Friday, 29 April 2011

One More Step. . .

How does one follow a debut gig with the Loughborough Male Voice Choir and Stevenage Ladies Choir? Well, how about singing at a Wedding with The Caroline Sharpe Singers? A few weeks ago Caroline asked whether I would I like to sing at a wedding on Friday 29th April. The date seemed to ring a few bells for some reason.

'Enchanted' have been booked for a few weddings lately and I know their reputation for excellence is spreading fast, but surely not as far as Buckingham Palace? Actually, the wedding concerned was at Prestwold, not Westminster Abbey but no less prestigious in my mind. This time Caroline required a larger choir with some extra ladies and a few male voices to add that extra bit of class. Only joking ladies! The new ladies included Ruth, Michelle, Dorothy, Shirley and Diane. The male recruits, all four of us, comprised myself, Anna's boyfriend Jake, Caroline's husband Charlie and  Jeff Buckley. While the latter sounded like he'd sung quite a bit before, the same could not be said about the other three. Charlie and Jake certainly had to endure significant arm twisting before agreeing to attend.  I recall at the LMVC Kegworth concert earlier in the year, when I was gently persuaded to pop along to a rehearsal, Charlie was less enthusiastic, saying that there was a reason why he was a drummer! I on the other hand was rather more willing to try my hand at wedding singing but had my doubts about singing hymns. And wearing a pink tie. You see, I just don't do pink. Not ever!

We arrived in good time for a run through the four hymns - an odd selection I thought, but who am I to judge? They were: All Things Bright and Beautiful; One More Step Along the World and Give me Joy in my Heart with the addition of We Pledge to One Another which we sang during the signing of the register. For some reason, I found it strangely difficult to hear my own voice and perhaps it had something to do with the church's accoustics. Caroline was standing directly in front of me so I'm sure she will let me know just how well I sang at tomorrow's lesson. I could hear myself much better during We Pledge to One Another and as a choir we seemed to be pretty darned good, even if I say so myself.

And then, like my LMVC debut, it was all over way too quickly. Off we all went, cruelly having to pass by four Prestwod Hall staff holding trays of champagne for the wedding guests. Then it was back home to reflect on a job well done I think. It was certainly another good bit of performing experience for me.

Next up is another lesson with Caroline tomorrow morning at 10 am. Have I remembered ANYTHING that she told me last time? Time will tell and I will let you know how it goes!

Until next time,

P.S. I will post some photos of today's events later, when available.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

So what next?

I was warned by other members of my singing family to beware the 'post concert blues'. It is not unusual apparently, to feel a little deflated following a concert and I can now understand that. There's the rehearsals and the build up and then it's all over in a flash. It was even more deflating this morning on eagerly opening my copy of 'Loughborough Echo' to read the anticipated concert  review and finding. . .

Not a word! Diddly-squat! Groan! I can only presume the Echo reporter was so knocked out by what he/she witnessed to be unable to formulate the article in a mere week. Next Thursday perhaps? Time then to focus on improving my singing.

What Saturday's concert emphasised for me, was how much easier it is to sing and sing properly when you are relaxed and confident. Lyndon Gardner had made this point during the last rehearsal before the concert and I hadn't realised the significance until now.  My voice starts to ache quite quickly when I am singing quietly and not giving it everything. This happened during the first half of the concert, but there was no such problem in the second half, as I was relaxed and more confident in myself. Last Thursday's rehearsal proved this beyond doubt. We were a little short on numbers for this rehearsal, particularly the second tenors. We had a run through two of the new songs and when the time came  for the handful of second tenors to sing their part, the self consciousness took over and the achy throat returned. Consequently, my attempts at 'Amarrillo' were pretty feeble, and the more conscious I became about it, the worse it got! So clearly, confidence is the key!

So Saturday April 16th saw Lesson Three with Caroline at Trinity Methodist Church. It's funny how nervous I felt again even at the start of the lesson, which is daft really, because Caroline is a great teacher and puts me at ease within minutes. She makes a singing lesson fun, which is what it should be. The warm-ups went well this time I thought as I actually remembered to open my mouth wide and those higher notes came easily. I reached a note higher than I had managed previously apparently (forgotten which note it was) so that was good. Caroline was quick to point out the symptoms of my 'nervous energy', like twitching legs, tense shoulders and all manner of weird things that I didn't realise I was doing. I remember I couldn't stop my leg twitching in time to the music during the concert. I guess these things will sort themselves out in time.

