Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas Eve Carols in the Park

I suppose 'traditions' evolve over a long period of time, but I think we may have experienced the start of one this Christmas Eve in Loughborough's Queen's Park.

Some months ago Caroline came up with the crazy idea of adding a choir to the 'traditional' Christmas Eve Carillon Recital in Queen's Park! Not particularly crazy on the face of it, but when you start to think about it, all manner of questions and doubts arise. For example, how could we possibly coordinate between carillonneur and choir? Would the choir hear the carillon while standing under the bandstand? How would the combined carillon and choir actually sound in reality? Would we get an audience? Would we even have a choir at all, given peoples own christmas plans? Finally, would the beloved Charnwood Council even allow us to perform at all given the perils of 'Health and Safety' in the modern world?

So the first task for Caroline was to tackle the latter concern and approach the relevant council officials. I think they were supportive of the idea in principle, but a 'risk assessment' would need to be carried out. Now I am familiar with such essentials in my role with Balfour Beatty. 'ZERO HARM' is my daily mantra now of course and something I apply in all areas of my life, at all times! Hey Julia, stop sniggering! One can never be TOO safe, even when engaged in the apparently safe pursuit of singing a carol in a bandstand!

God help us! But one thing I have learnt over the last two and a half years is that there is no escape from corporate 'bollards'. Ignore it at your peril. So Caroline set about listing all the possible traumas that might befall a choir in a bandstand:-
  • Tripping and falling on the steps perhaps? (Ooh, nasty! Bandages, plasters, tin of germoline, team of paramedics?)
  • Sore throats from singing too loud or dodgy technique? Not possible for a Caroline Sharpe Singer obviously, but maybe others?
  • Paper cuts from the music sheets? No really, this WAS listed I believe!
  • How about hypothermia? Possibly the most likely scenario given the time of year?
One unforeseen risk was the possiblilty of strangulation by tinsel, and this was only narrowly averted, mentioning no names, Chris Hill!

Honestly, what a nonsense, but 'rules is rules' as they say. Risk Asessment was duly submitted and the 'all clear' was granted - eventually. We were green for go! Maestro and all round hero Chris Hill bought into the mad idea and was willing to attempt to pull together the choir and carillon. But how to raise a choir and audience? The invite went out to all Caroline Sharpe Singers, Enchanted, Loughborough Male Voice Choir and just about anybody else willing to pop along and who fancied a sing-song.

But how to raise an audience? This potentially ground breaking event definitely needed an audience however it was going to turn out, so publicity was therefore required. Well, in this respect Caroline Sharpe excelled herself. Our friends at Loughborough Echo produced a good piece to support it, but it was Radio Leicester that really came up trumps. An interview with Caroline, who is getting increasingly adept at handling the media, was played throughout the morning of Christmas Eve in several news bulletins and in a longer piece mid morning. Superb!

Right then, game on! I'm not sure Caroline was entirely convinced as a rather nervous phone call to Ruth expressed doubts as to whether we would even have a choir let alone an audience. When we arrived at the bandstand we did indeed have a choir. Well, there was me, Ruth and Julia joining Anna-Ruth, so that was a start. My first job was to ascend the memorial tower's steps right to the top to open the louvre doors - a task beyond the vertigo suffering Caroline.
When I rejoined the choir at the bandstand, the gathering of singers had swelled to a creditable number and we did indeed have an audience. Hoorah! As kick-off approached, yet more people joined audience and choir alike. LMVC members were conspicuous by their absence with the exception of Sue Ellerby who for a change had left her keyboard behind in favour of having a sing along with her husband Mike. Good on yer Sue! Plenty of partners and friends came along too, much to Caroline's delight.

So time for a warm up and a test of the 'walkie-talkies' that were to enable carillonneur and conductor to hopefully coordinate proceedings:-
Beep! "Are you ready, over?" says Caroline.
Chris replied with "that's a big 'ten-four', rubber duck", or something similar and we were ready for the off!

We hesitantly started with Away in a Manger. Click below to view the video!

Okay, so it started off a bit all over the shop, but Chris quickly realised that choir members in the middle of the bandstand could hear precious little of the Carillon, so moved outside to conduct where at least he could hear. Standing on the edge meant that I could hear the carillon and see Chris, so was okay, but it was a struggle for others. We even shuffled round to a better position, mid carol!

By now the audience had swelled to amazing numbers and seemed really 'into' the whole occasion. On we pressed with Once in Royal David's City, followed by Ding Dong Merrily on High (which can both be found now on Youtube - channel 'Enchantize' See the link in the right-hand column of this blog).
Then we sang Silent Night followed by Good King Wenceslas. This one was interesting as men sang some verses and the ladies others. We did drift out of synch with Caroline a couple of times, and had an aditional contribution from Charlie King the cameraman. Take a look:-

I don't know who the bearded gentleman was front right, but whoever you were Sir, may I formally invite you to join the Loughborough Male Voice Choir! We certainly need to boost our numbers and you were in fine voice.

There followed renditions of Coventry Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, White Christmas and Hark the Herald Angels Sing and you can view the latter here:-

Chris Hill was doing a great job in between carols chatting to the crowd and getting them involved with the singing. He did rather struggle to control his tinsel though which did make a break for freedom on several occasions.

To round off this memorable event we finished off with Christmas Song (chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that) and finally O Come All Ye Faithful.

