Sunday, 30 December 2012

That Was The Year That Was: 2012

Well that just about wraps it up for 2012 and what a year it was. If ever a year contained a varied mix of the good, the bad and the downright ugly, then 2012 was it. As the clock ticks away towards New Years Eve and the promise of a fresh start, it is time to take a leisurely look back at the year almost gone and reflect a little.

So good people, settle down with a glass of that Christmas *Single Malt/Cointreau/Baileys (* - delete where applicable) and take a look back at 2012. . . .

2012 commenced with singing goals revised and early rehearsals for the LMVC / Enchanted concert at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton on January 26th. This was an ambitious concert, not least because we needed to generate our own audience out of nothing. As the night approached, there were no guarantees, but we were hopeful of some of the populace of Long Eaton turning up. In the event, they did. Not in huge numbers, but at least respectable. This concert also saw the debut of the bow-ties, handkerchiefs and  albeit soon to be ditched cummerbunds. Audience feedback was positive for all but the latter. A great gig in a splendid venue - to be repeated in 2013 I hasten to add.

On a personal level, early 2012 proceeded with a guillotine raised above my head. Redundancy loomed as the A46 Improvements neared completion. A stay of execution was granted until April at least. Meanwhile preparations for my first ever singing exam (ABRSM Grade 4) continued with a couple of rehearsals with my exam accompanist, Nest Harris. I was amazed and humbled by the stunning sound of Nest's piano.

ABRSM Grade 4 Singing Exam arrived all too quickly and brought a good PASS. Caro Mio Ben, An Die Laute and Do I love You Because You're Beautiful? were sung pretty well, while the unaccompanied folk song Barb'ra Allen went less well. But an excellent experience and maybe repeated with Grade 5 next year?

Okay, so not the greatest month of my life! Made redundant by Balfour Beatty on Friday 13th, yes, Friday the 13th April. With no sign of another job in the pipeline I went to the Jobcentre to sign on. The spectacle of two youths swearing and throwing half full beer cans around the Jobcentre did not offer encouragement for the coming weeks and months! On the positive side, another concert came along - at St Helena's Church, West Leake, with a concert entitled 'All in the April Evening', because it was in April you see?
Later in the month was the second concert from Caroline Sharpe Singers in which I sang On the Street Where You Live. Nervous as usual, but better, I think.
I also went with Ruth and Anna to Manchester to see Phantom of the Opera starring the phenomenal John Owen Jones as the Phantom. Bloomin' marvelous it was!

Two concerts in consecutive days mid-May, with enchanted in Sutton Bonnington followed by LMVC at Trinity MCC. To round off the month the LMVC performed their now traditional open air concert in the Bandstand in Queen's Park Loughborough. At the latter, that scally-wag Chris Hill threw in Pleasant & Delightful at the last moment causing panic in yours truly and I thus forgot my words. Doh!

At the end of June CSS presented their summer concert from the Baptist Church in Woodhouse Eaves, together with Enchanted. A splendid concert that featured amongst other highlights, a duet of Brindisi by my good self and Anna-Ruth. This was a triumph if only for the reason that I forgot a bit, but kept going by making up some roughly Italian sounding gobbledy-gook. Bravo!

July - August:
A long, damp jobless summer made bearable by a holiday in Wragby, several weddings to sing at in Prestwold and Wymeswold and a fabulous tour of Norfolk by Enchanted. This turned out to be a superb few days with tales of concerts, Travelodges and broken down minibuses.

After puzzling over how to increase the male voice choir's numbers for quite a while, upon our return in early September we were boosted by a sudden influx of new members. This was to be a feature of the autumn as the LMVC enjoyed something a recruitment bonanza. Oh, and I actually had some paid work, a modest 7 days back on the A46 for Balfour Beatty. Better than a slap in the chops though!

LMVC's first concert of the season was at 'home' with special guests the Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir. This will be followed in 2013 with a reciprocal trip to Merthyr Tydfil. Later in October we presented a concert at the Barrow upon Soar Methodist Church for the Ladies Circle in aid of 'Rainbows'. Guest soloist for this concert was Enchanted's Olivia Thornber who was superb.

What A Month! Firstly, I got a job - a lucrative if temporary job working for White Young Green (WYG) at their office in Anstey. Should last well into 2013 thankfully. Then competed in the Leicester Festival both as a soloist and with LMVC. While my solo was err, average, the LMVC won the W.H. Russell Shield. Hoorah! Later in the month was Caroline Sharpe's Annual Pupil Concert featuring Enchanted, Caroline Sharpe Singers and solo performances, duets and even a trio. The latter was me, Ruth and Michelle Oldale with a rendition of a traditional Irish folk song, She Moved Through The Fair which was excellent. After last years solo debut, this time I Sang My Favourite song from Les Miserables, Bring Him Home. Definitely my best solo performance yet by a long way.

Crazily busy December with festive engagements aplenty. LMVC sang at the Parish Church's Christmas Tree Festival with Viva la Musica followed by a concert in Kegworth with Caroline Sharpe as guest soloist. Then of course there was the obligatory appearances at Sainsbury's and Carillon Court plus a first time at Tesco in The Rushes which was great. Caroline Sharpe Singers presented their Christmas concert in a return trip to Woodhouse Eaves. All that was left was for a repeat of last year's Carols at the Carillon on Christmas Eve. Unlike last year,the weather this time was lousy. Rain, rain and more rain! But we still had an audience and a sizeable choir that really enjoyed themselves. Same time next year everybody!

And that was it. Trying to summarise that little lot just goes to show what a lot of stuff was crammed into the twelve months. It was certainly a great year for both the Loughborough Male Voice Choir and the Caroline Sharpe Singers. For me it was a difficult year made bearable thanks to my singing and the support of Ruth, who kept me sane and spurred me on to achieve the above vocal triumphs. Caroline Sharpe's unwavering support and belief was the inspiration to achieve the seemingly impossible, not just for me but many in the choir too. 

