Thursday, 6 September 2018

Trinity Grade 6 Singing exam and the result!

As I lie here in my sick bed feeling a tad sorry for myself, I thought that I would put my spare time to some useful purpose by catching up with this humble blog. So much has happened since I last put finger to keyboard. There's been the 11th Caroline Sharpe Pupils concert, a myriad weddings at Prestwold, a couple of bizarre gigs and a small matter of a singing exam. Let's start with the latter shall we?
It was a full five years since I did my ABRSM Grade 5 singing exam and since then, life has conspired to distract me from the next goal - Grade 6. Trinity was deemed to be a better option this time as it requires less emphasis on music theory. Admittedly, motivation for further exams fell away somewhat as I rather lost  my singing 'mojo' for a while. That didn't stop Caroline from asking me when I was going to try my Grade 6 at regular intervals. Embarrassingly, it got to the point where Caroline just got fed up of waiting for me to commit, and just booked it! "You're doing it on Saturday 23rd June at 16.45pm" came the message. Okay, right, so that leaves me with a month or so to brush up on All I Care About (Cabaret); Ombra Mai Fu (Handel); Die Forelle (Schubert); The Wanderer (Haydn) plus the Vaccai, a tricky little vocal exercise.
The first two of the pieces I already knew fairly well from a while ago and I had almost learnt Die Forelle for the aforementioned Pupil concert, so this left me with the Vaccai and The Wanderer to try and drum into my brain. Needless to say, despite my best intentions, the intense practice sessions never quite happened and I approached the exam not really knowing three of the pieces well enough to confidently 'perform' them in the exam.
You see, the thing about me is, as Caroline will testify, I can only ever make a stab at actually performing a song if I am one hundred percent confident that I know the words off by heart. Then and only then will I ever relax enough to perform it and SING LIKE A MAN! Fortunately or unfortunately, Caroline admitted during one lesson that unlike with ABRSM, one could in fact sing with copies for Trinity exam. Even with a week to go, I felt determined to not use music and just try my best to learn the damn pieces, but at least the realisation that I could use music if I needed to did reduce the inevitable panic.
The truly marvellous Nest Harris was volunteered to be my accompanist and we had a pre-exam run through a few days beforehand. This went okay-ish but highlighted how much work was needed to get the words into my brain and make them stay there. And Nest, bless her, wasn't enjoying the 'twiddly bits' in Die Forelle one bit. Even Chris Hill admitted to me that he had dodged a bullet in not accompanying me for that piece at the pupil concert, so tricky are those 'diddly, diddly, dum, dum' bits, if you know the bits I mean. Any road, it'll be alright on the night as they say. Hopefully?
Exam day arrived way too quickly for my liking and I knew in my heart of hearts that there was simply no way on God's earth that I was going to remember The Wanderer at all or get the verses of Die Forelle right either. So sod it, I made the decision to use copies. Yes, I know, but I was determined to try and actually sing properly LIKE A MAN as Caroline keeps yelling at me, rather than yet again, being all hesitant and singing like a girlie (no offence ladies!)
So decision made and time to relax. Oh dear! On arrival at the exam venue (Catholic Martyrs School, Anstey Lane, Leicester) the lady at the desk told me that my pianist (Nest) had been in but had gone out, perhaps to her car. So Ruth and I waited. And waited. 'Kick off' was rapidly approaching and the lady suggested we go find Nest so we could maybe have a warm up. No sign of Nest in the car park or anywhere. Exam lady then started to get increasingly stressed and worried, thus transferring her stress on to me. 16.45pm came and passed and I was switched by Ms Stress-head to the last slot of the day and warned that the examiner couldn't stay any longer as she needed to catch a train! Hilariously the poor woman, now on the verge of spontaneous combustion then asked me if I had any recording on my phone to use as accompaniment! "Well" I said, "I've got a recording of Die Forelle, but it will mean singing a duet with Ian Bostridge!!!
I did say that if Nest doesn't reappear I would just have to rearrange another exam date. "I'm so sorry" says the lady, "this must be very stressful for you". Well, it wasn't until you started getting hysterical about it all madam, was what I thought at the time. Anyway, in heroic fashion, Nest Harris burst through the warm-up room door just in the nick of time. Nest bless her, had picked up the wrong bag on original departure and thus arrived without the music for my exam. She then proceeded to speed back to her home in Quorn, breaking the sound barrier in the process, to retrieve said music and whizz back to the exam venue. Hoorah!
And...…….. R E L A X !
In came Ms Stress-head to escort us into the hall to meet the examiner and off we went. First off was the Vaccai which HAD to be sung without copies. That went well without any major hiccups. Then Ombra Mai Fu, which also went well, with only a minor mispronunciation of one little bit. From then on I really relaxed a bit and Die Forelle, with my copy at my side as a security blanket, went fabulously. Definitely the best I've ever sung it. Throughout the piece I kept hearing Caroline's voice in my left ear shouting "Sing like a man"! Such were the acoustics in this venue that at one point I was  conscious of hearing my own voice coming back to me and thinking to myself blimey, that really sounds rather good!
As I said, The Wanderer I just didn't know well enough at all and I barely took my eye off the copy throughout, but at least I could concentrate on singing it well  and I can definitely say that it was the best that I'd ever sung that piece by some distance. In fact it was probably the first time I had sung it through completely without a cock-up!
To finish off was All I Care About, which I did know well and didn't use the copy at all. I gave it everything I could and even tried to act a tiny bit. Cringe!
Then, off went Nest, leaving just me and the examiner for the dreaded sight reading and other stuff. Oh dear. The sight reading was bad. I mean REALLY bad. Embarrassingly bad in fact, so much so that the examiner was actually grinning at me on completion, trying to stifle hysterical laughter. I said "you may well laugh, but my singing teacher always tells me not to panic, but I always do, I can't help myself". I stumbled through the rest of the exercises and at least said something vaguely intelligent about a piece being staccato and 3/4 time.
Well that was it. I was confident of a pass - beyond that, who knows?  The good thing about Trinity singing exams is that one doesn't need to wait too long for the result and about a week later it came through and Caroline phoned me to let me know...….
83% - MERIT
Bloody hell, what a turn up! It was a damned good merit too, with 75% needed for that grade. I was only 4 % off a distinction! If only I could've calmed down and sight read properly I'd have nailed it. The adjudicators Examination Report was full of fabulous comments. So proud am I of it , I'll let you read it yourself....
Al's Trinity Grade 6 Singing Examination Report

