Our sixth and final guest in our ‘Winter Warmers’ on Tuesday 30th March was Soprano Lorna Anderson
Helensburgh Oratorio Choir
Winter Warmer Programme 2021
Our sixth and final guest in our ‘Winter Warmers’ on Tuesday 30th March was Soprano Lorna Anderson. With her close ties to Helensburgh and the Oratorio, it was like being treated to a cup of tea with your favourite friend as she started to recall memories from her earliest days and tell us about how she started on the road to stardom as a world-renowned Soprano.
Born in Dunbeath, a beautiful village, located on the East Coast of Scotland in the County of Caithness, just 30 miles South of John O'Groats, Lorna recalled the records she used to listen to on her parents’ old gramophone/radio player. (We had one of those too!). It was mostly traditional Scottish songs and the wonderful Irish Tenor, John McCormack records. She played us a track ‘I love a Lassie’ from The White Heather Club collection. That had all our toes tapping!
It was her Father’s job as a policeman which brought her to Dumbarton round the age of 2. Although he had first done some farming on the Isle of Seil, just south of Oban. As she was growing up and going to Primary School, it was records of the Musicals which she loved. She just adored Rodgers and Hammerstein and gave us an insight into why the musicals of Rodgers and Hart are quite different. Hart would write the music first and Hammerstein the words, whereas Hammerstein would write the words first and Rodgers would put the music to them. Now, I didn’t know that, did you?
South Pacific was one of her favourites and she let us listen to ‘I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair’. She loved music and singing from a very early age. This was encouraged at school but she recalls her disappointment at not being allowed to sing in the school choir which was entered into the local music Festival because…she had lost her teeth and couldn’t say the words properly!! It still makes her sad to this day. She started piano lessons at this time and fondly remembers her first teacher, Mrs Myra Cotton. The next excerpt Lorna played for us was Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat major which is the last of the three that Liszt wrote and the most popular. Lorna admitted that the version of the waltz she used to play was a very simplified one!
Dumbarton Operatic Society was thriving and one of it’s stalwarts, John Mulvenna, worked beside her father. So, getting a ticket for one of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas was very easy, if not obligatory. To illustrate a favourite memory, Lorna played the famous comic song from The Pirates of Penzance ‘A policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One!’ (Happy One). That certainly brought a smile to everyone’s face.
With only 6 months of Primary school left, Lorna’s father was transferred to Helensburgh and she finished her Primary schooling at Colgrain Primary where she took up the recorder in Mrs Cameron’s class. Moving to Hermitage Academy the following August, she was introduced to the music department and that ‘changed the course of her life’. What a fabulous department that was with Elaine Thornton, Ian McDonald, Robert Pullen (inspirational conductor of the school where Lorna played the flute) and head of department, Andrew Kinloch who had her in the senior choir almost from the word go. She has so many fond memories of that department. The time when they used a starting gun for the cannons in the 1812 overture and the ambition of singing Mendelssohn’s oratorio ‘Elijah’ with its double choruses! She also recalled a wonderful choral piece with intricate harmonies sung by the senior choir by Stanford ‘Heraclitus’. We were able to listen to this too followed by an octet from Elijah featuring a good friend, the tenor Robert Johnston, ‘For he shall give his angels charge over thee’
Lorna went on to tell us that the Dorian Choir, conducted by Bill Kean, was her first foray into local choirs alongside the Park Church choir where Andrew Kinloch was the organist and choir master.
She always knew that music and singing was what she wanted to do so she started piano again, this time with Walter Blair to whom she owes so much even though she was terrified of his Beagles!! Walter encouraged her to join HOC and she recalls having to sight read a piece from Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ as her audition piece. She recalls how it was with HOC that she performed her first Messiah, St John Passion, Brahms Requiem, and Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’. She has such fond memories of her time with HOC and made lifelong friends such as Susan Park who became Godmother to her daughter. She played us the ‘Kyrie’ from the Rossini as she remembers those days with HOC. This is also a favourite of mine, which we last performed in 2008.
Having been allowed to drop Chemistry for German (because she would need that for her career), stolen the book on Music as a career from the library, Walter helped her prepare for her RSAMD audition which she passed. In fact, she won an entrance scholarship and Walter also ensured that she ask for Pat McMahon as her singing teacher. The rest, as they say is history. Find out more about Lorna here:
Lorna feels she was blessed with being surrounded by all the right people from a very early age. It was certainly a privilege to listen to her reminiscing so warmly. Some requests and questions from our audience followed:
‘Gie’s a song Lorna’!
Lorna sang a beautiful acapella rendition of ‘Ye Banks and Braes’ – just fabulous. Thank you!
Walter asked if she recalled singing the challenging solo in Hymn to St Cecilia, Op. 27 (This is a choral piece by Benjamin Britten, a setting of a poem by W. H. Auden)
Yes, she remembers it very well as a wonderful piece albeit very challenging
What are you doing at the moment?
As with many other musicians, because of COVID, there have been many cancellations but she plans to tour again in Germany in July this year as she was able to complete a tour there with Jamie MacDougall in October 2020. She continues with her teaching work with the Royal Welsh College of music in Cardiff and hopes to get back to face to face teaching soon and away from ZOOM! She also examines under graduates at the RSC and hopes to return to that soon too.
How can we encourage young people to join choirs?
Lorna admits it is very difficult question and there are no easy answers but there remains popularity with singing together e.g. The Rock Choir or the Choirs inspired by Gareth Malone (Military Wives). She recalls when she was teaching in schools, they tried to encourage boys to join with a more bespoke programme e.g., barbershop which did work. She hoped that music in primary (and secondary) schools would continue and that local authorities would not continue to cut funding for music which has been such a problem recently. A difficult one indeed!
No sooner had we said goodbye and logged off our zoom call, than the feedback from you came flooding in. Such an appreciative audience for a lovely lady! We have passed this on to her. We truly hope we can invite Lorna back to sing with us in the very near future.
That was our final offering of our Winter Warmer series. It certainly brought a warm glow to my heart. Our sincere thanks to all our wonderful contributors and to all of you for tuning in.
For the next 4 weeks we are planning to get to grips with ‘Breathing Space’ by Aileen Sweeney. Please listen to the teach tracks on our website and, if you can, print off the final copy of the score. It is hoped that this piece will feature in our first concert back!!
Remember to look out on Good Friday (2nd April 2021) for our recording of Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum’
Best wishes to you all