So what will 2013 bring? Well, there is likely to be a Grade 5 Singing exam in the spring, Coalville Festival, a trip to Merthyr Tydfil, Leicester Festival  more concerts, more weddings and who knows what else?

Stay tuned and in the meantime have a happy and prosperous New Year!


Monday, 17 December 2012

It's Christmas, so sing, sing, SING!

Festive Greetings one and all!

Traditionally things start to get busy for most people as the festive season approaches. The household at Chateau Knightthorpe have experienced a quite frantic schedule over the last few weeks of singing lessons, rehearsals and concerts. With yours truly involved in the Loughborough Male Voice Choir and Caroline Sharpe Singers, both Anna and Amy in CSS and Enchanted and Ruth in CSS too, it's been a quite mad couple of weeks, but amazing fun!

Oh to have had the time to do a blog about each event straight after it happened, but you'll all just have to make do with a review of the lot, right here. So sit back with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie as I take you back to Friday December 7th. . . 

Okay first up was All Saint's Parish Church, for a concert as part of their Christmas Tree Festival. Us chaps presented a collection of festive goodies in the first half with a choir called Viva la Musica presenting the second half. I really enjoyed this concert in amongst a veritable forest of beautifully decorated Christmas trees. We sang well, as did Viva la Musica who were very impressive.
One interesting development as result of this concert was that in the audience was a young man who was so impressed he wanted to join us! During the interval he apparently asked Chris Hill "are young people allowed in this choir?" Absolutely no arm twisting was required and he was to take up the offer to join us at our next rehearsal. Despite presenting just half a concert it set us up nicely for the full concert the following night.

So, rather than half a gig, Saturday 8th was to be the 'Full Monty'. Okay, that's not a pleasant image to dwell on for too long, so let me re-phrase. I mean we would be presenting a full concert. Proudly displaying the W.H. Russell Shield, we started with the four songs entered at the triumphant Leicester Festival performances, and then following it with Christmas Carols after the interval. We also had the debut appearance of The Shanty Group masterminded by Ray Taylor and then a certain guest soloist called Caroline Sharpe. The latter was brilliant as usual and the Shanty Group surprised me a bit by being pretty good too. Only jesting chaps. Love the wooley pullies! Oh and Michael Dukes' Satnav poem was hilarious too.

Rather than run through all the carols we sang it these gigs, I'll just mention the new addition, A Wiltshire Carol called Rejoice the Promised Saviour's Come, which is similar to our folk song Pleasant & Delightful in that it includes some solo verses with a line at the end for all to repeat. Nice one Mr Hill and one to become a regular, annually at least.

The following night, I had the opportunity to be part of an audience for a change at a concert by the Belvoir Wassailers at Waltham on the Wolds, featuring kids from local schools and a couple of guest soloists including that Caroline Sharpe woman again. As brilliant as she is at putting choirs together, it's worth remembering that she can actually sing a bit. This was a very different Christmas concert - very laid back with everyone having fun. The arrangement of While Shepherds Watched to the tune of Ilkley Moor was fantastic and one for us to try I think. The only disappointment was that I won nothing in the raffle. No, not a thing!?! 

This then left a week before the next engagement. But what to do with myself? Well, my time was filled with singing lessons and a few more rehearsals of course. Saturday 15th December promised to be a marathon of singing endurance. The programme was as follows:-

    1. 09:45 - 10:45 LMVC at Tesco in The Rushes.
    2. 11:00 - 12:00 LMVC at Carillon Court.
    3. 19:00 - 21:30 Caroline Sharpe Singers/Enchanted at Woodhouse Eaves.

Mad? Err, yes probably, but hey, it's Christmas so let's go for it eh? Tesco was great - very relaxed and loads of fun. A nice audience assembled and enthusiastically joined in with the carols.

Loughborough Male Voice Choir Carol singing at Tesco in The Rushes.

Loughborough Male Voice Choir's newest and youngest member!
Carol singing at Tesco in The Rushes.

The choir joined by Enchanted's Anna-Ruth Gray at Tesco in The Rushes.

Jeff Buckley, Gerald Morling, me, Jim Lacey and John Holt at Tesco in The  Rushes.

After that enjoyable sing, we made the short trip over to Carillon Court for our usual stint outside W.H. Smith's.  I loved this last year and it was just as good
 this time. There's something quite inspiring about singing to an audience that never expected to be part of such a thing when they left their homes that morning, apart from 'Rent-a-Crowd' that is! 

Peter Sharpe, Caroline Sharpe, Amy, Ruth, Anna, Julia and Diane Sharpe a.k.a. 'Rent-A-Crowd'.

These intrepid souls follow me and LMVC  wherever they can. Your loyalty will be rewarded in heaven ladies and gents.
The singing again went down well and we finished with the 'honorary carol' and audience fave, 'Amarillo'. "What's this got to do with Christmas?" asked one choir member. Well, nothing, other than F.U.N. I guess.

Right, that was that for the LMVC, for a few hours at least. Time to go home for a breather before preparing for the evening's concert with the Caroline Sharpe Singers. No rest for the wicked? Barely having time to break wind, I was off to Woodhouse Eaves Baptist Church to prepare for the gig. Upon arrival, I felt absolutely knackered. Sorry, I mean rather fatigued? While Enchanted rehearsed I confess to having dozed off. Then all of a sudden, I was called upon to do my solo, Born in the Night. Eh? What? Me? Now? Oh, right.