My first challenge under Caroline's expert tutelage is to learn one of my already favourite Nat King Cole songs, 'On the Street Where You Live'. Well obviously, as my wife has just pointed out, it isn't a Nat King Cole song at all really! He is merely one of numerous artistes to have sung the song which is from My Fair Lady. It might be a good idea for me to watch  the whole musical to see and hear it in context. Anyway, having been listening to Nat's CD on a continual basis for the last few weeks, my first task is to put his rendition to the back of my mind and to eventually make it my version of the song and without an american accent. My first run through was a bit shambolic, but my challenge now is to try and remember the multitude of bits of advice from Caroline while I'm actually singing. Funny that I forget absolutely everything once I start!

Ruth has already mentioned the unthinkable - singing this song at the annual Gamlin Arts concert later in the year! Such a step is a gigantic leap so far outside my comfort zone that I couldn't even dare contemplate it at this stage of my fledgling singing career. But, never say never as they say.  If I can master it and get to the stage where I can be confident in my own singing ability, who knows. Better not think about that for now eh? One small step at a time I think.

Lots of practice then before my next lesson and a bit of research on t'internet for other artistes versions of this splendid song!

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Oh what a night!

Oh my word. How do I start? After spending the morning wandering around the house with an inane grin on my face trying to think about something other than last night, I've given up trying and instead I think I'd better put all my thoughts on this blog and get it all out of my system.

Last nights concert was simply a personal triumph. I wouldn't say for one minute that I sang superbly well, but it was never about that for me. Last night was all about conquering some personal demons and, believe me, they were queueing up in my subconscious to give me their opinions in the early evening.  "Don't do this! You'll make a fool of yourself. It will be a disaster, you know it will" they said. But before the destructive, irrational thoughts took control, my wife Ruth got out the massage oil and applied her healing hands to the neck, shoulders and back and magically eased away the stress. Such was the effect of a few minutes relaxation, I think this could well become a regular routine before future concerts - should my services still be required, of course. I wouldn't want to take anything for granted!

After that it was on with the uniform complete with gleaming  new choir badge applied to the Ted Baker jacket. Ruth thought this momentous occasion had to be recorded with a photo or two:-

 Me, looking the part in Ted Baker jacket new grey trousers and new LMVC tie

Smiling, a little nervously, but smiling!

So, with the photo shoot over, it was time to get on with it and drive to Trinity. Nerves were under control and I felt surprisingly calm on arrival despite the realisation that this was it. Game on! Several of the lads, realising this was my debut, asked me how I was feeling which was nice. Chris Hill offered me a further option for my 'first song dilemma'. Option 4 was to sit out the opener in George's compere's seat  and take my place with the choir for the second song while George announced the three songs we were to sing. This was the perfect solution and made me feel much more at ease. That said, when we walked in to the hall, I did feel rather like the condemned man being escorted out to the firing squad! All those people!?! While sitting in George's seat, my heart started pounding at an alarming rate and it was something of a relief when 'With a Voice of Singing' was over and I could join the rest of the choir.

With heart still thrashing away, 'Eriskay Love Lilt' began and I got through it in something of a blur. Nerves prevented me from producing much in the way of volume, but with no real slip-ups, it gave me a bit of confidence. I confess, I spent the moments before the next song trying to locate my family who I finally found disappointingly near the back of the audience!  Next up was 'Chanson d'amour' which went much better, despite some pretty inept finger clicks on my part. Strangely, I'm much better at finger clicking with my right hand than left which is odd, as I am left handed. I also tried my best to make my 'Ra-da-da-da-das' as 'breathy and sexy' as I could but I will leave it to others to judge how successful I was!

Our first half set came to a close with 'Vive L'Amour'. Now I really enjoy singing this one but somewhere, quite early in the piece, I completely lost my place and never got it back. However, rather than it being a disaster, I just carried on and sang what I could remember, which surprisingly was most of it. So that in itself gave me a massive confidence boost for the second half. Off we went, leaving Paul, Lyndon, Gerry and Chris Higgins to sing the mixed quartet followed by Lyndon's impressive operatic solos.

