Friday, 30 September 2011

One step foward and two steps back!

By 'eck, I knew there would be challenging times ahead when I joined this choir and we are approaching one rapidly! After last week's - how shall I put it - less than successful rehearsal, things went slightly better this Thursday, but only slightly! 'My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose' and 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen' continue to baffle and frustrate in equal measure. Why it is I'm not entirely sure to be honest because I've found another new one (to me at least) 'Creations Hymn', to be quite easy.

Chris Hill and any other choir members who have read this blog in recent weeks will no doubt be wondering just when they are going to see some evidence of my newly discovered voice that has emerged during lessons with Caroline. It has certainly been conspiculous by its absence during these last two LMVC rehearsals that's for sure.  What is obvious is that when I am confident that I know the song and my own part, I can sing 'with gay abandon' as Caroline puts it. But when I don't know it well and I mess up, my fragile confidence shatters and things go pear-shaped very quickly. After that I can barely get a note right.

But not to worry. Hopefully things will continue to improve before October 15th. It should also be a case of  'safety in numbers'  too with the 100+ voices there to disguise any dodgy bits. After the LOROS event though I guess we'll be concentrating on our 'core' for 2011-12, which will hopefully allow me to get to know that group of songs really well. Then gentlemen, you might just start to hear a bit of the voice that is within me coming out, instead of retreating into it's shell like a turtle's head!

Saturday October 1st brings another wedding for the Caroline Sharpe Singers, this time at Wymeswold. And to add to the fun, this one is a military wedding which means lots of chaps in uniform apparently! For some inexplicable reason, the ladies seem to be really looking forward to this one. Hmmm!?! Wonder why?

For this one, as previously mentioned, I'm going to have a stab at the tenor parts for two of the hymns, though one of them only requires it for the second verse. I'm nearly there, so it should be fine, provided I don't see a return of the dreaded mucous that hampered my last lesson. Damned annoying and I don't know where it comes from. Well, it's from the throat, obviously, but why it emerges is a mystery. I even googled 'how to avoid mucous when singing' (yes, I really did - sad but true!) and found lots of helpful advice. Basically according to t'internet, absolutely ANYTHING you eat can cause mucous, so don't eat ANYTHING for 4-5 hours before singing. Yeah, right! Thanks for that!

OR:- Avoid caffeine and instead drink lots of water, (room temperature mind, cos cold water contracts the vocal cords) as staying properly hydrated keeps the mucus layer on your vocal cords thin. Okay, that seems a little more realistic and achievable. I will try that and see how it goes.

After last weeks experience with the 'wobble board', Caroline is to introduce a strange long rubber band thing that apparently one stretches behind one's head while singing. This helps one sing high notes!?! We had insufficient time this week to give it a go, but next week. . . .  I'm intrigued!

Before I go, I must mention my first LMVC Committee meeting last Tuesday. Quite an interesting few hours with the thorny topic of 'uniform' discussed. Chris Higgins and I are to look further into a possible alternative attire which should be interesting. I sense that there is a willingness to look into it which is good. The current uniform certainly has its place, but perhaps another 'look' would be good for certain occasions. We'll see!

And another meeting is to be arranged to specifically look at recruitment - a complex issue that needs quite a bit of discussion well beyond the scope of Tuesday's meeting.

Better go, but stay tuned for a Military Wedding Review in a day or two.

Cheers for now,

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Juggling Tenor and the Baptism of Fire

That title almost sounds like a new Harry Potter book! Having said that, I think the male voice choir might just need to enlist the help of Harry and his trusty magic wand if we are to be ready in time for the LOROS concert on October 15th!

Yikes! It's really not very long until the aforementioned charity gig at De Montfort Hall, Leicester. Not long at all. Last Thursday evening's rehearsal in the absence of Chris Hill, was led by Clive Rogers, the man who will be waving the old baton at the Hall.  In fact, the arrangements of two of the pieces we will be singing were actually written by Clive. "Let's start off with the two pieces wot I wrote" said Clive in true Ernie Wise style! As we went through the programme it quickly became horribly apparent just how much work needs doing in the next few weeks. To be quite brutally frank, I was 'bobbins' (a Mancunian expression for well, really rather poor)! I was all at sea for so much of the evening that I felt like making a run for it! Some comfort was provided by Dave Weston and fellow 'second tenor' Peter Bateman, who both reassured me that I wasn't the only one feeling a tad under-rehearsed. Still this is no time to panic - not yet at any rate. It will be all right on the night. Of course it will. Won't it? As I left Trinity, I was talking to a few of the chaps and we remembered that classic Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn, where Eric grabs Andre Previn by the scruff of the neck and says "listen sunshine, I was playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order"! Kinda summed up the rehearsal, I think - a bit of a baptism of fire.