Chris Hill thanked the appreciative audience who slowly drifted away leaving us to reflect on a wonderfully successful event. Yes, there were a few times when choir struggled to keep in time with the carillon, but we gradually got a feel for it. The overwhelming feeling of many of those participating was that this should definitely be repeated. The lessons learnt from this first try will I'm sure stand us all in good stead for future such events.

I couldn't help but wonder just how big this could become with full support and backing from the council and local media. A big, rehearsed choir with a large crowd of Loughborough residents, could make this something very special every Christmas Eve for the town of Loughborough!
See you all next year. Same time, same place?
In the meantime,
Have a Very Happy New Year!

Cheers for now,

P.S. I've had a bit of trouble uploading one or two videos, so may attempt a few more in a day or two, so stay tuned.

Monday, 26 December 2011

To the Baptist Church, Carillon Court and a trip to Milton Keynes?

Take those chocolates away please! No really. I think it may only take one more 'Celebration', pistaccio nut or chocolate Brazil to tip the delicate balance of my guts over the edge and towards digestive armageddon! Mince Pie anyone? Brrrrp!?!

So, time for a Boxing Day detox, an evening chill and a blog catch up. Now where was I up to? Oh yes, a concert. Okay, so it wasn't Milton Keynes, but it certainly looked like it. The town in question was East Goscote, a 1970's planning catastrophe where the only things missing are some concrete cows! Very odd place, but I shall return to that later.

Firstly, another insanely busy weekend began with a short stint for the Loughborough Male Voice Choir at the Baptist Church commencing at ten o'clock on Saturday 17th. We were to be the first on and thus rather lacked an audience at the start with just seven or so intrepid souls present. However, numbers had swelled to around twenty-five by the close of our 15-20 minutes. How did it go? Well, let's just say we were a bit rusty! I barely got going in truth - even Sue threw in a few dodgy notes during the intro to one carol, much to her embarrassment. But, no worries, we did, like the church, warm up and get into the flow of it all eventually. We got it together by the end and then made the short walk across town to Carillon Court for our stint there at 11 o'clock.

We assembled in good time to follow the Salvation Army Band who were just finishing off. As we sang, a good number of curious shoppers took a break from their last minute search for bargains to listen to us as we went through our repertoire. I had my usual fan club in attendance with Ruth, Caroline, Julia and the in-laws present with Ruth and Caroline handing out promo leaflets for the choir! Well done ladies. You will be rewarded in heaven!

 Part of my fan club: L-R Julia, Caroline and Martin

 Heroes! Caroline and Ruth, collecting for LOROS and handing out LMVC
recruitment leaflets to potential male passers-by!
By that I mean potential choir members not potential males - obviously!?!

Caroline with LOROS collecting bucket.

The singing was relaxed and fun despite the hustle and bustle of christmas shopping all around us. Quite a few stopped for most of the carols with lots actually joining in to sing which was great! Apparently, quite a few gentlemen expressed an interest in the male voice choir and hopefully it is being seen in this sort of setting and being seen to be having a lot of fun that will persuade a few to come along to a rehearsal on a Thursday evening!

LMVC including Paul Blakemore in 'Bah Humbug' hat and me
(centre-right) & accompanied by Sue Ellerby

A smiling Paul Blakemore in that 'Bah Humbug' hat!

Chris Hill conducts Chris Higgins - amongst others!

Loughborough Male Voice Choir in fine voice in Carillon Court

Assorted tenors' with me second from left.

 Gwynne gives what was to be his final cornet solo during The Oxen before he leaves the choir.
Cheers and thanks Gwynne. You will be missed!

LMVC in full voice. Great fun was had by choir and shoppers alike.

After all that it was my turn to play audience for a change. On Saturday evening, Ruth and I went along to a strange place called East Goscote, a 1970ish new town built on the site of a former army supply depot. As mentioned earlier, it reminded me a bit of Milton Keynes - lots of concrete and row after row of characterless buildings. Even the 'church' which was to be the venue for the evening's concert looked more like a school hall rather than a church.  The concert was to prove an odd mix of festive music from the Cossington Singers, a flutist and the singing of Caroline Sharpe. The flutist was excellent but the choice of music was rather tenuously linked to the festive period. The Cossington singers presented some good Christmas songs, but should have perhaps left out the Pam Ayres 'comedy spot' which didn't quite work for me. Caroline Sharpe was without doubt (and without a hint of bias at all) a class apart. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this woman ought to be a worldwide superstar if there's any justice in this world. Her rendition of O Holy Night was truly stunning - the sort of performance that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Absolutely brilliant!

Caroline before her concert in East Goscote with the Cossington Singers

So with that, we then attempted to find our way home, but like my last trip to Milton Keynes, only succeeded in going round in circles. With the deja vu feeling beginning to take hold we finally resorted to the SatNav to get us out of the place! Scary!?!

So was that it for Christmas festivities 2011? Not a bit of it! Next up was an ambitious, (some may say downright foolhardy) attempt to have the traditional Loughborough Christmas Carillon Recital accompanied by a choir. Mad? Doomed to inevitable catastrophe? Maybe, but we the intrepid choir (whoever we turned out to be) were to be conducted by the safe hands of Chris Hill the renowned musical director of LMVC and accompanist to Enchanted. How did it turn out? Did we have an audience? Did we even have a choir? Come back in a day or two for all the gory details which will (technology permitting), include video footage of the momentous event. Not to be missed - trust me!

