Tuesday, 29 March 2011

So 'Second Tenor' it is then?

Armed with the newly acquired knowledge that I may after all be up to the task of singing in a choir, I approached the next rehearsal of the Loughborough Male Voice Choir with added enthusiasm. A pre-rehearsal text from Caroline saying "Remember - 2nd Tenor tonight" gave me enough of a nudge to 'go for it' and see what happens. Right from the first week I got the impression that the choir was crying out for a few more tenors, so if I'm up to the job, why not?

The drawback of course was that I now need to learn the second tenor parts to 'Thankyou for the Music', Chanson D'Amour' and 'Try to Remember', having only just got to grips with the bass parts. Anyway, I thought it unlikely that I would be anywhere close to being ready to perform in the concert with the Stevenage Ladies Choir on April 9th, so no need to worry.

My first impressions of the second tenor parts are that they do get to do a bit more of the melody. That said, 'Thankyou for the Music' does start with a lot of 'doo's', which are proving a bit tricky to follow! Switching from bass to second tenor also meant moving from the front row back to the third row, which could be no bad thing when it comes to my debut performance and might give me the opportunity to hide behind someone tall, thus avoiding the critical gaze of my wife and family!

My attempts to learn the second tenor parts have been scuppered somewhat by my household computers inability to load the newly revamped choir website and thus the mp3 files I need to help me learn the parts. Neither the family PC nor any of our laptops will load it for some unknown reason. Jeff, the LMVC web site boffin has been looking into it and as yet we are no nearer to getting the site to load. There seems to be an issue with my 'browser' being unable to cope with 'in-line frames' or summat. I wouldn't know what one of those was if you hit me over the head with one to be perfectly honest, so I am at a loss really.

Anyway, to the rescue came one Chris Higgins! This knight in shining armour offered to download the required files onto my mp3 player for me. What a guy! This feat was duly accomplished and ready for me to pick up on Sunday morning, so I can now have a stab at the whole programme for the April 9th 'gig' at Trinity Methodist Church. Whether I can master the whole lot by that date is highly questionable, but nothing ventured, nothing gained! Chris clearly thought it not beyond me as he had me trying on a spare choir blazer for size. Sadly my diminutive frame was somewhat swamped by said garment. Never mind, I'll have to have a look around for a suitable navy blazer, grey trousers and black socks when the time comes. The black socks are particularly important apparently as it was pointed out in the recent past that a wide variety of sock colours does not look good from the audience's viewpoint! You see, it's the little details . . .

Right, better crack on and try to learn loads of second tenor parts at breakneck speed. Not a minute to lose - eleven days and counting!?!

Until next time,

Friday, 18 March 2011

The first of many or maybe never again?

What on earth am I doing?

That was my only thought as I arrived at Trinity Methodist Church on Saturday 5th of March for my first singing lesson with Caroline. It had seemed like a good idea until the time came to stand up and make a noise. For some reason, trying to sing in the company of someone who has such a phenomenal talent for the art herself, is rather daunting.

Caroline has an incredible voice. In fact I don't think Caroline herself quite appreciates just how good she is. I may not be an expert of music and operatic singing, but I have enjoyed opera for quite a few years since the BBC made 'Nesson Dorma', sung by the legendary Luciano Pavarotti, their theme tune to the 1990 World Cup. So I do know what is good and what isn't. Caroline is good. Very good!

"Right", says Caroline, "let's try some scales". Now, what should have been fairly straight forward was made all the more challenging by a throat full of mucous clogging up the vocal chords. Sorry - too much information? Mentioning this fact sounded to me like I was trying to make my excuses good and early. In truth, I really wasn't sure if anything at all was going to eminate from my mouth other than the aforementioned mucous. Urgh! Sorry again! To my relief, in response to Caroline's note on the piano, there followed a scale of tentatively sung 'lah-lah-lahs' that sounded vaguely in tune, rapidly followed by another scale, after a slightly higher note from the piano. And on we went. And on! Blimey, things seemed to be getting very high until there came a point when everything crumbled and my voice seemed to shatter onto the floor like a broken wine glass.

The area that I reached when things went 'pear-shaped' was around 'tenor' level. I was also struggling at the lower end of 'bass' too, so Caroline was of the opinion that baritone should be comfortable, but maybe even second tenor would be possible with improved technique, so that was food for thought. I understand from my wife Ruth, that Caroline is very selective about who she is prepared to teach. Basically, if you are not up to it, forget it matey! So to be told that I have a surprisingly good range, actually sang in tune and can sight read very well, was an enormous 'shot in the arm'.

