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?