P.S. Turkey sandwich anyone?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's now five minutes to midnight on Christmas Eve and this is the first opportunity I have had to add something 'A Nightingale Sang...' for over a week! With festive preparations building up with each passing day, I've just not had a spare moment to devote to writing about everything. Busy, but exciting times!

There has been the annual stint for the Lufbra Male Voice Choir at the Carillon Court last Saturday morning which was great fun. Then we took in a concert in East Goscote featuring Caroline and the Cossington Singers. And today we had the ground breaking Christmas Eve Carillon Recital by Caroline. Ground breaking because this time her recital was to be accompanied by a choir of assorted random singers at the Queens Park Bandstand!

So folks, I promise, as soon as I've got the Christmas festivities out of the way I will get to work on a thorough round-up of the weeks events, complete with photos and some video footage of the Queens Park Carillon Choir Carol Concert! An amazing event that drew quite a crowd and was enjoyed by everyone who attended. And I wouldn't mind betting that it just might become something of a tradition in the years to become!

In the meantime, may I wish all my readers

 A Very Happy Christmas!

And I will see y'all soon. Cheers!
- Alyn

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Just another manic Sunday!

Would you believe it? Solo number two is done and dusted, to end a quite manic but fun filled weekend consisting of Caroline Sharpe Singers rehearsal, Wedding in Wymeswold, Enchanted concert in Barrow, Loughborough Male Voice Choir singing in Sainsburys and a Caroline Sharpe Singers concert in Sileby which included the aforementioned solo spot.

Okay, first on the weekend agenda was the 10 o'clock rehearsal of CSS at Trinity Methodist Church. This all went very well and as it was Caroline's 23rd birthday (?), a beautifully sung 'Happy Birthday' was in order. So the run through went pretty well until Caroline decided to spring the solo run through on me. Now I should've anticipated this really, but the sudden shock sent me into panic mode (again). As I sang Born in the Night (Mary's Child) it seemed to me to  be in completely the wrong key! Common sense would suggest that the venerable Mr Hill would be absolutely right and indeed he was. It was all a figment of my over anxious imagination. Not to worry, I remained confident that it would be alright on the night, despite again being extremely nervous of singing in front of this small group of people. I now have a theory as to why this is - more on that later!

From there we trundled off in convoy to Wymeswold for choir duties at another wedding. This turned out to be a much more upbeat ceremony than previous ones and I thought we sang rather well.

Being Caroline's birthday, it was all round to her place after that for nibbles and cake - plenty of cake - A 'Julia' cake created to her 'secret recipe' and a 'Herman' cake!?! Don't ask - there's insufficient space within this blog to explain. . . Herman was very nice anyway. Prior to leaving Caroline's for the evening concert, we all had a sing-song of carols old and new around the piano, which was a right larf!

Okay, off we now go up the road, a mere stone's throw, to Barrow for the evening's Enchanted concert. This was a slightly shorter version of the previous concert, with readings but minus some of the Messiah songs. This was another excellent concert by the girls. They were going to have to do something miraculous to better the last effort and they weren't far off. Bravo! I spent the gig videoing all the songs for possible upload to Youtube. If we do this I'll let you all know.

So back home for a wind-down with a nice bottle of 'red' before a good night's sleep. Readers will no doubt remember that prior to my debut solo a mere 3 weeks ago, I had a bit of a confidence crisis. No such repeat this time I'm happy to report as I slept like a log without the need to symbolically back out of the impending solo.

So Sunday came along and off we went to Sainsbury's in the pouring rain! No matter, we were under cover in the foyer and as I arrived, the Salvation Army band were finishing off their stint. Rather than waffle on about it all, I'll let the photos tell the story of a fun hours carol singing . . .

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir in fine voice at Sainsburys.

Chris Hill conducts the Loughborough Male Voice Choir plus special (albeit shocked) guest -
Enchanted's Olivia Thornber.

Some tenors! R - L:- Lyndon Gardner (first tenor)  and Gwynn Bailey and me (second tenors).

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir at Sainsburys, accompanied by Sue Ellerby (hidden).

A 'choir's-eye view of conductor Chris Hill in action.
Photo taken by guest singer for 'Hark the Herald' , my wife Ruth!

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir at Sainsburys!
You can just about spot me in the middle in full voice - no, I really am!

Well, that was fun!  Very relaxed and informal, with some unscheduled 'guest appearances' from my wife Ruth, and my step-daughter Anna-Ruth & Olivia Thornber from Enchanted. And the passing shoppers seemed to enjoy it all.

Well, no time to stand around chatting - it was then into the car and off to Sileby Methodist Church for the 4pm start of a Caroline Sharpe Singers and Enchanted concert with the latter reduced on this occasion to just four of the girls: Anna-Ruth, Alice, Maisie and Olivia. This concert was to be along similar lines to the previous Enchanted Christmas concerts but with the addition of some CSS songs and a couple of soloists - Maisie Ramsey and a certain promising newcomer (?) Alyn Coward - that's me in other words. As I arrived at the church it was off with the LMVC blazer and tie and on with the CSS jacket and tie! I can't say that I gave too much to the warm-up as I felt well and truly warmed up at Sainsbugs! Anyway, 4pm was upon me before I knew it and felt a tad flustered as I took my place on the front row.