Feeling half asleep and a tad unready, I spluttered  into the carol and almost forgot what I was singing. I'm surprised Bring Him Home didn't emanate for my mouth! Needless to say, I messed up verse two. What is it with second verses? So feeling somewhat brain-dead, I decided that later I would use my music and hopefully avoid any potential embarrassment. Good decision.

Cometh the hour, cometh the choir. And an audience. Not huge, but certainly an improvement on 'one man and his dog' that turned up to last years concert in Sileby, and a good percentage were not related in any way with any of the Sharpe family which i
was good. 
Highlights of this concert I thought were Anna's solo of The Little Road to Bethlehem and her reading which brought a round of applause. Also Jonathon Brookes' rendition of What's This? He told me that he only learnt it properly that afternoon. Pah! Don't believe a word of it. That was way too good to have been slung together in an afternoon. Either that or you're a genius!

Like any good concert there's a cock-up or two. We won't dwell on them - just put them down to experience, but quite what happened to us chaps at the start of Good Christians All Rejoice,God only knows. Some of us were right, while some of us were singing in the wrong key. Horribly! But hey, we got it together eventually and finished well, I think.

Other highlights were Jingle Bells performed by Enchanted, which was brilliant and also Paul Widdowson's performance of White Christmas. When everyone joined in the last chorus, it almost brought a tear to the eye. Magic! That just left us to don Santa hats for the finale of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, before fleeing to Gail's house for post gig kari-jokey party.

Better not say too much about the party except I have a confession to make. Much punch and wine was consumed. Too much in my case and I'm afraid, I broke a wine glass. Oops. Sorry Gail, I confess my sins and will happily replace said wine glass. I hang my head in shame. Damn good party mind. Shame Bring Him Home was in Alfie Boe's key. Couldn't get anywhere near it sadly even after consuming a bucket of wine.
Much of the night was a blur and  I awoke surprisingly free of hangover but with a deep voice that would've given Chris Higgins a run for his money. 

Oh Lord, at half past one the LMVC were singing at Sainsbury's. This in truth was a step too far for my vocal chords that seemed to have nowt left to give and I croked through the hour like a bullfrog. 

Loughborough Male Voice Choir singing Carols at Carillon Court.

 Second tenors and a bass. Me, Reg, John, Terry and Michael,
singing Carols at Carillon Court.

Or fabulous accompanist, Sue Ellerby playing for us at Carillon Court.

One amusing moment occurred early in our stint when a grumpy lady shopper on her phone started yelling to someone about not knowing which bouquet to buy and didn't seem to appreciate a bunch of chaps singing. This was our cue to crank up the volume and drown out her phone call. Lyndon's powerful tenor voice came into its own in splendid style. Ho, ho ho!?!

And that's about it. Another year's festive jollity over for another year. Except that is, for the now 'traditional' Carols at the Carillon on Christmas Eve at 1 o'clock. After last year's fantastic experience, you'd be mad to miss it.

If I don't see you there, may I take this opportunity to wish you all . . .

A Very Happy Christmas!


Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Annual Pupils Concert 2012

When one falls off one's horse, the best thing to do by all accounts is get straight back on the beast and try again. Well, after falling off my solo singing 'horse' last week at the Leicester Festival, I've nursed my bruised ego back to relative health and prepared myself for another crack at singing a solo in my second performance at the Caroline Sharpe Annual Pupil Concert at Trinity Methodist Church Centre.

With morale dented somewhat by my mild brain freeze during Linden Lea last week, I needed a good performance to give me a 'shot in the arm' so to speak. Ever since last November when I made my solo debut  nervously singing Where 'ere you Walk, I had  set my heart on singing the Les Mis epic, Bring Him Home. A fantastic song, fantastically sung by a certain Alfie Boe, who is something of a favorite of mine (no, really?). So with less than a week to go, I still had to truly master the finishing line which is a bit high and quiet. Falsetto-ing it, wasn't working, so Caroline got me singing it with a bit of welly sorry, forte, with a diminuendo. This was easier and gave it a slightly different 'twist' and I felt much more comfortable about it.

Until Thursday that is. A sore throat arrived, soon followed by a dripping tap nose. Excellent! Just what one wants two days before a singing engagement. Hey-ho! Failure or to not perform at all were simply not options this time. After missing my second Festival solo last week, I felt I owed Caroline one and had to produce, come what way. In a strange way, it helped to focus the mind a bit and at my final lesson after work on Friday, I sang fairly well, despite the snotty nose. Provided Mr Virus didn't migrate to my chest, I'd be fine! Fingers crossed then?

Unlike last year I slept well and awoke feeling confident. No need for any panic texts to Caroline this year, but I received one from her saying she couldn't play piano for me as she didn't think she was good enough! Ho-ho!

Okay lets cut to the chase. Thankfully this year, my solo was to come at the end of the first set of songs from Les Miserables. Kicking off proceedings were The Caroline Sharpe Singers with Do You Hear the People Sing? featuring the silky smooth bass tones of Chris Higgins.  That was followed by Wendy Burns singing I Dreamed a Dream and then a duet of Castle on a Cloud by Amy Gray and Katie Muller. All these were great, particularly the two young girls who were also making their first appearance with Enchanted. It was meant to be a trio, but Kate Foster was unwell and couldn't perform. Bex Petty then sang a lovely rendition of On My Own before it was my turn.

Okay, so I was nervous, but nothing like last year, or for that matter, like last week. I was constantly aware of mucous in the throat and had to swallow several time during the song to keep it in check. The overall aim this year was to look less like a startled rabbit, while trying to sing with good diction and a bit of expression. Weeks of studying Alfie Boe's video on Youtube told me to close my eyes at the beginning 'God on high, hear my prayer' bit and raise my hands a touch at the 'if I die, let me die' near the end. Well, I would need to see a DVD of it to see if I achieved any of that, but I almost managed a smile at the climax. Audience feedback after the gig suggested a marked improvement on this time last year, so that was good to hear. 