The sight reading report is just funny. "A rather hesitant reading with a little of the shape"!?! A little over kind methinks!

Trinity Grade 6 Exam Certificate
MERIT! Get in!
I will leave it at that for now folks but might endeavour to post again soon regarding recent gigs including the extraordinary (even by CSS standards!) Acoustic Festival gig in Leicester in August, so stay tuned.
Cheers for now,
P.S. Nearly forgot to bring you...……
The Norman Hockley
Joke of the Month
Did you hear about that guy, Simon Wilson on Stars in their Eyes last month? It was an amazing story he had to tell. He had suffered a terrible accident the previous year which pretty much destroyed the lower half of his body. Surgeons didn't think he could survive until concidentally, his dad's brother was admitted to the same hospital, having suffered an equally terrible accident but to the top half of his body. The surgeons realised that Simon's only hope was to receive a transplant of the bottom half of his body from his dad's brother. Amazingly the surgery went ahead and was a complete success. To celebrate his miraculous return to health Matthew Kelly was delighted to welcome Simon onto the show to sing.
"So Simon, who are you going to be for us tonight"? said Matthew.
"Well, tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Simon and Half-Uncle"!

I'm so sorry, I really am!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Sileby, Quorn and a wardrobe malfunction.

Well, you wait for a concert for what seems like an age and then two come along at once. The weekend of Friday 13th and Saturday 14th of April, meant concerts for both Caroline Sharpe Singers and the Loughborough Male Voice Choir.

First things first. Friday 13th (is that really a wise date on which to undertake a concert?) at Sileby Methodist Church, Caroline Sharpe Singers were to give a concert in aid of church funds and a good turn out of choir members assembled in readiness to give our all. Over the years, concert venues become something of a blur to me but even with my sieve-like memory, I recalled having been there before, singing a solo  of On the Street Where You Live, if I recall correctly. Actually, I could check that out by reading back through this blog - if I could be bothered!

On this fair night, our beloved MD did state, that all songs would be sung bereft of copies, with the exception of Greensleeves. The planned 'learning of the words' that I'd promised myself, never quite happened, so The Longest Time was again destined to be err, less than perfect? Perhaps we tenors could at least keep the unwanted key changes down to the minimum this time? I wouldn't bet my mortgage on it, if indeed I had one!