Now unfortunately, the audience was disappointingly small, due I have no doubt to the horrible weather. No matter, few they may have been but those intrepid few still deserve a good show and it started well with the opener, Sing With the Spirit. Now, I found it very interesting that I started to be increasingly nervous as my solo approached and I think a combination of the small audience and small venue had a lot to do with it. Last month at Trinity, the hall is so large and the audience too, that I was somehow able to block them out. Here however, I was uncomfortably aware of each person just a few feet away. Gulp!

Born in the Night (Mary's Child) started quite well though I was aware of a slight quivering of my voice, but kept at it. Again, comments afterwards emphasised to me that this is not apparent in my singing voice. Clearly, what I hear is not quite what the audience hears, which is a relief in many ways. I've now had too many positive comments for them ALL to be telling 'porkies'! For this song, I had the benefit of four of the gals singing some harmonising 'arhhs' with me on stage. They were: Ruth, Amy Carter, Olivia and Alice. Thanks ladies! The only negatives were that I again felt the need to have my comfort blanket with me - the words. While last time, i didn't need it, this time I probably did if only to ensure that I got the right words in the right verse. And, I ended with another puffing out of the cheeks and sigh of relief rather than a smile and a proper bow!  The goal now is to learn to 'perform' a song rather than just sing it! All in good time eh?

Enough about me! Maisie's solo was excellent, as were the readings from each of the girls. The Caroline Sharpe singers were great too, despite one or two gaffes from me - like completely missing the start of my tenor part in verse 2 of Unto Us is Born a Son. As I was the only one singing tenor, this left a gaping hole! Doh, what an eejit! This was recovered somewhat by us chaps being wonderfully 'menacing' in the 'Herod baby slaying' verse 3! Then, after singing Good Christians All Rejoice absolutely perfectly in rehearsal, I made a complete pigs-ear of it in the concert. Bar 48 was the culprit and I'm kicking myself, but hey-ho, such is life. It's all a learning experience as they say.

As for Enchanted, the girls were excellent again, coping admirably with there being just the four of them. Silent Night and The Holly and the Ivy were particularly good I thought. The closing piece, We Wish You a Merry Christmas seemed to go down really well with the modest audience and finished the concert very nicely and brought to an end another extraordinary day. It is certainly a pretty surreal experience standing there on a stage preparing to sing on my own and I can hardly believe I'm actually doing it.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a couple of photographs taken after the concert:-

Enchanted at Sileby Methodist Church
L-R: Anna-Ruth; Maisie; Alice and Olivia.

Post concert photo -  L-R:- Caroline; Vicky; Shirley; Anna-Ruth; Maggie; Amy; Ruth; Wendy;
Honor; Diane; Sylvia; Olivia; Alice; Maisie; Ian; Chris; ME and Jeff.

See y'all at Carillon Court next Saturday at 11am and then the Queen's Park Bandstand on Christmas Eve for more Christmas carols, accompanied during the latter by the carillon!


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Enchanted's best concert yet!

On Saturday 3rd December at St. Andrew's Church, Prestwold, Enchanted gave arguably their best concert yet to a large appreciative audience. I've watched this group of girls slowly blossom over the last couple of years into a polished, professional singing group and I have wondered just how good it is possible for them to get. In a way it is quite sad to think that this group of talented girls may well soon drift apart as university calls and pulls them in different directions. So I guess we all need to enjoy them while they are still here.

Last night's concert was simply STUNNING. Right from Caroline's opening reading from Isiah ix (did I detect a touch of Diane Sharpe influenced elocution there?) through to the final Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the standard of singing and reading was quite exceptional. I could enthuse about all of last night's pieces, but I'll concentrate of just a few bits.

Firstly, when I heard that the  girls were to try a selection of pieces from Handel's Messiah, I thought it was perhaps a bit over ambitious. As a child, my father insisted on taking us to see a performance of the Messiah somewhere just about every year. So I've seen and heard quite a lot - some good, some bad and some it has to be said, downright ugly! I can honestly say that my dad would have definitely approved of Enchanted's efforts last night. Each piece was done brilliantly, but deserving of special praise is Holly's rendition  of Rejoice. I've heard quite a few singers attempt Rejoice and to be frank, make a complete 'pigs ear' of it! The potential for disaster is huge with this one and I've seen a few finish rather red faced with embarrassment. But Holly put in a stunning performance I thought. How one gets to grips with all those 'twiddly bits' as I would call them, goodness knows, but I guess that Caroline person has a lot to do with it.

Following Holly were Anna-Ruth and Olivia with He Shall Feed His Flock.  This emphasised, if such a thing were needed, just how much the two have come on over the last year. It was good to hear Anna say afterwards that she thought she had sung well, as she is often way too critical of herself. I thought it was the best I'd heard both of them ever sing. And no Anna, that doesn't mean that you were rubbish previously!

Fantastic stuff, as were the mince pies and mulled wine. Jake and I were offered 'seconds' of the mince pies and felt obligated to help finish them off. Yum!  The second half was equally as good as the first with some varied pieces such as O Holy Night, Mid-winter and White Christmas. The concert ended with Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas played by Chris in Dean Freidman Lucky Stars keyboard stylee! Nice one Chris!

So there you have it. A concert to stay in the memory at least until their next, probably even better concert at Barrow Methodist Church on Saturday 10th December. Frankly you'd be a fool to miss it! Get there at 7.15pm for pre-concert mince pies!!