I can honestly say I actually enjoyed that solo last night. Yes, I was nervous, but confident that I knew the song well and that was the key. I didn't feel the same confidence with Linden Lea seven days previously and it showed. But I do know I can sing a lot better so there's still lots to aim for, particularly in terms of performance.

Well enough of me. There was way more to this evening that just me and Bring Him Home. The evening was to be a wonderful mix of choirs, solos, duets and trios, covering songs from musicals, folk songs, German  songs, Italian songs, love songs and English songs. The highlights for me were obviously songs involving my family. I've already mentioned Amy's duet with Katie, which was wonderful, but her solo of Who Will Buy? from Oliver was fantastic. Amy rarely allows me to hear her sing - I have to sit in Caroline's kitchen when she has a lesson! So it was wonderful to hear her sing so well!

Also for me, the most professional performance of the whole evening was Anna-Ruth's rendition of What Good Would The Moon Be? The confidence, poise and expression added to that stunning voice was just breathtaking. Anna has an awesome stage presence - she has it when acting as well as singing. If she doesn't have a major career as a classical singer it will be an absolute travesty in my humble opinion!

As well as the kids, Ruth was also involved  in CSS and in a trio with me and Michelle Oldale of a haunting, unaccompanied folk song called She Moved Through the Fair. The pre-concert run through was to be frank, a bit of a disaster, but another try a little later went fine to dispel any late panics. As it turned out, we got it spot on and the audience loved it! Can't wait to hear that one on the CD!

May I also raise my glass and say a hearty 'bravo' to all the other soloists and duetists (?) particularly those getting up there for the first time! If I mentioned everyone I would be here all night blogging. So I will just say well done everyone! I bet you're feeling just great today ain't ya?

Oh, and mention must be made of the largest formation of Enchanted yet, an awesome nine girls. With Rose, Holly and Alice going off to their respective universities last September, three new members, Amy, Katie and Bex have joined the choir. But for this concert all the girls combined to make a very impressive sound.

Blimey, I've not even mentioned Holly and Olivia! These two girls are always so brilliant, I almost take it for granted that that will always be the case. And it was. Superb performances from them, last weeks trophy and certificates on show. What more needs to be said really?

The finale saw Enchanted sing the Beatles song All You Need Is Love and that just left the Caroline Sharpe Singers to return for the epic I Believe/Ave Maria, which with Trinity's fabulous acoustics sounded superb!

So that was it for another year. A fantastic experience and another brilliantly put together concert from the musical genius that is Caroline Sharpe. Her ability to get ordinary people singing together to produce the quality of sound that they do is a true gift that cannot be praised highly enough. And to get this 50-something up on a stage singing a song from Les Mis, is nothing short of miraculous. Thank you so much.
Thanks also to the whoopers in the audience who made everyone feel like a million dollars.

See you all next year, if not before - Christmas is a-comin' and a whole diary full of Chrimbo gigs. Bring it on!


P.S. I will leave you with a couple of photos of Saturday's performers:-

 The Caroline Sharpe Singers 

Enchanted - November 2012

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Leicester Festival - the pain and the ecstasy!

Saturday 17th November 2012 was an extraordinary day. It proved to be such an emotional roller-coaster, that it almost defies description. It had me examining my reasons for singing and why I was putting myself through the whole thing. 

As I've mentioned previously, far too many times already for most of you I daresay, I suffer from nerves.  Stomach churning, nausea inducing fear of what might happen in my tortured mind at least if I get something wrong. I long for the day when I can stand before an audience with confidence and deliver a performance that leads an audience to gasp in wonder!

But then, doesn't every up and coming singer? I'm no different to anyone else, we all want the same and what is becoming increasingly obvious is that it won't ever come without a whole lot more pain along the way. The pre-concert colly-wobbles (to put it politely) is always going to be there. I either live with it and work through it, or I throw the towel in and give up. The latter suggestion, is just not an option. I've done that far too often throughout my life and can't let it happen again. Time and again yesterday, I kept hearing the words of Chris Hill. "What's the worst that can happen? You feel a little foolish in front of an audience. If that is the worst thing to happen in one's life, it ain't that bad is it?" 

Well, that is exactly how I felt yesterday, when mid-way through the second verse of Linden Lea, 'Mr Cock-up' stuck his oar in and things went (to me at least) pear-shaped. In numerous rehearsals, the line 'and painted birds do hush their singing' refused to be stored in my memory bringing much frustration and expletives aplenty. To my delight, I remembered the dreaded line this time and so pleased was I that I promptly forgot the next bit, 'and brown leaved fruits are turning red'. "Whatever you do" said Caroline beforehand, "don't stop - something will come out". So, I stopped! And so did the pianist to my surprise. Embarrassingly, I was a bit rude to the poor guy, saying "keep going". Bless him, he prompted me by saying "brown leaved fruits, brown leaved fruits!" I recommenced the verse, and got through the third quite well considering.  I acknowledged the kind applause and sat down kicking myself. Yes, at that moment I felt a bit foolish and it felt like a disaster, but on reflection, it was anything but.

The feedback from the adjudicator was highly complimentary. For instance he (Peter Wells) said "This was a good fluid performance with clear diction throughout". That was particularly pleasing as I'd tried hard to emulate Ian Bostridge's epic Youtube recording.  But he was also very constructive, suggesting ways to improve, such as "there were some good changes in dynamic, but perhaps you could also aim for more colour of mood as well". He also suggested singing more "nose down" and "opening up the back of the throat more", which are all things Caroline has been trying to drum into me for ages. But as Peter Wells said himself, when you stand up before an audience, all advice goes out of the window! So looking back, it was a useful experience and needs to be repeated. Coalville festival next spring maybe? 