The rest of us chaps then returned to watch the Stevenage Ladies do their stuff. I particularly liked 'The Lord is My Shepherd' being a big fan of The Vicar of Dibley. I also think us chaps should have a bash at 'Allelujah'. Learning a song with only the one word rather appeals. Mind you, there were quite a few disconcerting twiddly bits in the middle of it that might prove a bit tricky!

So that was part one wrapped up and off we went for a well earned brew and 'hob-nob'. During the half-time break poor Chris tried to explain the logistics of getting us and the ladies in and out of the hall during the second half, but such was the buzz of the choir at the time I don't think anyone really took in what was being said. Anyway, we managed it somehow and the three songs, 'Give Me That Old Time Religion'; 'Let it Be Me' and 'Thankyou for the Music' went really well. I felt quite relaxed for these three and started to really enjoy myself. 'Let it Be Me' is by far my favourite piece so far - a really beautiful song and I look forward to getting my copy of the CD to see whether it was as good as I thought it was. The last song was a laugh if only because of the diction problems that I described in a previous post!

Then after the ladies went through their set of songs, finishing with a rousing version of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', it was back on stage to join them for 'You Raise Me Up' and 'Softly as I Leave You'. Both of these seemed to work really well despite only one run through together. And finally, an encore of 'You'll Never walk Alone' brought this amazing evening to a close. 

As we drifted towards the exit, several choir members again asked me how I felt and the look on my face probably said it all. I felt like a million dollars and simply can't wait for the next one. If you had suggested to me just a few short months ago that I would soon be singing in a choir, I would've thought you crazy! But now, singing in Queens Park on 29th May can't come quickly enough!


Saturday, 9 April 2011

And. . . . . R E L A X !

It's Saturday 9th April 2011. Today is the day of my performing debut with the Loughborough Male Voice Choir.

I've been trying to wrack my brains to remember the last time I performed anything in public. As far as I can recall, it was an orchestral concert in my last year at school way back in 1978, shortly before leaving school for good and prior to going to college. So that's about thirty-three years ago!

Thursday evening saw the choir's final rehearsal before the concert and it went pretty well I think. My only problem was what to do about the opening song, 'With A Voice of Singing' which is to be sung without music. Having only really tackled this one a couple of times, I have little hope of knowing the whole thing by heart in time for the concert, so what to do? Chris gave me three options: 1) to stand with the choir and sing what I can and 'goldfish' the rest. 2) stand with the choir and just not sing, or 3) stand at the side and join the choir for the second song. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions....

I think I will opt for the first. Option 3 might look like I've been sent to the naughty step, while option 2 might feel a bit awkward. So I'll have a go, sing what I can and bluff the rest!

During Thursday's rehearsal Lyndon mentioned the need to 'control the nerves' in order to sing to our best. Now up to this point I hadn't even considered nerves, but I think it inevitable that my stomach wil be churning a bit prior to the start. I'm sure also that I will need exclusive access to the 'little boys room' for much of the early evening! But, I am determined to enjoy it and do my best. Like I said before, I can't at this early stage, expect to be anything like perfect, but I will contribute what I can and give it my best shot.

Before I go, I must say another big 'thankyou' to Chris Higgins for coming to my rescue again. At the end of Thursday's rehearsal, I realised that my family and in-laws had not yet bought tickets for the concert and the 'gig' wasn't far from being a sell-out. PANIC! I hurriedly phoned Ruth to check how many we needed and managed to acquire the necessary eight tickets. But in my haste to sort that little issue out I left my choir folder somewhere in Trinity and departed. On realising this potentially disastrous blunder I phoned Chris to see if anyone had found  said folder. By a strange quirk of fate, Chris had it with him! Phew! Crisis over and folder retrieved so I can now run through that opening song umpteen times to try and drum as much of it into my head as possible before 'kick-off'.

Better go!  Badge to somehow fix to jacket, shirt to iron and shoes to polish before the afternoon rehearsal with the Stevenage Ladies Choir.
Stay tuned for the concert review from the eye of this now slightly nervous debutant.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Mission Impossible?