This huge confidence boost has led to quite ridiculous thoughts entering my head. I now want to sing like Nat King Cole! 'LOL', as Amy would say! My copy of 'The Best of Nat King Cole' has been in the car CD player ever since. However, to give myself a reality check, I remind myself of some words uttered by a certain Simon Cowell to one X-Factor wannabee some time ago: "If you are going to take on an icon, you've got to do it well". Hmmm...?

Time then to get to work on that dodgy technique and the almost laughable inability to breathe in the right places. I'm afraid I will inevitably approach singing like I do other things that I try to do, i.e. if I'm going to do it, I want to do it as well as I can. This I think will require regular lessons with Caroline and if you are reading this Caz, I couldn't possibly accept your time and wisdom merely in return for two rolls of 'poop bags' and a packet of 'mini bones' for Poppy each week. Poppy may disagree mind you!

Anyway, financial matters aside, I am really quite excited about learning to sing properly after all these years. The list of upcoming 'gigs' that the Loughborough Male Voice Choir have lined up is growing and it will take a bit of work to get me 'up to speed' as it were. The concert with the Stevenage Ladies Choir on April 9th may come a bit too soon, but I can maybe realistically aim for Sunday 29th May for 'singing in Queens Park, Loughborough. Miss it at your peril!

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Fifty percent Welsh

For those that aren't aware of it, the slightly obscure spelling of my Christian name is down to the fact that half my blood is welsh. And, as everyone knows it's genetically programmed into every welsh person to sing. Welsh babies on emerging from the womb don't cry, they SING! So maybe this is the reason for my sudden path towards singing super stardom? You can only suppress your natural instincts for so long...

Whoa, hold on there! Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It was only a month ago that I went along for my first taste of a rehearsal with the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. For the first rehearsal after their Kegworth concert, I pledged to go along and check them out. On arriving at Trinity Methodist Church I met Chris Hill the Choir's leader and inspiration. I had previously encountered Chris through his work as Enchanted's pianist, so at least there was one familiar face. To say I felt like a fish out of water would be something of an understatement but hey, I was there! Ruth and Anna-Ruth were already at the church themselves for a singing lesson with Caroline so were witness to the fact that I had indeed actually turned up.

As choir members arrived there was a common response along the lines of 'Ooh, a new member? Great, are you a tenor?' Now this question was not as easy to answer as you might expect. At this point I had absolutely no idea what I was or indeed if I had any singing ability at all. 'But you do enjoy singing though I presume?' Again, not particularly easy to answer. I do enjoy singing to myself in the bath when I'm positive no-one else is listening. Would I enjoy singing in a choir? Somehow, telling the chaps that I was looking forward to finding out, seemed a rather inadequate answer. Anyway, Chris agreed that maybe 'bass' was a good place to start and just see how it felt. 

First of all Lyndon Gardner, the choir's voice coach and a tenor of some repute kicked off proceedings. This I thought would be the easy bit! Err, wrong! Lyndon's warm ups seemed almost like a memory test which on a Thursday evening of an exhausting week, was proving way beyond me! At least I wasn't alone in losing it somewhat, and the more we all messed up the more hysterical the watching Chris found it.

As luck would have it, tonight was the night when five new songs were being handed out, so everyone was in the same boat as me. As we collectively staggered through Abba's 'Thankyou for the Music' it was quite amazing to see how what was initially a chaotic mess transformed into a quite impressive sound. To my delight, one of the new songs was the Tony Christie classic 'Amarillo'. I'm afraid I just couldn't help but slip into 'Peter Kay' mode and all thoughts of singing bass went completely out of the window.

So, my first taste of singing in a choir turned out to be quite a lot of fun and left me wanting more. I still didn't know whether I was bass or baritone, but at least I  felt reasonably confident that I wasn't going to embarrass myself totally and maybe had a half decent voice.  It never entered my head to not turn up the following week, but when I did I got the the distinct impression that very often, potential new members never make it to a second week! When I arrived for week two it seemed to mean to several of the chaps that I was there to stay. My 'details' were recorded and name duly added to George's register. I had arrived! I must say right now, that I couldn't have been made more welcome by everyone. The willingness to simply let me have a go without any audition and just see if I enjoy it is quite wonderful really. Anyone else out there in Loughborough who is similarly curious about singing should do likewise I reckon. What have you got to lose?