I was due to sing another class, that of Sacred Songs in which I was to sing The Lord is my Shepherd at about half past four. But here a problem arose. The Loughborough Male Voice Choir were to compete in two categories - the single voice choir and the open choir. the choir competitions were to start at around 3.20pm, but while admittedly not exactly relishing another solo, I was prepared to give it a stab to try and redeem myself a bit. If the format was the same as for solos, there should be an opportunity to nip out between classes and get to Music Room 3 for my solo. As it happened, all the choir competitions were continuous, with no gaps for adjudication, which was done by Peter Wells at the very end so I was a bit stuck. I felt that I was going to be letting Caroline down somewhat and knew she would be less than pleased. I now await my punishment and will take it like a man!

But at least I can look back on something that in the event, turned into something really quite special. Right from the moment the choir took up its place in the Main Hall, there was an excited buzz about the place. There was a very real sense that all the choirs were 'up for it'. Would we rise to the occasion? Our songs for Class 187 - Single Voice Choir were He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother and When the Saints Go Marching In. I have to say, that in the 19 months I have been with the choir, it was the best we've ever sung I think. The audience, the majority of which was made up of the other choirs, we're clapping even before we finished Saints and let out something of a roar when we did finish! We then returned to our seats well pleased and with the hairs on the back of my neck doing very strange things! 

Listening to the other, very different choirs was also very exciting. We were up against a large community choir, a barbershop style choir and a group of women called 'Rockapellas' who treated us to a 'different' rendition of the Kaiser Chiefs song Oh My God. I'll just call it bizarre and leave it at that!?! All the choirs were very polished though and I'd no idea who would win.

In our second set, Class 189: Open Choir, we were to again face another formation of the community choir who split up into various guises to meet the criteria for each class. For this we saw the whole lot of them in the form of the Musical Village. There was also a youth choir, The Leicester Vocal Tech who seemed a bit ragged at times, but all the other choirs were very polished. We sang two very contrasting pieces, as is the requirement for each class, with Is This the Way To Amarillo? followed by the atmospheric Bushes and Briars. Amarillo was spectacular with the audience joining in with the clapping and you could hear a pin drop at the end of Briars. Amazing stuff!

All that was left was for a bit of stand up comedy from the bubbly adjudicator Peter Wells, to announce each categories winners. After what seemed like an eternity, he eventually announced the LMVC as winners of the single voice choir class which meant we would then sing again in the competition for the Championship Choir. Hoorah! Well chuffed to say the least. In the Open Choir class, we came second which was great too, until he announced the winners as the Leicester Vocal Tech. I will say no more for fear of offending other than to say it was at least good to see young people enjoying singing.

So a first and a second in our two classes. Could we cap it off with the overall Championship? We sang Saints again as the adjudicator had enthused about it. The other finalist, the Musical Village Chorale sang a Howard Goodall Medley including the Blackadder signature tune which was great. Alas we came second, but no matter. It turned out way better than any of us imagined I think. 

So that ended an amazing day. On reflection, important lessons were learnt. Firstly, that all solo singing experience, is valuable, however it turns out. Secondly, errors are never as calamitous as they seem at the time and don't matter as long as you learn from it. Thirdly, singing can be exciting and can give you the most incredible 'buzz'. The longer term goal is to achieve the same when singing solo.

I can't finish without mentioning the achievements of Enchanted's Holly Coutts, Olivia Thornber and Anna-Ruth Gray who pretty much swept the board and came home with a huge array of trophies. In the Operatic Solo and the British Composer classes the girls took the first three places. I also had the pleasure of hearing Anna and Livvy's beautiful Barcarolle duet and a triumph for the second year running in that class. Well done girls, you were all truly outstanding!

Thanks must go to Caroline (grovel, grovel!) for her time and patience and her "Painted birds, painted birds, painted birds" text message on Saturday morning! To Ruth, for her counselling on Friday night/Saturday morning as my confidence crumbled and finally to The Official LMVC Whoopers namely Caroline Sharpe, Ruth  Coward and Julia Willis for their vocal encouragement. We were glad to have you back!

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 28 October 2012

One for the ladies?

We have arrived at that time of year when the singing engagements start to come thick and fast. A mere fortnight since the Trinity concert with the ladies from Merthyr Tydfil we followed that up on Saturday 27th October, with a concert for the Ladies Circle at Barrow-on-Soar Methodist Church. This concert was to form part of their 'Ladies Week' and would be in aid of 'Rainbows'. The date was added at rather short notice, but what the heck. The only problem, for me at least was the special request from the ladies that we sing Morte Criste, a song from our 'back catalogue' that has not been sung for a while. Not a problem for the members of long standing, but it meant a new song to be learnt in 48 hours for all us relative newbies!

But first things first. Saturday morning at 10 o'clock 'Sharpe' it was a Caroline Sharpe Singers rehearsal. This little group is blossoming into a pretty damn good choir now I think, particularly with the addition of a certain Chris Higgins. Chris, a rather fine bass singer from the male voice choir was keen to expand his horizons and after seeing us in action at a concert earlier in the year, decided to give it a go. Welcome aboard Mr Higgins and you've certainly added a quality start to Do You Hear the People Sing?, much to the obvious approval of a certain few of the ladies in the choir, who shall remain nameless - for now! ;-)

Anyway, with the CSS rehearsal done, I could then concentrate my attention on the evenings concert in Barrow. Us chaps were to be joined by guest soloist for the evening, Olivia Thornber - she of Enchanted fame. This gig was going to be slightly different in that there would be no interval, just a simple run through the programme and then a few nibbles afterwards. I gave Olivia and Jonathan a lift to the venue and we were ready to assemble at about half six. What many of the choir didn't know was that Lyndon Gardner had been approached to take on the unenviable task of being stage manager, to try and get us all assembled in a suitable formation within the somewhat limited available space. It shouldn't be too difficult, but getting a bunch of men to sit where they are told is no easy task. Lyndon's teaching experience no doubt proved invaluable in bringing the unruly rabble to order without the need for detentions or any form of corporal punishment! One good thing about this concert was that we could assemble on stage and stay there with no trailing on and off stage every few minutes. Bliss!