On the previous night, I had another singing lesson with Caroline, which was . . .  erm   . . . . interesting!?! We started by attempting a couple of hymns scheduled for the next wedding on October 1st, but for these I am to be assigned the tenor parts if I can master them in time. There will only be me singing tenor so it needs to be spot on. Actually, it is a huge compliment that Caroline thinks I can do it and that I'm good enough. Not that you'd have known from my attempts on Wednesday mind you. I displayed a complete inability to follow the part from one line to the next to a quite embarrassing degree. Actually, the tenor parts are quite easy, now that I've highlighted them in luminous yellow highlighter pen!

And then my peculiar leg twitch started again. I have this quite strange, involuntary habit of twitching my left leg to the beat, which I suppose helps me keep time, but probably looks quite ridiculous. Caroline's cunning plan to eradicate this habit was to get me to stand on a bizarre rectangular board with a circular underside, if you get my drift. When one stands on it one wobbles, forcing one to balance and more importantly, stops that silly leg twitch. Clever eh? All I need is a 'Coco the Clown' outfit and three balls to juggle with and I could be the next 'Britain's Got Talent' sensation! Al, The Amazing Juggling Tenor?

There is clearly method in Caroline's apparent madness. Twitching one's leg while standing on such a contraption could quite possibly prove fatal (has Caroline seriously considered the health and safety issues here?) but it certainly seemed to do the trick.  Mind you, the vocals did get a bit tentative as I lost my balance and threatened to fall 'A over T' once or twice!

The week ended with the second rehearsal of The Caroline Sharpe Singers. Windmill of Your Mind went much better though the last couple of pages fell apart a bit (my singing that is, not the actual sheet music - LOL). But it's getting there, quite quickly actually. There's even rumours of CSS rehearsals becoming a weekly thing too. Good idea, say I.

Well that's a wrap, for now. Next up is my first LMVC committee meeting at the abode of Chairman Higgins on Tuesday night. Should be fun!

Cheers for now,

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Council and its Carillon

It would seem that the impression I have gained of  Charnwood Council being slightly less than committed to the well being of Loughborough's Carillon might not be entirely accurate. One or two details have come to light which suggest that maintenence of the Carillon is indeed being carried out to some degree on an annual basis, so I am happy to set the record straight.

I understand that about two years ago, several of the bells were found to be loose and Taylors were engaged to carry out the necessary repairs. Since then, Taylors have undertaken yearly maintenance and this is to continue. Additionally, should any issues arise such as the transmissions or batons breaking, then Taylors would be engaged to carry out any repairs.

So all this is good news and to give credit where it is due, the council is at the very least committed to ensure that this magnificent instrument is playable for the forseeable future.

Having said all that though, it is obvious to anyone who has attended one of Caroline's recitals, that the clavier would benefit from some renovation to make it less noisy to play. I understand that Taylors have expressed the desire to undertake a complete renovation of the entire Carillon including replacing the clavier and even recasting some of the bells. The cost of a renovation on that scale would I am sure be financially prohibitive in the current economic climate, but some renovation of the noisy clattering clavier shouldn't be beyond the scope of future budgets surely? Anyway, I'll leave it to the relevant Coucillors to argue over that one.

What shouldn't cost much and is certainly long overdue is the recognition of Caroline's commitment by formally bestowing upon her the official title of 'Borough Carillonneur'. It appears that many people think that Caroline already is the Borough Carillonneur. But, this has never actually happened in any official way. Thinking about the way Councils and other employers work these days, in order for this to happen, it might mean that the position would have to be formally advertised to allow any member of 'Joe Public' to apply for the position, incurring a certain expense. Well yes maybe, but just how many applications are there likely to be received for the position of 'Borough Carillonneur', bearing in mind such creatures are on the 'Red List' of endangered species??? Not many methinks!

So come on Charnwood Council! Do the right thing and make it official. You know I'm right!

Cheers for now,

Monday, 19 September 2011

Now we're getting somewhere!

After last weeks revelation that maybe, just maybe, there is indeed a 'voice' deep within me somewhere, desperate to be liberated from its stress-inhibited strait-jacket, it was with some trepidation that I approached my next lesson. Would the 'voice' still be there or would it once again retreat into its shell like a tortoise, never to be seen again?