Don't you just lurve Christmas?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Embarrassing text messages

Greetings Folks!

After my triumphant debut solo last Saturday at Trinity Methodist Church, it is nice, if a little embarrassing, to look back at the twenty-four hours that preceded it. As previously documented (immediately below), I did get a little nervous beforehand!?! Yeah okay, I admit it - utterly paralysed with fear! As the hours passed on Friday, things went from bad to worse. Facing the prospect of absolutely zero sleep on Friday night I felt I would simply have to give the solo a miss.

With that decided and communicated to Ruth, I did sleep okay but still felt I had to send the following text message to Caroline at 09.07 am on Saturday morning:-

Morning! In order to stop myself degenerating into a nervous wreck, I've decided to give the solo a miss. Sorry, but I'd like to focus on the 2 CSS songs and enjoy it! The solo will come - one day. See ya later. Al.

At 09.32 am, Caroline replied with the following text message:-

That's fine. You're not programmed. But still have a go with Chris this am if you want - good practice for next year!

There, 'get out clause' duly established, but I'd just have to politely decline the run through with Chris! Phew! Unknown to me at the time, Ruth had then sent Caroline this message:-

Good work Mrs K - was hoping you'd suggest still doing it with Chris ... You never know!! Bless him!

Cringe!?! As embarrassing as all this now is, looking back, it was all very necessary and served a purpose - all the way along, I needed to feel I could back out! Knowing that somehow helped me find the courage to go ahead with it! The rest, as the cliche goes, is history!

Well mustn't rest on my laurels eh? What I need now is ANOTHER solo to aim for! How about singing Born in the Night (Mary's Child) in the Christmas gig? Yeah, bring it on!

Oh 'eck! I don't have to do it, do I?

See y'all later!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The morning after the night before. . .

Oh my word. What a night!
W  H  A  T ,     A      N  I  G  H  T  !

Well, I did it! I sang a solo in front of a hundred or so people at Caroline Sharpe's annual 'pupils concert' at Trinity Methodist Church. I'm struggling to find the right words to adequately express how I feel this morning. Ecstatic? Over the moon? Proud? Deleriously happy? Yep, pretty much all of those. I dare say regular readers of this blog may have been getting a bit tired of hearing about my 'demons' and my struggle to overcome the damned things that have handicapped my life since age ten. Well it ends here! No more. The demons have been slain and the only way is UP from here on.

But plain sailing it was not. Let's rewind a little. . . .

Things were fine when I had a singing lesson with Caroline on Wednesday. I was confident that I could do it and was conscious of how I would probably feel if I bottled out!  Between then and Friday evening however, the nerves started to get a hold. By Friday night I had worked myself up into such a state that if I was to get any sleep at all I was going to have to tell Ruth that I couldn't go through with it. To my irrational mind, in order to at least do the two 'Caroline Sharpe Singers' songs justice I would have to forget the solo. Ruth, bless her, reassured me that I didn't need to do it if I didn't feel I could. I'm not on the programme, so no-one would know if I pulled out. So I got a decent night's sleep feeling the pressure was off. Sigh!

Saturday morning first thing I texted Caroline to say I didn't want to do the solo and she just said  'that's fine, but just have a run through with Chris Hill on Saturday morning anyway, just for the experience'. I didn't fancy that to be honest, but never mind. So on Saturday morning it was off to Trinity for the CSS rehearsal. That all went well until it was time for the soloists to do the run throughs with Chris. I then slipped into utter panic mode,  and I even put my jacket on and was about to leave. Ruth urged me to stay and at least give it a go which would be an achievement in itself. After all it was only the 'Enchanted' girls listening. I did stay, but when it came to my turn, the absolute terror I felt was indescribable! Only God knows how I managed to get through the whole song. I was shaking like a leaf and when I finished a mild expletive slipped from my lips! Honestly, in a place of worship!?! I think in the circumstances God will forgive me. Anyway, several of the girls commented that the nerves didn't show in my voice which was comforting. Chris tried to emphasise the point, as he has done previously - what's the worst that can happen? A bit of embarrassment? Thanks to Ruth, Chris and Caroline, I left Trinity actually feeling that perhaps I can do it after all.

The next few hours were a bit of a blur, but I was growing even more determined to do it. Olivia posted a message on Facebook which was really nice of her and meant a lot. What was really odd was just how calm I felt when I got to Trinity. Chris and Caroline reckoned it is to do with 'putting on the frock' as it were. One gets 'in the zone'. As of 6.30 pm  I was up for it. Game on! But I daren't predict whether that would still be the case come solo time! The problem now was that I had become so focussed on my solo that I was struggling to refocus on the opener Sing With the Spirit with the 'Singers'. For this, Jeff and I were much happier next to each other, which worked much better than the 'one in front of the other' that we had tried in rehearsal. It seemed to go very well and the alarmingly large audience seemed to enjoy it.

Then we had three wonderful pieces: a solo by Holly; a duet with Olivia and Anna-Ruth and then a solo by Alice. These were all stunning performances. Then it was my turn - no pressure then? Caroline and I had worked out a signal system to check that I was still 'up for it'. She was to give me a 'look' before announcing the section of english pieces and I was to respond with a thumbs up or down. By this time I was totally focussed on doing it and forgot to look up. Unknown to me, Caroline and Ruth were looking at each other, trying to ascetain whether I was or wasn't going to sing! Thankfully she did include me in the intro. I was obviously very nervous as I stood up, but I had been strangely gripped by a steely determination to do it. Failure was no longer an option. I've no idea where it came from but was very thankful that it did.

