in which Ryan and I joined in the singing as guest basses.
Unexpectedly, a farewell from Sammi – in public too – and I felt I heard a wave of applause from the audience that was meant as support; one of their own (there were many choirs in the Town Hall that afternoon) had leapt from the ledge of the cliff-top one final time as he winged his way toward foreign shores. “Bon chance”, they seemed to say.
I didn’t cry. I rarely do. But believe me, if felt as though much medicine had been ministered to the soul that afternoon, and, for all the struggles I have faced and will face, this makes me grateful to the core, the very vital fabric of my core.