Right, off we go with Stout Hearted Men and Vive l'amour, which both went well. The acoustics were very different from Trinity and as Lyndon had advised, there was a need to not try to sing louder to make up for the less helpful acoustics. Following us it was the turn of Olivia Thornber to sing her first two songs, Voi che Sapete by Mozart, followed by Somewhere from West Side Story. These she sang beautifully. It is quite amazing to see and hear how much Livvy's voice has developed in the last year or two. She and  Enchanted's Holly Coutts and Anna-Ruth Gray ought to have big, big futures in the world of music if there is any justice. But then, I am a tad biased I suppose!

So from the absolutely sublime to the totally ridiculous! Next came the two living legends of Loughborough Male Voice Choir, Tom Carter and Gerald Morling to give us their 'unique' rendition of  A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One from G & O operetta The Pirates of Penzance, complete with helmets and truncheons. Wot a larf! Unlike their earlier rehearsal, I think they actually remembered all the words, or maybe they just made it up? Either way, it went down a storm with the audience. Nice one chaps!

The lads then rose to their feet to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water and the folk song Pleasant and Delightful. Both of these went really well I thought and my solo verse in the latter is almost routine now and heaven forbid, I even tried to sing it with a bit of expression. Well, only a bit granted, but at least my 'startled rabbit' look is going, albeit slowly.

Lyndon Gardner then sang two very contrasting songs. The first a rousing and powerful song and the second the guitar accompanied piece, first heard at the last concert at Trinity. It's not written for guitar but it really works and it was a noticeably more confident performance from guitarist Dave Weston too!

Next up was the choir again singing firstly Bushes and Briars, which is slowly coming together for me personally.It is definitely, the most difficult piece of all to sing, but I'm improving, slowly. Following that came Is this the Way To Amarillo? which is a lot more polished than last year, but still with room for improvement, but I think that will always be the case with this one.

Olivia then returned to the stage to sing Stay Well by Kurt Weill and Love's Philosophy by Quilter. Again, Livvy sang superbly. Classy stuff lass!

That just left the male voice choir to round things off with Morte Criste and You'll Never Walk Alone. Morte Criste was a serious examination of my sight reading ability, having only obtained a copy of the music on Thursday evening! I got through it reasonably well I thought and  my voice crumbled right at the very end of the final song's climactic finish!

So a pretty fine concert that had a bit of everything. The lads did well, Olivia was fabulous, as was Lyndon accompanied by Dave. Tom & Gerry, sorry, Gerald, were hysterical and the audience went home happy. Well done all.

My next concern is learning some songs for Leicester Festival and Caroline Sharpe's annual pupil concert in November.  No peace for the wicked!

Until next time,


Monday, 15 October 2012

Autumn Glory with the Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir

So, with summer but a distant memory we enter into the new season of Loughborough Male Voice Choir concerts. In recent weeks a select group of nameless individuals seemingly met in a darkened room at a venue unknown to discuss the core repertoire for this new season. An interesting collection of songs emerged  with some additions from the recent past such as Swansea Town and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Among those dropped from the repertoire is My Way. Thank heavens that depressing dirge is gone. Please don't be tempted to hurry it back eh?

However, a multitude of newish songs in our Autumn concert 'Autumn Glory' on Saturday 13th October was not really a possibility. Those members who had joined the choir since the turn of the millennium would regard Deus Salutis and Speed your Journey as 'new'. So, the amended repertoire means loads of new songs to learn and it would be way too early for a lot of us to get to grips with them in a mere month or so. Thus the programme for this concert at Trinity Methodist Church Centre was to feature the 2011 stuff with just 'Troubled Water' added.

For this concert we welcomed from Wales, the Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir with their accompanist Matthew Woodford and their Musical Director Ian Hopkins. Our last meeting with a Welsh choir was at last years LOROS concert at De Montfort Hall and that was a memorable experience. We were set to meet the choir mid afternoon for a short rehearsal of Gwahoddiad which we would be singing as a finale. Ian warmed us all up and we ran through the song with us chaps singing verse one and three in english and the ladies verse two in Welsh. For the closing Amens, Ian gave us the option of singing them in whichever language we wished!

Then it was back home to get ready and this time it was to be the traditional uniform with just the addition of a bow tie - in place of the tie, obviously.

Ian Hopkins, Musical Director of the Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir

Matthew Woodford, accompanist for the Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir and soloist.

Back at Trinity by half past six and we were ready for the usual organised chaos of the logistics of getting on and off stage. It continues to amuse me as to how difficult it always is to sort this out, but sort it out we did and things went okay in the end with no serious injury incurred.
Okay, so come kick off time a splendid audience had assembled with Trinity pretty much full. I don't think we quite reached the point of turning people away as with the Stevenage Ladies gig last year, but it wasn't far off. We started proceedings with Stout Hearted Men, which was a change from the previous With a Voice of Singing. I can appreciate the need to change things, but 'm not sure  Stout Hearted Men quite does it for me as an opener. Anyway, it went well as did Vive l'amour, Bushes and Briars and He Ain't Heavy. I had all sorts of problems with 'Bushes' for weeks before but I just about got it together on the night!
Loughborough Male Voice Choir, ready for the off with yours truly sitting second row on the right.
Next came sets from the evening's soloists. Firstly Matthew Woodford performed two piano pieces. As ever, I don't have details of the soloists pieces to hand (little opportunity to take notes on the night!) but there was no doubting the young man's talent. He was followed by our very own Lyndon Gardner, who performed two pieces by Francesco Paolo Tosti. Now this is not a composer I am familiar with, but I must say I was impressed with the songs Lyndon performed, particularly the second one, accompanied by a nervous Dave Weston on guitar. It worked really well, and both guys can be well proud of their performances. Bravo!
Then came the ladies! Ian introduced their selection of songs with typical Welsh wit. Firstly they performed a song that members of the Caroline Sharpe Singers would be familiar with, Rutter's I Will Sing with the Spirit. It goes without saying that they weren't as good as us, but it was quite good nonetheless. ;-)
Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir assembling.