Oh ye of little faith! After the usual mix of warm-up routines, off we went with another shot at Where e're You Walk, in the now revised higher key. As the high bit at "and all, things flourish", approached I started to think about it  (always a mistake) and it wasn't quite there, at least initially. Mid-note, things opened out a touch and the volume emerged. That was all the reassurance I needed - that last week wasn't a freak occurrance. It really is there and available on demand. Hoorah! During the week, I had practiced a bit, most often in the car on the way to work, but it's not easy to sing well sitting down I find. Goodness knows how opera singers manage it while acting and sitting down on stage.

So, Where e're You Walk is coming along nicely. The second half 'twiddly bits' need a bit of work, but we're getting there. Time then to have another go at Caro Mio Ben by Giuseppe Giordani. The last time I attempted this one a few months ago, I remember it being all rather feeble and inept. This time, however it was a slightly different story. With my new found, fledgling voice starting to emerge, it felt a whole lot better, "now that you've got a 'proper' voice", as Caroline put it.

Meanwhile, Ruth and sis-in-law Julia, had returned from a touch of shopping and were sneakily listening to my latest efforts, which brought a warm round of applause from the church. Disappointingly, I heard no calls for MORE! Oh well, there were just the two of them and it is early days I guess?

Before I go, regular readers of this blog may recall my recent 'rant' on the subject of Loughborough Carillon and its Carillonneur, Caroline Sharpe. Click here to read it if you missed it. Well, it seems this humble blog was discovered by a chap called Mel Gould from the Carillon Museum and he has forwarded a copy of that posting to various individuals including a number of people on Charnwood Council! On hearing of this development, I hastily re-read the article to remind myself exactly what I had said and I must say, I stand by every word. It will be interesting to see what develops. Perhaps a follow-up email by myself to a few of the recipients? I'll let you know what transpires.

Until next time.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The inaugural rehearsal of The Caroline Sharpe Singers and a landmark lesson.

There have been times over the last six months of choir rehearsals and singing lessons when I have wondered whether I am ever going to get to the stage when I could confidently say that I can really sing. Yes, there have been occasions when things have gone well, when I have actually felt that I contributed something positive to the male voice choir and to Caroline's wedding choirs. But more often than not, I have tended to feel that I am light years away from where I would like to be. Am I kidding myself? Have I really got it in me to really sing? Shouldn't I just pack it all in and stick to rocks and fossils?

I know I am ridiculously hard on myself and perceive every 'bum' note to be a disaster, but I guess that can be traced back to the previously reported church service reading horror as a ten year old. I know it, but strangely find it difficult to lay those demons to rest. I've known for a while that I needed 'something' to help convince myself that I really can get there. Well my friends, maybe today was the day when I got just that.

Saturday 10th September 2011. Mark it in your diary! Firstly, it was the day of the inaugural rehearsal of The Caroline Sharpe Singers, a landmark event in itself! Bright and early (10 am on a Saturday is for me, early!)  a group of enthusiastic individuals assembled at Trinity Methodist Church. For the record, the group consisted of me, Ruth, Anna-Ruth, Diane, Shirley, Jean, Vicky, Chris and Jeff. Yes three blokes, which was great, provided of course that they weren't so good as to make me stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Caroline kicked off proceedings with a quick run through some of the hymns due to be sung at the next wedding in Wymeswold in a couple of weeks. That was easy enough, but was followed by a second stab at 'Windmill of Your Mind', which was a rather more of a challenge! Despite a few dodgy bits it started to really come together. Then we tried a new piece that Caroline has earmarked for us to sing at a 'gig' in November. I've forgotten the title of said piece but it had lots of 'alleluias' in it. Rather like Thursday when in the LMVC rehearsal we tried a new piece, the first run through seemed like a bit of a mess, but after a few minutes of Caroline's guidance, a quite impressive sound started to emerge.

An hours rehearsal went by in a flash and I left feeling that we were at the start of something quite special. Who knows where this little venture could lead but it will be fun finding out. After that, me, Ruth and Diane adjourned to the Moon and Bell for a brew and a bacon cob, before my return to Trinity at one o'clock for my next singing lesson with Caroline.

Now, maybe it was the fact that I was already well 'warmed up' or maybe it was because the earlier rehearsal had gone so well. But whatever the reason, right from the first note to pass my lips, this lesson was unlike any previous one. I guess I was way more relaxed for a start, but something just felt 'right' somehow. We started with 'Where e'er You Walk' and for the first time I actually felt like what I was singing was rather good! Caroline could tell that I had been practising, so it obviously makes a difference. So good did I feel that I  even had the confidence to throw in a few 'twiddly bits' (a common technical term we singers use!?!) during the second run through like wot proper singers do with this song.