It is glaringly obvious at this early stage, that I've got a heck of a lot to learn. Apart from a short period attempting to learn to play the bagpipes about four years ago, it is something like 30 years since I have read music to any degree and I've forgotten so much. I've never before read music with four parts plus the piano part laid out together on the same sheet, so I have the annoying habit of starting on the bass line and then carrying on to a completely different part and getting totally lost. But, practice makes perfect and Rome wasn't built in a day . . .

To help me on the way, the choir's website has a members page where 'mp3' and 'midi' files of each part can be downloaded to aid the learning process. These are excellent and should prove invaluable at least when I decide which seat to sit in - bass, baritone, or heaven forbid tenor? After week three's rehearsal I was coming to the conclusion that I really needed the advice of someone who knows, to determine where my voice lies, if indeed it lies anywhere within a choir. Who better than the extraordinarily talented Caroline? So, a singing lesson was arranged for Saturday 5th March. Oh Crikey!?!

How on earth was this going to turn out? Was I going to embarrass myself again in '1970 church lesson reading' fashion? Gulp!

I'll let you know the outcome next time.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Well, Hello There!

Where does one start?

Well, 'let's start at the very beginning - a very good place to start' as someone once sang . . . .

Once there was a child - a 10 year old child, who was assigned the task of reading a lesson in his school's monthly church service. Being a Church of England school he made regular visits to church (unlike today's kids it would seem) and for some bizarre reason he had volunteered to read a lesson. He was not entirely sure why he stuck his hand up when his teacher asked for a volunteer, but volunteer he did. And he immediately regretted it! The Big Day duly arrived and up he strolled, knees knocking together in terror! He started to deliver the uninspiring Bible passage and all seemed to be going well until he lost his place momentarily and read out one particular line twice. Realising his error he stopped in horror for what seemed to him to be about half an hour but in reality was probably only a couple of seconds. To him it was a humiliating disaster and he finished his piece with "thanks be to God" and returned to his seat distraught. No-one in the church noticed any mistake at all, or so they said, but he took that to mean they weren't even listening, which somehow seemed to make the whole affair even worse.

Anyway, I relate this tale because the child in question was me and the experience was to shape my entire life. To this day, at the ripe old age of 50, I remain in fear of public speaking or communicating with large groups of people in any way. If I ever manage to study Geology as I wish to (see my other Blog - 'Holey Schist), I will have to conquer this fear in order to present papers of geological research, so there's a major hurdle to overcome at some stage. When I look back over my 50 years, there are so many things that I've avoided, so many things that I have 'bottled out' of doing, just to avoid the prospect of standing up in front of people.

Such as singing for example!

Like a lot of young lads, I used to dream of being the lead singer in a rock band. I  loved the gravelly voice of Lemmy from Motorhead and the extraordinary vocal ranges of Rob Halford from Judas Priest and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. But singing would mean standing up in front of people, so was an absolute 'non-starter' for that reason alone. The prospect of singing, in public at least has therefore remained forever buried. Until now!

Perhaps at this point I need to paint a picture of my family. Firstly there's my lovely wife Ruth, currently learning to sing herself and poised to undertake exams in singing under the expert guidance of her sister Caroline, a classical singer of immense talent (more on her later). Then there is my eldest step-daughter Anna-Ruth, who only discovered a year or so ago that she could sing and is now a member of 'Enchanted', a local singing group of 'young ladies' led by Caroline and who are gaining quite a reputation in the East Midlands! For a sample of what these talented girls have to offer see the 'You Tube' link in the right-hand column of this Blog. Add to this my youngest step-daughter Amy who is also learning to sing, also taking exams and also has a splendid voice, you will begin to see that the best option for me would be to give up any thoughts of resistance and to simply join in the fun!

Just a few weeks ago, we went along to see Enchanted perform in a concert in Kegworth, along with the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. The girls were in superb voice, as were the 'lads'  of the male voice choir and it was a really enjoyable evening. The concert's programme notes included a plea for 'new blood' and said that anyone interested, could just pop along to any Thursday night rehearsal and have a go! No audition is required, just enthusiasm and a willingness to 'work at it'. As the arm twisting began from wife, sisters-in-law, daughter and choir leader, I partially relented and  agreed to perhaps go along. Maybe. . . ?

Well, I thought about it and realised that singing was something I'd always meant to maybe one day have a go at', but for a multitude of reasons, never quite got round to it. Perhaps it's a sort of 'mid-life crisis' type thing, but I do rather think I need to just get on and try these things while I've still got my faculties! Study geology, learn to sing, whatever? You only live once allegedly, so I'd better have a shot. Nothing ventured. . . . ?
So a month ago I went along to my first rehearsal with the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. More on that interesting experience later!

Cheers for now,