Only joking! They then performed a couple of traditional South African songs Hama Lulu and Weeping, arranged by Alexander L'Estrange. These were excellent and not what one usually expects from a Welsh choir. The Ladies finished their opening set with Shenandoah and the very lively Boogie Woogie which was fun.
So that was an excellent first half, earning a well earned half time brew. Chris Hill emailed the choir on Sunday telling us to ask Chris Higgins about 'the story concerning the half time teas'. Hmmm! I'm intrigued!?! When I find out the details I will of course reveal all right here!
Part two started with LMVC returning to present When the Saints followed by Bridge Over Troubled Water. The latter is a fine song that I have always liked since Simon and Garfunkel first recorded it. The former however, is one I'd rather joined My Way, dumped in the archives! Then it was my turn to join Chris Higgins, Dave Weston and David Booth for the audience participation number, Pleasant and Delightful . Readers will no doubt recall that the last time we did this one I had a touch of memory loss and forgot my last line. Doh! No worries this time thankfully. I thought this was great and definitely the best we've done it. I was certainly at my most relaxed, which is a nice change.

To wrap up our set it was the job of Armadillo, sorry, Is this the way to Amarillo? to leave the audience with a smile on their faces. Well, with us lads holding music folders, it wasn't possible to do the hand claps, but as it happened, the audience were clapping right from the off. Great stuff!

Matthew then performed two more impressive piano solos followed by Lyndon performing three more songs by Tosti. No further details alas, but it was all impressive stuff. The Merthyr Tydfil Ladies then presented their second set comprising My Favourite Things from the Sound of Music; As Long As I Have Music; Love Changes Everything; A Cry in the Night and finally Lausanne. It was all really entertaining stuff and I was particularly impressed with several of the ladies who really performed the songs with loads of expression which was great. I know I need to try to do the same.

All that was left was for us to join the ladies on stage to sing Gwahoddiad. This was fantastic and the closing Amen brought a shiver down my spine. I hope it had the same effect on the audience.

Loughborough Male Voice Choir rehearsing
So there you go, another splendid concert and recorded by David Concannon for release on CD soon! The only thing missing from an otherwise fabulous night was the noticeable lack of 'whoops' from the audience. Sadly, with my wife and her sisters away for the weekend, celebrating their brother's 50th birthday, there was no-one to step in and 'whoop'! Ladies we missed you!

Cheers for now,

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

So where did summer go?

Humble apologies to all for the quite shocking lack of blog posts this summer. It really wasn't supposed to work out like that and given the fact that I remain 'between jobs' one might have expected a bit more time on my hands to do stuff like blogging?

Not a chance. Indeed, I now wonder how on earth I ever managed to do a full time job! It's a bit like building a motorway - no matter how many lanes you build they automatically fill up with traffic. Similarly, all my spare time has been filled up with all sorts of stuff, but happily it has been infinitely more enjoyable than 'permits to dig' on the A46.

I am happy to announce that I am about to embark on a life of self employment. Rather than sit around waiting for another suitable CAD job to materialise (it could be a long, long wait) I have taken courses in tiling and plastering to supplement my existing decorating abilities and intend to create my own job in Home and Garden Maintenance! My chums at the Jobcentre seem willing to throw a bit of cash my way via the 'Enterprise Alllowance' so with a bit of luck and good planning, 'Knightthorpe Home and Garden' will be launched very soon. So, for all your home and garden maintenance needs you know where to come! ;-)

So after that quite shameless bit of self promotion for which I have no intention of apologising, what of singing I hear you ask. Well, in truth I have been shamefully neglectful of my vocal cords. Caroline Sharpe Singers took a rather shorter summer break than the male voice choir and there have been a wedding or two at  Prestwold and Wymeswold to drag me out of my lethargy.

And there has been a singing lesson or two with the maestro from Barrow. Any thoughts of resting on my laurels were quickly dispelled with the suggestion that I should enter the Leicester Festival in November. This annual event has been suffering with a lack of entrants in recent years apparently so hell, why not? I can't remember the precise categories I've entered, but I will be singing 'The Lord is My Shepherd' which all fans of the Vicar of Dibley will know, and 'Linden Lea' which I really like. Peter Bateman is also entering and if we end up competing against each other it could be a right laugh!

Last Thursday evening, the Loughborough Male Voice Choir returned for our first rehearsal of the new season and welcomed two new members! I would like to claim the credit for this triumph of recruitment as that very day the 'Echo' printed my poetically compiled plea for new singing blood. However, one of the newbies is Jeff Buckley who I know from Caroline Sharpe Singers and had been threatening to join for a while. The other, Owen I think his name is, happens to be a relative of Ray, our treasurer and is returning to the choir after four years away at University. Anyway, welcome guys and I hope you have a fun time!

Alarmingly there is just a few short weeks before our first gig of the autumn, at our 'home' at Trinity. This will see the Merthyr tydfil Ladies Choir join us for what should be a cracking concert and more on that next time.