One thing about this concert that does need addressing and has already been highlighted by Caroline herself, is that of 'the art of filing'. Now, we're not talking about putting sheets of paper in tall, grey, three-drawer cabinets here, we are talking about filing on and off stage. Walking on stage and then walking off stage. It's not 'rocket science' is it (to use an over-used cliché)? CSS are not alone here. The LMVC have had their fair share of filing nightmares in the past, but under the determined supervision of Lyndon Gardner these days, such cock-ups seem to be a thing of the past. But the filing of CSS on Friday, I have to say, was utterly shambolic. So shambolic in fact, that during this Saturday's rehearsal, Caroline gave us all her 'Idiot's Guide to Filing' demonstration. Oh how I wish I had been fore-warned of this so that I could have had my I-phone ready to record it for posterity. The demo will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it. Quite hilarious! Equally hilarious were her instant put-downs. "Caroline? Can I make a suggestion?" "No!" says Caroline.  I think we know who's boss eh, ladies and gentlemen?

On the night, I thought we sang pretty well on the whole. Even the dreaded Greensleeves went pretty well. And The Longest Time was going well too until the last verse, when I think all of us tenors had a brain-freeze and the whole thing nearly stalled. But hey, we finished well. And, I messed up the clapping in Jubilee. Again. This time I missed it altogether and rather than look even more of a prat by trying to jump in mid-way, I chose to give it a miss entirely and make it look like it was always meant to be that way. Oh dear!

As well as CSS, the concert also featured solo spots for Katie Muller and also her mother Yvonne Renouf. I wish I could give a glowing report but alas, I was horribly distracted by strange goings-on in the kitchen at the time, (about which I will not elaborate further) and pretty much missed their performances as I teetered on the brink of an emotional melt-down. The gals were I'm told, excellent though!

I did manage to listen to some of the flute group called Mistral Music that included some instruments that I had never seen before. I presume there were bass flutes and tenor flutes? I will shut up now as I know not what I am talking about. They made a very nice sound though. The group included the above mentioned and multi-talented, Yvonne Renouf, who seems to be in just about everything at the moment. Where does she find the time to do it all I wonder?

So the concert went pretty well and feedback from the audience suggests that they enjoyed it too, raising a good sum of money in the process.


I interrupt this blog for . . . . . .


"Have you heard about all the crime that's been going on in the multi-storey car park?

It's just wrong on so many levels!"

Brrrrrrummm, tiiisssccchhh!


Okay, now where was I?

Ah yes, about to write about last weekend's other gig on Saturday April 14th at Quorn Community Hall, that marked my momentous return to the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. Recent events in the Coward/Sharpe/Gray household have meant that I had to miss a significant number of pre-concert rehearsals with the LMVC, meaning I was horribly under-prepared for my 'comeback gig'. This was the last concert to feature pieces from last year's core music, so the choir knew all the songs pretty well. Now if I had had any sense I would've bailed out of this one and delayed my comeback until the first concert of the new core music. Silly me. So I somehow needed to bluff my way through a concert when not knowing some pieces at all well, and in one case, Morte Christe, not at all. More on that later.

Considering the above scenario, I was remarkably relaxed about it all and started to get prepared in good time. A brand new blazer was purchased online for a mere £35 from Pegasus Menswear so all I needed to do was affix my choir badge to said blazer with good ol' Wonderweb' (until I find the time to get it properly sewn on!). Job done. Now to get ready. Blazer - check! White shirt - check! LMVC tie - check! Black socks - check! Shiny black shoes - check! Grey trousers - oh, now where are my grey trousers? Ah, here they are. No they're not, they are Ruth's. So where are mine? Answer, nowhere to be found! Bugger! I must have chucked them at the same time that I chucked my old worn out LMVC jacket when I took my break from the choir!

Now what the hell do I do? Can I get away with black trousers? Not a chance. I know there are some 'Fifty Shades of Grey' amongst the ranks of the LMVC but not even I could convince anyone that mine were just very dark grey!?! Could my grey jeans work? Hell no!