What followed stunned even myself. I felt I started my rendition of Handel's Where E're You Walk a little tentatively so tried to open up a bit. I insisted on having my comfort blanket there in the form of the music on the stand, but in truth didn't follow it at all. I suppose it gave me something to look at rather than the audience, which might freak me out. I found the more I sang the better it seemed to get and I actually started to enjoy it! I remembered to put in the 'twiddly bits' in the second half. Then Chris finished off the tune and the audience applauded and even noticed a few whoops!?! Amazing! For the first time, I actually looked up at the audience and saw smiles on faces!  I think that moment will stay with me for ever.  I honestly felt like throwing my arms in the air and screaming YEEESSSSS!!! but made do with a feeble bow and sigh of relief.

As I returned to my seat, Chris Hill shook my hand and Ruth was in tears! I had done it. Blimey Charlie, I had actually done it! With the overwhelming feeling of euphoria that followed, I didn't notice Anna-Ruth had gone on after me. So I snapped out of it and tried to listen to the rest of the first half. Again, each piece from Anna, Enchanted, Rowan and Maisie were superb. To round things off were Maggie and Wendy with the hilarious Cat Duet by Rossini. Everyone loved it, especially the kids!

I won't go into too much detail about the second half or this blog will end up like Lord of the Rings, but my last contribution was with the choir for Windmills of Your Mind. I think we all felt this went okay, but with plenty of room for improvement. To complete the concert we had solos from Olivia (accompanied by George Owen), Rose, Wendy, Lottie, Rebekah and Rowan. In the middle, the Ladies Group including my Ruth performed a superb rendition of Lloyd Webber's Look with Your Heart. I think I was as proud of my wife as she was of me. To round off an unforgettable night were Enchanted with the increasingly brilliant Oklahoma medley and then Time to Say Goodbye. A fantastic concert that seems to have been universally heralded as the best so far!

So that was that. The end of what was for me, a truly incredible, life changing experience and a night I will never forget. At the risk of making this blog seem like an oscar acceptance speech, I can't finish without thanking a few people:-
  • Firstly, my wife Ruth for all the support, belief and encouragement to get me over the finish line
  • Chris Hill for his Saturday morning 'pep talk' and his exceptional piano playing.
  • Also Anna, Sis-in-law Julia and Olivia for their words of encouragement.
  • Finally to the musical genius that is Caroline Sharpe. To get me into a position to sing a solo inside nine months, having never ever sung before is nothing short of miraculous.
Thank you all!

So where do we go from here? Caroline's next major task will be to rein in my runaway enthusiasm! Next up is another wedding and then it's Christmas stuff! Bring it on!

Cheers for now,

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

To sing or not to sing. . .

When I started having singing lessons with Caroline earlier this year, the thought did cross my mind that I might be expected to sing a solo in her annual 'pupils concert' that she holds each November. I guess it's the least her pupils can do in return for a years supply of her wisdom to simply sing in a concert. Hmm. This would of course mean that I would need to stand on a stage, on my own, with lots of people looking at just me and expecting me to sing!?! Not to worry, I've got months before I need to worry about all that, right?

Well, we are now down to a mere three days from the concert and after weeks of dismissing the idea out of hand, I now find myself seriously considering going through with it. Have I taken leave of my senses? Maybe, but the more I hear other singers perform, the more I really start to realise that perhaps I'm not that bad at all! Maybe it is a sign of increasing confidence that I am now quite often listen to other singers and think 'I can sing better than that'!

As regular readers of this humble blog will know, for me this whole experience is not just about learning to sing. It's about conquering demons that have handicapped my whole life. Public speaking, presentations, indeed anything at all that requires standing up in front of  groups of people has filled me with utter dread ever since a certain childhood event previously documented, that you can read about by clicking here.

So if you had told me this time last year that I would be even considering singing a solo at Caroline's concert, I would've thought you absolutely crazy.  The fact that I am is probably an indication of the giant strides that I have made in conquering a few of those demons already this year. Just going to that first rehearsal with the male voice choir was nerve wracking enough and I thought I might have a heart attack before that debut concert in April. I managed it though and there have been a few more concerts since. There have also been several weddings in Prestwold and Wymeswold, even singing the tenor parts on my own in one of them. So bit by bit, step by step, helped along by Caroline's guidance and unlimited patience, I now find myself almost believing I can do it.

After tonight's lesson, I have realised that I now think that I am likely to be more gutted if I don't at least try, than I would be if I do and make a hash of it, if you follow my drift! But who knows what state I will be in by Saturday night. Fingers crossed I can keep the demons at bay and give a half decent rendition of Where e're You Walk that doesn't make Handel turn in his grave.

Watch this space!

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 13 November 2011

LMVC Autumn Concert - All Saints Church, Thorpe Acre.

Saturday 12th November saw the Loughborough Male Voice Choir's Autumn Concert, held on this occasion at All Saints Church, Thorpe Acre, Loughborough. Special guests for the evening were the vocal duo Two Penn’orth and the First Loughborough Boys and Girls Brigade Band. Despite the obvious distractions of the Loughborough Fair, Strictly Come Dancing and X-Factor, a reasonable  audience had dragged themselves out of their armchairs and were treated to a cracking night's entertainment. Included in the programme was to be the first public airing of the much maligned (by choir members) 'Is This the Way to Amarillo?' More on that later!