Cheers for now,

Monday, 2 July 2012

Songs for Summer - in Woodhouse and Whissendine

Apologies to Neal Chantrill for the longer than expected wait for this post, but it has been another crazy few weeks at Chateau Knightthorpe. I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say it involves the complete incompetance of the banking sector. A good 'sing-song comes as a blessed relief!

Thank the Lord for another Caroline Sharpe Singers/Enchanted concert, this time at Woodhouse Baptist Church on Friday 29th June. This promised to be something of a challenge in view of the severe lack of Jeff Buckley. Jeff is a very accomplished singer and a steadying influence on us men in the choir. With just me, relative newbie Paul, and complete newbie Terry, it promised to be a tricky one. Paul's presence was in some doubt following a flood at his home, but make it he did in heroic fashion. That said, us men were boosted in the shape of my wife Ruth and Caz-2, a.k.a. Caroline Jones, who were going to sing the 'men's parts' for a few of the songs. Thankfully Ruth left the tweed jacket, false moustache and pipe at home this time!?!

We all assembled in good time and I sensed a general excitement among us all. I had had a rather quiet day, retreating into my now usual pre-concert ritual of trying to chill a bit for the majority of the day. With Brindisi included in the night's programme, whichb included a solo verse for me, I felt nervous but not unbearably so. After struggling with a particular high-ish note in rehearsals, Caroline offered me the 'get-out clause' of singing a lower note in its place. This was grabbed by me eagerly and probably helped me to sleep the night before!

So we proceeded with a short warm up. and a quick run through a few, including good ol' Brindisi, the 'Drinking Song' from La Traviata. After singing a bit of it Caroline quickly stopped me to point out my extremely tense posture. That's putting it politely. I was as rigid as a wooden plank and holding my music folder clamped to my waist. Honestly, aren't nerves weird things? And embarrassing? I then made a concerted effort to relax a bit. For some reason, I seem to be most nervous for pre-concert warm ups, which I suppose is good as it gets it out of the way early?

Anyway, a modest but reasonable audience assembled by 7 o'clock including a young girl called Katie and her dad who I know from Loughborough Quaker Meeting and who is coincidentally having singing lessons with Caroline! Also in the audience was none other than Chris Higgins, Chairman of the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. Obviously at a loose end with his wife away for the weekend playing golf, he decided to check out CSS and perhaps a fellow choir member who was going to sing a solo bit? Nice to see you there Chris!

Caroline Sharpe Singers at Woodhouse Baptist Church 29th June 2012.

Caroline Sharpe Singers started proceedings with Rutter's I Will Sing With the Spirit which was pretty good, followed by Pachelbel's Canon in D which also went well. Then came the first problematic number, Panis Angelicus. Not that it is particularly difficult, but somehow I seemed to struggle to hit the right notes in certain places. Hey ho, my blunders weren't too noticeable to the audience apparently so what the heck.

Enchanted then followed with five cracking songs including the (err, how shall  put it) variable (?) Soldier, Soldier. When this piece goes wrong, it goes wrong big time! However, this time the girls performed it better than they have for a while!

The next selection were songs from operas, including Barcarolle, Habanera and then a quite magnificent solo performance of Summertime by Holly Coutts. Quite breathtaking I thought. The unfortunate thing is that it was then the job of me and Anna to finish off part one with duet of Brindisi ably assisted by the rest of the singers. While I was rigid with nerves earlier, I had now been taken over by that steely determination to get the job done. Oddly, I messed up early by making a complete 'pigs-ear' of  the word 'fuggevol'. Not once, in all the time I was learning the song did I ever mess that word up, but chose my first performance of it to do just that. Sigh! Never mind, the good news is that rather than stop and say 'oh pooh' or something similar, I actually blurted out something vaguely Italian sounding and kept going! So that's progress I guess? There were a couple of other minor goofs but all in all a creditable attempt I think. Anna's second verse also contained some Italian-ish gibberish so I was not alone. 

Following the well earned half time brew and biccies it was Enchanted again with some songs from West Side Story, including Olivia singing Somewhere, which was really beautiful and possibly the best I've ever heard her sing!

Next up it was us singers again with Windmills of your Mind and Almost Like Being in Love. The former was great, while the latter was, from my position, a disaster! I confess I lost it in calamitous fashion on at least three occasions and struggled throughout! Let's move on.....
Enchanted then restored order and got the audience singing along to the Beatles All you Need is Love and the Oklahoma Medley. That just left all of us to return to the stage for the now epic finale of I Believe. And EPIC it was, again. I loved it!

Initial feedback suggests the concert was enjoyed by all particularly the gentleman who introduced us and gave his closing speech of thanks. Rumour has it that we've been invited back at Christmas, so that's great!

The following night, i.e. Saturday 30th June, it was my turn to observe, or rather be cameraman to  film Enchanted in concert with the Belvoir Wassailers in Whissendine Village Hall. This gig turned out to be another fun night with some joint numbers with both the Wassailers and Enchanted. Robert John Edwards conducted an ambitious joint rendition of the Oklahoma Medley, which had all the audience clapping. Fantastic stuff. I just love Rob's energetic conducting style and think Caroline should try similar? Okay, maybe not.

The real tear jerker of the night of course was duet of Over the Rainbow by Caroline and a little girl called Amy. This girl's family had been through a traumatic experience earlier on, but she was determined to sing it. With Caroline's guiding hand she did it and had half the audience in tears. Well done Amy!

Rather than go through the whole programme, I will direct you to Youtube, where the best bits from this concert featuring Enchanted and Caroline will appear shortly on the Channel 'Enchantize'. Take a look soon - give me  acouple of days okay? The link on the right hand side of this blog should get you there.

I think we now have a gap of a week or two before the next commitment! Pass the corkscrew?

Cheers for now!