Should I just not turn up and plead insanity? Well, after Chairman Higgins had made the point during last week's rehearsal that several members who had said they were definitely attending the previous Lambing service performance but didn't, I could hardly now do likewise. So, nothing else for it but to do a last minute panic trip to Tesco in the desperate hope that they had some grey trousers. I had precious little time to look and try on. Anyway, they did have some and in what I thought were my size, so I bought them, rushed into Tesco loos, changed into them and legged it. On my way back to the van I looked down and realised the grey trousers were a bit on the short side. In fact I think I looked rather like Peter Crouch (a 6' 7'' tall footballer for the uninitiated) who had struggled to find any trousers long enough to fit him. Sigh!

On arrival I texted Ruth this embarrassing news and she and her sister Julia asked if I was staying with the 'ankle swinger' look or wearing them on my hips, but thus risking the 'low slung gusset' look? I opted for the latter and think I got away with it. Just!

But what of the concert? Well, many of the songs I knew quite well, like With a Voice of Singing, When the Saints Go Marching in and Gwahoddiad, but others I knew less well, but as copies were allowed for most, they went okay. The problem though was Morte Christe. Most of the choir had been singing this a lot over the last couple of years during my absence, and by long standing members for many a moon. But for me it was completely new and was to be sung without copies. Now how does one sing a song that you don't know at all, without copies and not stick out like a sore thumb to the audience? Well, I knew the first couple of lines and by listening to the rest of the choir, I found I could almost guess the words as they were being sung. So I got through it in reasonably convincing fashion. At least, I think so.

Another notable thing from this concert was the huge difference in those 'Shanty Men'. There were a few new faces included in this group of chaps and gone were the arran sweaters. But this was without doubt the best performance by the Shanty Men that I have seen. Each song was sung without copies as Terry Jones proudly proclaimed. How the guys learnt all the words to one song in particular, I will never know. Very impressive chaps!

Then there was that renowned double act of Gerry Brennan and Michael Dukes performing some classic Flanders and Swann  routines which had the audience in stitches, especially the one about the Horn. Rather worryingly, Gerry seems to enjoy performing that one particularly!

So it was good to be back in the thick of things after my enforced break from the choir. There now follows a good five weeks or so to learn some songs properly and actually be ready for the next set of concerts. Now that would be good eh?

See y'all next time!

Cheers, Alyn.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

WRAD 3 coffee morning dedicated to Peter Sharpe

It hardly seems twelve months since the Caroline Sharpe Singers transformed themselves into The Purple Angel Singers for World Rocks Against Dementia 2017 and set off for the south-west and that magical day in Seale Hayne. But it is and such was the success last year of both the Trinity coffee morning and WRAD event, we were always going to do something similar in 2018.
If there's one thing my wife Ruth is something of an expert at, it is generating an audience. While there was not to be a tour this year, it was decided to do another coffee morning at Trinity Methodist Church Centre, incorporating a concert (or 'open rehearsal' as Caroline was calling it!) by the Purple Angel Singers, second-hand bookstalls, display stands, bric-a-brac, 'Guess the name of the Teddy', etc, etc... Oh, and cake. Lots of cake!
This years WRAD was all the more poignant, as it followed the funeral of Ruth's dad, Peter Sharpe, on Thursday 22nd March who had sadly passed away on March 1st. As most of you will be aware, Peter had Alzheimer's and Ruth had been giving talks on his life story, 'ark at our Peter. With Peter having been such a well known man in Loughborough, coupled with dementia touching the lives of so many these days, this year's event on Saturday 24th March brought another bumper attendance. This whole event was dedicated to Peter Sharpe.
Prior to the start of our performance, I took the opportunity to eat some cake obviously and peruse the book stall, where I spotted a biography of my old Darcy Lever neighbour, Fred Dibner. I had to have that obviously! Ruth had commissioned someone called Alan Price to make some fantastic Purple Angel  stained glass hanging ornaments which were rather impressive (and sold out by the following day!).
We Purple Angels did our stuff, singing such gems as Sing with the spirit, Mack the Knife, Dry your tears Afrika and The Longest Time. Oh dear! We tenors started in the right key (I think) but proceeded to change to a different key for just about every verse, getting lower and lower each time to the point where we were virtually unaccompany-able by the last verse. It was truly hideous, but will be remembered for a long time! May it be, thankfully, was lovely, as was Tell me it's not true and Sing to me. However, Jubilee needs a bit more work, to put it kindly. Especially the clapping where we must have resembled a bunch of seals flapping our flippers. I don't know what the collective noun is for a group of seals, or indeed if it is flippers that they have, but you get my drift!
What the heck, much fun was had by all and huge sum of around eight hundred pounds was raised for a very good cause, to hopefully get an Admiral nurse for Leicestershire.
For anyone who would still like to contribute to this fabulous cause, you may do so by clicking here the 'Just Giving' page. Thanks!