The concert was originally intended to be held at our usual venue of Trinity Methodist Church until someone realised, quite late on as it happens, that it clashed with Loughborough Fair. Oops! The prospect of having to compete with incessant thumping music and that dutch sounding bloke shouting "GET YOUR TOKENS FROM THE CASH DESK IF YOU WANT TO RIDE" every two minutes was not a pleasant one, so an alternative venue was quickly sought and All Saints, in Thorpe Acre was duly chosen. I arrived on the night in good time but feeling a touch ill prepared after having to miss a couple of rehearsals late on. But fingers crossed that 'it'll be all right on the night'.

So after getting our positions on stage settled (eventually) we were ready for the off. Us chaps kicked things off with two pieces to be sung without music (eeeecckk!?!), 'With a Voice of Singing' and 'Stout Hearted Men'. These went well I thought, though personally, I had a bit of a mental block with parts of the latter piece - nothing too disastrous though . I was a bit worried as to whether my voice was going to hold out for the duration of the concert as an annoying chesty cough that had been lingering for a week or so was still refusing to budge. We finished our opening section with 'Old Time Religion' and 'When the Saints Go Marching In'.

Next was the first selection of pieces by the singing duo, Two Penn'orth. I don't have a listing of the pieces they sang, but one piece I did recognise  was their very first one 'Oh Lovely Peace' which is a song Enchanted sing! Sue Cooke and Lis Muller who make up Two Penn'orth, sang some good stuff and seemed to go down really well with the audience.

We then  followed with our two welsh pieces. 'Myfanwy' and 'Llanfair'. The former is definitely my favourite song in our repertoire. Simply beautiful!

Then it was time for something completely different - The 1st Loughborough Boys and Girls Brigade Band. These guys and gals usually perform outside as a marching band. With bugles and drums, there was clearly a limit to how many could realistically perform indoors, so Alistair had restricted it to just eight. I think if the whole band had shown up we would all be suffering from punctured eardrums this morning! The band certainly produced an impressive sound and provided an interesting contrast to the singing, I thought.

To wrap up the first half we then sang 'My Way' and the now legendary 'Is This the Way to Amarillo?'. I will say nowt about  'My Way' because I just don't like it, but I think George's  introduction to Amarillo was perfect - putting the audience in the picture  as to the problems we have had with it and it being very much a 'work in progress'. What was quite obvious from our performace of it and even more so in the re-run for the tea ladies afterwards, was that this song has the potential to be a real crowd pleaser with unlimited scope for audience participation. It clearly puts smiles on faces and we must exploit it to the full!

The second half went much the same as the first, with more entertaining stuff from both Two Penn'orth and the Brigade Band. For our part, we started with 'Danny Boy' and 'Eriskay Love Lilt', both of which sounded great, despite my fragile voice crumbling a bit during 'Danny Boy'. Then the slightly more modern 'Thankyou for the Music' and 'Chanson d'amour', with the latter appreciably better than previous performances of it. Our 'ra-ta-ta-ta-tahs' were seriously close to being 'breathy and sexy' for once!

'Every Time We Say Goodbye' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' finished off our set very nicely, which just left the intriguing arrangement of 'Abide With Me' sang with the Brigade Band. I had not had any rehearsal of this one at all, so had to bluff my way through it, but it seemed to work pretty well. So that was that. A really enjoyable concert - varied, exciting and at times quite funny.

Some feedback that I have received from my two sternest critics (Ruth and Julia) made note of the huge improvement in the choir over the last year or so. Now I could take this to mean that it is since I joined the choir, but they in fact refer to the positive influence of Chris Hill. They thought 'Chanson d'amour' was way better than the spring concert and overall the choir were very good.

As for me, I loved it. I was grateful to my voice for holding out reasonably well throughout. I thought the venue seemed a little dead acoustically, perhaps due to the carpeted floor but the audience seemed to find it okay so perhaps it wasn't the problem I thought it was.

Time now I guess to start rehearsing Christmas Carols? Sainsburys and Carillon Court beckon!

Until next time.
Cheers, Alyn.

Monday, 24 October 2011

LOROS concert - some photos

Anyone who follows this blog and pays any attention to the viewing stats (okay, that's unlikely, but you never know) will have noticed a bit if a surge in visitor numbers over the last week. I was curious to know where these visitors were coming from and suspected a few from Wales perhaps? Sure enough, a sizeable number have found my humble blog via The Fron's own website, where they have included a photograph of the concert together with a link to 'A Nightingale Sang...' and my review of the concert!

Well, ain't that great? I emailed a contact at The Fron website thanking them for the link and asking for permission to use the photo. This morning I received a reply from Jon Haddy the web manager of The Fron who says he enjoyed reading my blog and has also sent me two photographs of the concert which I am free to use. I have also received an email from Allan Smith, the treasurer and 1st tenor with the choir who also thanked me for my blog report on the concert and has said that if I'm ever  in their neck of the woods, to feel free to call in to one of their rehearsals! Now there's an offer one simply cannot refuse! Now, where is Froncysyllte - pass me the road atlas!