But the real landmark occurance came when Ruth came in to listen to my efforts. Caroline played the tune again, but this time in a slightly higher key. This obviously made the high bits even higher, but when I got to them something quite astonishing (to me at least) occurred. Caroline had often talked about allowing the voice to open out which would release my somewhat stifled vocals. It only really happens when one is sufficiently relaxed - something I've struggled with since day one! But today, on hitting a high note, a great booming voice appeared from somewhere, I know not where, and it felt GREAT! But interestingly, it was upping the key that brought it out, so maybe that's the key (pardon the pun)! Apparently, the tone of my voice sounds much better as a result. "I think you married a tenor", said Caroline to Ruth! 

So hopefully this wasn't a one off and there will be more of the same in the weeks to come. I'd better keep practising to make sure I don't lose it. It was also interesting to note that a run through 'Moondance' seemed all wrong somehow. I have until now thought that Michael Buble/Nat King Cole would be the kind of musical genre that I would be most suited to. I rather doubted Carolines belief that I could really 'do' classical. Well, yesterday's lesson well and truly eradicated that doubt. 'Trust in your teacher' you fool! She would hardly present me with a folder of classical songs for my birthday if she didn't think I was capable of mastering them. So, maybe we'll put Michael Buble on the backburner for now and concentrate on my classical folder!

So there you go - something of a landmark day. Time now to search Youtube for more videos of 'Where e're You Walk' for the purposes of stealing ideas for interesting twiddly bits.

Cheers for  now!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

That was the summer that was . .

Hey! What was that 'whooshing' sound?

Oh, that was the summer mate. Whoosh - gone in a flash. Blink and you missed it. No sooner had I donned my shorts, shades and factor 50 (not an entirely pretty sight I can assure you) then bless my soul - summer was all but over and it was time once again for rehearsals with the Loughborough Male Voice choir.

So, while I mourn the sad passing of what we Brits laughingly call 'summer', I can at least rejoice in the fact that Thursday evenings are again filled with 'song'. It seemed rather strange when we 'broke up' for summer as I found myself wondering what to do with myself and indeed wondered quite what it was that I used to do on a Thursday evening prior to the LMVC descending upon my life.

Sadly, my promise to use Thursday evenings to practice running through such tricky numbers as 'Amarillo' never quite materialised, what with bathrooms to be plastered and tiled and sundry DIY tasks to be undertaken. Not that the vocal chords have been entirely idle you understand, as you will know if you have 'tuned in' to this blog during the last six weeks. Saturday afternoons have been filled with singing at several weddings in Prestwold and the latest was on Saturday 27th August. Unlike the previous wedding I sang at, this time the choir's ranks had swelled to a whopping 16. Thankfully consigned to the bin were the quite shockingly 'pink' ties that us chaps were asked to wear earlier in  the summer. They were ditched in favour of some splendid new ones fashioned from the remains of some exqusite material originally intended to form new dresses for Enchanted. Please don't ask! - No really, it's best not to, honestly!

Aren't weddings the most bizarre things? The more I go to, the more I appreciate the simplicity of my own Quaker wedding to Ruth back in 2004. I won't comment on the specifics of recent events for fear of causing offence but to me, a wedding should be about the bride and groom and what they are saying to one another and less about the lavishness of the outfits of groom, bridemaids and bride. Oh dear, wedding dresses. Oh dear, oh dear . . .   Better not go there. Moving swiftly on . . . .

I think this latest wedding 'sing-song' was my best yet - no blunders this time and I gather many favourable comments were received on the choir's performance. Indeed, so well have things been going that Caroline has decided to 'formalise' the choir. A small bunch of selected individuals have been invited to join 'The Caroline Sharpe Singers'. Astonishingly, I am one of them and we will be rehearsing fortnightly on Saturday mornings with the aim of performing at a gig in November. As the 'token bloke' this should be interesting and something of a challenge. Bring it on! I fear nothing, err, except singing solos, obviously!

Alongside all this of course, my singing lessons with Caroline have continued. I'm now trying to concentrate my efforts into mastering 'Moondance', as sung by Michael Buble and Van Morrison and also 'Where e're You Walk' by Handel - two very different styles of music, but variety is the spice of life as they say.

Some sad news to report - the first LMVC rehearsal of the new season started with Ray Archer announcing that he felt that he could no longer continue in the choir for health reasons. It's such a shame as he's been the choir's librarian for many years, keeping track of the multitude of copies of all the choirs repertoire of music. He'll be greatly missed and I'm sure his service will be marked appropriately in due course.

Meanwhile, the countdown to the LOROS concert on October 15th continues and boy oh boy, have I got a lot of work to do to get up to scratch. Better get down to it!

See you next time,