So whose crazy idea was this? When I decided to join the Loughborough Male Voice Choir, I foolishly thought I could take a few months to settle in, learn a few songs and maybe contribute in some small way to a concert later in the year. What I really didn't bargain for was jumping feet first, well and truly into the deep end within a few short weeks!

Yes indeed, any thoughts of sitting out the Loughborough Male Voice Choir's  April 9th concert with the Stevenage Ladies Choir have been soundly dismissed by Ruth, Anna-Ruth and Caroline. Amy on the other hand merely utters three letters - L.O.L. whenever mention is made of my singing, which for those unfamiliar with 'text speak', isn't entirely complimentary. I mentioned to Chris Hill that I was now being persuaded to 'go for it' and sing in the concert. While I feel that I am only able to partially sing most of the songs, Chris says that it would be acceptable for me to sing the sections that I confident about and 'do a goldfish' and not sing the bits that I don't know, which gives me some comfort at least. This plan should work fine provided that I can stand behind someone nice and tall to disguise the fact a bit.

Oh dear! Last Thursday's rehearsal shattered that hope. Chris had the choir up on the stage mid-rehearsal, just to get a feel for it and who should I end up standing behind? Only the supremely talented tenor, Lyndon Gardner and another gentleman (whose name I am yet to learn), who both happen to be probably the two shortest members of the whole choir! This means that my goldfish impression is going to be in full view of the entire audience. Sigh.

But on the plus side, at least I might look the part. After finding Chris Higgins' spare choir blazer to be several sizes to big, Saturday was spent searching Loughborough's finest boutiques and charity shops for a suitable (and inexpensive) navy blazer and light grey trousers. Greenwoods had just the right colour but not the right size of trouser, but Oxfam came up with a very nice navy 'Ted Baker' jacket. A quality garment it certainly is, but it's not strictly a 'blazer' and it doesn't have shiny buttons. And it is a touch too big, so I will take it along next Thursday and see what Chris and 'the lads' think. A Sunday afternoon visit to Fosse Park found a perfect pair of grey trousers from good ol' M & S, so I'm nearly ready. All I need to do now before Saturday 9th is learn how to sing. Step forward, one Caroline King nee Sharpe!

Her mission - should she wish to take it, is to knock this raw but enthusiastic singing rookie into something vaguely acceptable to the listening ears of Loughborough, all in the space of  a mere week. A 'Mission Impossible' if ever there was one and surely beyond even Caroline? Well, the gal is obviously not afraid of a challenge and Saturday April 2nd saw my second singing lesson with her.

While the first lesson sought to find out whether there was any singing potential at all, this time we got to work on my complete lack of technique. There is clearly more to singing than opening one's mouth and making a noise. The thing that has troubled me most since I started on this journey into the unknown is that I probably sound like a singing Peter Kay! My Boltonian roots are reflected in my accent and I fear in my singing voice. To give you an example, in 'Thank you for the Music', there is the line: "Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty". Now, I just knew that this sounded horrible when I sang it and stopped in my tracks. How on earth do you sing the words 'without it' and make it sound good? The answer it would appear is in the vowels and to not try to pronounce all the words as I would normally speak them. I need to sing 'arrrrrrsk' rather than my 'asssk' and to smooth out my Boltonian 'with-ow-tit' into something more like 'with-arr-date', if that makes any sense at all?

One note that I had been previously struggling to get to adequately was the top 'F' of 'Mu-sic' in the last line of each verse. To manage this, Caroline simply got me to open my mouth wider. A pretty obvious suggestion for singing anything you would have thought, but it did feel a little ridiculous. Caroline did assure me that it doesn't look as ridiculous as it feels and lo and behold the note was reached with ease. However, pronouncing the 'mu' part of the word means pursing one's lips, making it impossible to open the mouth wide, surely? Well, yes, but the trick is not to get hung up on the word, but to get the note first and foremost. It's this fascinating stuff that makes it all so interesting. I am now all the more aware of my short comings as a singer, but I do believe I will be able to do a decent job with a bit of effort and perseverance. I don't think Nat King Cole or Pavarotti would have too much to worry about if they were alive, but if I can produce a sound that complements the choir rather than ruins it I'll be happy!

The important thing for me on Saturday will be to not expect myself to get everything right. After such a short time in the choir that would be expecting way, way too much. I will just try to relax and enjoy it!

Cheers for now,