So, it's time to play 'Spot the LMVC members' For a close up view, just click on the photo:-

The Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir with the massed Midlands Choir
at De Montfort Hall, Leicester. (Photo courtesy The Fron Choir)

The choirs with Union flags a-flutter for 'Rule Britannia'.
 (Photo courtesy The Fron Choir)

I am not aware of anyone from our choir having any photos of the event, but if you do, please let me have a copy and I will feature them in this blog.

That's all for now!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

LOROS Concert with 'The Fron' at De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

Who would've thought it eh? This 51 year old, who hadn't ever sung a note prior to February 2011 last night found himself on stage with six other midlands choirs and the renowned Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir from Wales. As I sat on stage, looking out into the impressively large audience, I did wonder whether it was all some kind of surreal dream. Nope, it was real alright and I was quite pleasantly surprised to find relatively few nerves despite some reservations regarding my ability to pull off a certain two songs without embarrassment. Anyway, to rewind a little. . .

Car sharing was the order of the day as parking was going to be a bit restricted, so I scrounged a lift with our Chairman. We picked up Ray en route to De Montfort Hall for the evening's concert in aid of LOROS.  When we eventually found the Stage Door we signed in and then disappeared to our respective dressing rooms -  bass and baritone, stage left and tenors, stage right.

Our rehearsal was scheduled for 2pm and Clive Rogers duly arrived with a big beaming smile and started a run through of all the pieces in the programme. I thought it went quite well, with the exception of a certain few pieces that continue to frustrate. But on the whole it was looking good. Just for the record, the choirs involved in the massed Midlands choir were:
  • Loughborough MVC
  • City of Leicester MVC
  • Melton Mowbray MVC
  • Leicester Co-operative MVC
  • Melbourne MVC
  • Belvoir Wassailers Choir
  • Leicester Cathedral Songmen
As I looked around the hall, I did wonder just how large our audience was going to be. I rather feared that it would look like the Reebok Stadium for a Carling Cup match against Hartlepool, i.e. half empty, but thankfully my fears were unfounded.

After a few logistical arrangements were ironed out, that was that for a few hours. Some of the chaps decided to go home while others headed for somewhere to eat and/or drink, but I just found a nice quiet park to eat my cobs and pork pies and read a newspaper. By the time I got back to the hall, the Fron's coach had arrived, so I could take a look at how these guys  go about rehearsing. My first impressions were of a very slick and polished choir. The quality of tone was really something! However, one thing that became quickly apparent was that any mention of the sport of 'rugby' was perhaps unwise, given the narrow and controversial defeat of Wales in the World Cup earlier in the day.

Strangely, by 7.15pm we midlanders were assembled on stage while the audience gradually swelled to quite respectable numbers (900+ I believe) including Ruth and mother-in-law Diane whom I quickly spotted in the circle. We awaited the arrival onstage of the 'main attraction' The Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir. They duly arrived to warm applause from audience and choirs and they certainly looked the part.

Just before 'kick-off', the night's compere, the Rt Hon. Alan Duncan M.P. delivered his witty (?) intro. The poor fellow clearly hadn't received the warning regarding the foolhardiness of mentioning rugby. Oh dear! I could sense that several of the welshmen were seriously considering thumping the man. Note to Mr Duncan for future reference:- Never joke about rugby to a welshman after a World Cup semi-final defeat. Not ever!

So with bloodshed narrowly avoided it was on with the show. And I still didn't feel particularly nervous, which was rather weird. Maybe it was the 'safety in numbers' thing, but unlike previously, I didn't feel that I was about to disgrace myself. Anyway, our first three songs, 'Do You Hear the People Sing?; 'Some Enchanted Evening' and 'Stout Hearted Men' went really well I thought. I just hope it sounded as good to the audience as it seemed to me on stage. Then, down we sat on the nicely padded but worryingly backrest-less benches. Not the greatest seating it must be said and I did wonder how many of us Midlanders would be requiring the assistance of an osteopath next week.

Next up was soloist Ann Atkinson - a mezzo soprano from Wales and  a former musical director of The Fron. Unfortunately I couldn't hear what she was saying very well, but I know she didn't start with 'Habenara' as per the programme. She seemed to go down well with the audience and even made reference to the rugby. You see Alan, it's okay for the Welsh to make comment themselves, just not you okay? Ann did do 'Habanera' later on in her programme and raised the pulses of several Fron members with her rather saucy rendition.

Then 'The Fron' delivered their first set and boy, did they deliver! 'Fantastic' is the only word to use I think. I was listening to the second tenors closely and was very impressed. These guys are certainly something to aspire to. The control and pureness of the sound was quite magical to be amongst at times. The Welsh traditional piece 'Si Hei Lwli' was just stunning.

I could waffle on for hours about the rest of the concert, but I'll try to sum it up succinctly. I would say the midland choir's first half performance was much better than the second with 'Nobody Knows' and 'Red, Red Rose' as bad as I feared they would be! The Fron were excellent throughout and while we can certainly learn a lot from them, I really do think that we could match them with our rendition of 'With a Voice of Singing'. That said, it was an honour and a privilege to share a stage with such a classy and accomplished choir as them and I will cherish the experience for the rest of my life. One of them said to me in the interval, "It's great to be here with you boys tonight. We're bloody lovin' it", which was great to hear. 

How do we follow this? Well, next up is our autumn concert at a venue and time in November to be confirmed, and rehearsing starts on Thursday.

Cheers for now,