Well, that just about wraps it up for now, but stay tuned for reviews of a weekend double-bill of gigs - a Caroline Sharpe singers concert at Sileby Methodist Church on Friday 13th rapidly followed by my first gig back with the LMVC.

Until next time!



Monday, 8 January 2018

New Year's resolution? Let's (re) join a choir!

Okay, so what the hell happened to 2017? I know it is supposed to be an age thing, that the older you get the quicker time seems to fly by, but blimey Charlie, the last twelve months seem to have galloped by at a rate of knots and as Norman Hockley reminds me all too regularly, there has been a distinct lack of blogs.
Too true Norman, alas. I won't make the mistake of pledging to post more, but fingers crossed for a more prolific 2018?
Now, I'm not generally the type of person to make lots of new year resolutions as invariably they are binned by January the second. But this time around, I did pledge to do one thing in particular and that is to rejoin the Loughborough Male Voice Choir! 'Hoorah' I hear you cry? Well, I must admit that it's not until you sing a traditional male voice choir piece after a long break that you realise just how you miss it. At the end of their 50th Anniversary Gala concert last October, past members in the audience were invited to join the choir 'onstage' to sing that male voice choir classic, Gwahoddiad. This particular piece just so happens to be my all time favourite and that 'Amen' finale particularly sends shivers down the spine every time, so I found it impossible to turn down. Perhaps it was Chris Hills' cunning plan to get some of us former members to reconsider? If it was, it certainly did the trick in my case.
It must be about two years now since I took a break from the LMVC for many reasons, but I've certainly not been idle singing-wise since then. I've been singing regularly with Caroline Sharpe Singers, dabbled with slightly ill-fated Per Sempre (soon to be resurrected - watch this space!) and even flirted briefly with the Christchurch Gilbert & Sullivan Society's production of The Sorcerer. But there's nowt like Gwahoddiad to make you realise what you have been missing.

And then there's Norman Hockley. Regularly chastising me for my lack of blog output, he has also been trying to persuade me to rejoin LMVC. Such a move has been there in the back of my mind for a while but you see, there's Norman's jokes to consider. Every Saturday morning I have the 'pleasure' if  that is indeed the word, of being the audience for Norman's weekly joke. Hilarious as they invariably are, can I really subject myself to more of the same on Thursday too?

What the hell, last Thursday I went along to their first rehearsal of 2018. Good timing as it turned out as the choir was to be starting to get to grips with their new 'core' set of pieces for this year - some brand new and some that were to be revived after being so long submerged in the back catalogue archive that only John Holt is likely to remember them!

I must say, it was nice to be back and to be welcomed back so warmly. Thanks chaps! There are quite a few new faces to get to know, as well as reacquaint myself with the others. And, there are a few new items of clothing required too. There appears to be LMVC sweatshirts and polo shirts to be had, as well as a new blazer to be purchased. I think I still have my LMVC badge somewhere, if I can only remember where I put it......? I'd better get my act together as there's a gig coming up fairly quickly!

It looks like it is going to be a busy year of singing with CSS, LMVC, a potential Purple Angel charity gig in March and the Annual Pupils Concert on May 26th. I've even been threatened by Caroline with a Trinity Grade 6 singing exam at some point in 2018, just so that I don't get too bored. As if?

So may I say Happy New Year to one and all and look forward to many more singing blogs as we plod through 2018. As ever, spread the word re this ol' blog, both the above choirs and singing in general. Let me finish for now with a plug for the Loughborough Male Voice Choirs Annual 'Men - Learn to Sing Harmony' course, starting on Thursday 11th January 2018, to be held at Trinity Methodist Church Centre. Clich HERE for details! If you have, or know anyone else who has always fancied having a bash at singing but were too shy to try, then point them in our direction. Who knows, you could end up writing a blog about it all like this one!

See you next time!

Cheers, Alyn.