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.