In The Times, Wednesday, 3rd October 2007
By Tanja Cilia
She stands there, her seemingly effortless crystal high notes filling the hall. She manages the impossible feat of holding her singers in the palm of her hand while her nimble, eloquent fingers alternatively run across the keyboard or flit through the air to illustrate a point.
Ruth Sammut Casingena is in her element; her eyes shine as she peppers her instructions with background trivia to the music and esoteric advice to the selection of choir members present for her rehearsals.
She cajoles the women to insert the flirt into every move that she makes, but immediately reminds them that singing is “only speech plus music”.
Staccato melts into fluidity even in the most difficult pieces that would be mere tongue-twisters for someone like me, who cannot even carry a tune in a bucket. But, at least, I learn that consonants give colour but vowels carry the voice.
There is absolutely none of the usual foot-shuffling, throat-clearing, and watch-checking I have seen at other similar activities – in fact, when the booming church bells signal an end to the rehearsal, there is a collective sigh of disappointment.
Here is one brilliant woman who strives to pass on what she knows; the idea to embark on the Journey, through different styles and emotions and genres of music, was a brilliant one.
The singers think so too; the bulk of them are there on time – but it is obvious that the others have come straight from work, because they simply would not have missed this experience for anything.
There is a tangible crescendo of baroque splendour and exquisite vocal chiaroscuro every step of the way.
Then, Ms Sammut Casingena explains this sensational “journey”.
“It took me three months to finalise the choice of repertoire. I have chosen music that inspired my heart and overwhelmed me. Compiling the ultimate selection was truly a challenge; it involves different styles throughout and I had to maintain artistic and musical balance.
“Every number has its own spirit, origin, theme, and emotion. There are a variety of styles and forces which will be embodied in the show – hence it is really and truly a stylistic, dramatic and emotional journey. It’s an individual journey, on the one hand for all of us who are part of it, and on the other, it will be an individual journey for each and every member of the audience.”
A Journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step: How did the idea for yours germinate? And why?
“It had always been my dream to epitomise all my talents together in one show. I guess it was never the right time before now. Now, I feel I am ready to take a bigger step in my life, producing something of my own – especially at this point when I have acquired solid artistic experience and am at a stage where I want to create more myself.
“I felt that, having utilised extensively the majority of my talents, I now wanted to take it further. Besides, I am the type of character who finds the allure of different stages in life, fascinating. There are phases when you do one thing and other phases when you go further in that, whereas at other times you might opt for something different. I always believed in change; I always seek something that’s a greater challenge than the one before it.
“I had this dream of projecting myself as an all-round artist, a challenge in itself.”
How were the auditions organised?
“It was mid-June, and it was a Saturday. I was at the Catholic Institute with about five people who helped me throughout the morning and afternoon. The PRO and secretary of the show had been doing all the publicity for the auditions and it was a success.”
Did you have something like Voices or Chorus Line in mind?
“What I had was actually in my heart – not in my mind. I directed Vocal Aid for three consecutive years – that had been my idea. Last year, I had 500 choristers on stage. I feel a great love for choir directing.
“I have been a theatrical performer and recitalist for quite a long time now but directing a choir is another very beautiful experience that I always felt I wanted to keep on doing. So, essentially, I wanted to continue what I had started off with Vocal Aid and make it my own.”
What are your future plans for the choir?
“This is a show that involves different forces – vocal, choral, instrumental and dance. My idea is not only to fuse all my own talents together but also to bring together the different forms of art into one spectacle of sheer cultural entertainment.
“Journey is the start of a true journey of artistic opportunities, for which I intend to work very hard, to bring to the fore different talents, working hand-in-hand with other artistes to create and recreate.
How long have rehearsals been going on?
“Since the first week of July – we meet once a week and we have covered a good number of songs from the show. We are dedicated and thorough – it’s always hard work but loads of fun. The choristers are really lovely people. I admire their enthusiasm, dedication and commitment. At the moment, I’m doing auditions for a junior choir, whom I’d like to include in the programme.”
What’s on the programme?
“Ah, that would be telling! There is an eclectic combination of classical, musical theatre – ethnic and modern, choir and voice performances, instruments, choreography… a veritable roller coaster of emotions, and a rainbow of colours.”
If this concert is successful, do you plan to take it abroad?
“I have no doubt this show – it is not a concert – will be a success. If I had the means, I would definitely take it abroad.”
Will you yourself be singing?
“I shall be presenting myself as a versatile soprano, pianist and choir director – and at times swaying along with the dancers.”
Are you planning mini trial-run concerts?
“I am performing a couple of choral numbers during an event at the Casino Maltese, the Investiture in Malta, organised by the Knights of the Order of St. John.”
This is surely a labour of love…
“Well, there really isn’t’ much to add to that statement, is there? Art is a passion, it’s an innate gift which, once discovered and developed, will overwhelm your life and draw you into its world. The sacrifices, the pleasures, disappointments, dreams, difficult moments… all this must be love and nothing else – it is passion beyond understanding – it is indeed labour – endurance – pride – and, ultimately, innate peace.”
What does the choir consist of?
“There are about 110 choristers aged between 16 and 72 years.”
How do you motivate your singers?
“I guess I do inspire them with my knowledge, and coaching during rehearsals, and my enthusiasm. I believe in them from my heart, and they know it. I share with them musical knowledge and give them the background of the songs, so they project themselves into the right atmosphere and characterisation
“It’s hard, serious work, but there’s the humorous side, the fun…the clowning around…I really love working with this beautiful group of people. One of the most important things that I constantly stress is that each one of them is a protagonist in this show – they are not a composite assembly positioned at the back of the stage and used for musical purposes.
“They are the character in the song, the human being who is expressing all those emotions. Every one of them is a star who must relate to and connect with the audience just as much as I will be doing.”
Are any of your usual students in the choir?
“Yes, all of them.”
When and where will the Journey show take place?
“Saturday, December 1, 2007 at the Malta Hilton.”
Choristers speak …
Alba Florian Viton:
• I look upon this Journey as a new experience – it is also helping me to extend my range in order to sing better in my rock band April Ashes. So far it has been a wonderful experience and I am very happy to be here.
• I love the performing arts – and taking part in the Journey of a lifetime for me is an honour. I am part of the Dance Studio troupe, and I have also sung in Voices, and for me this is an exhilarating experience!
•I saw the advertisement in the newspaper; I was elated at being chosen to join Journey. Ruth is exceptional. As far back as I can remember I have always sung in choirs – I am currently a member of the Sghajtar Chapel choir.
•I am a drama teacher by profession and I also study voice with Ruth. Journey has many pieces from different musicals – it so happens that musical theatre combines three of my greatest loves in life – acting, singing, and drama. It’s sheer bliss being a part of this experience!
Miriam Borg Brincat:
•For these last two years I have been taking voice lessons at the Voice Academy. I was very happy to be accepted for Journey, especially since this was my first audition ever. I look forward to the rehearsals and I am thrilled at the choice of songs. I love the “complete” sound of choirs, and I know that the show for which we are rehearsing for is going to be magnificent bravura performance; I get gooseflesh even yet, as I sing, and it’s just rehearsals.