Sunday, 29 January 2012

Loughborough Male Voice Choir and Enchanted in Long Eaton

There is something great about getting up on the day of a concert. No real nerves these days, just a wonderful excitement. Prior to previous concerts I've felt somewhat under prepared, but for this one I felt pretty confident, provided my post cold voice would hold out.

The night would see the debut of the new bow-ties and cummerbunds. Some within the choir have been reluctant to embrace the idea of a change from the traditional blazer and tie, while others are keen to add a little variety to our attire. Well, this evening we would find out what the audience thinks.

Get there 'ready to sing at 6.15pm' was the order and I managed it - just. On arrival, it was like stepping into Ice Station Zebra! T'was rather parky as we say up north. The prospect of singing the second half in shirts and bow ties without jackets seemed optimistic in the extreme, but with over an hour to 'kick-off' it would warm up, wouldn't it?

Prior to our 'warm up' (vocally that is), the logistics of getting on and off stage were worked out. Apart from a touch of vertigo standing at the back, things were fine. That left about forty minutes to kill. Much of this time was spent frantically searching for Derek's orange carrier bag which contained his bow-tie and cummerbund, and these were eventually located in his coat pocket. I could laugh, but I've done the same kind of thing myself, so many times!

After our warm-up it was Enchanted's turn, led as usual by Caroline Sharpe. One initially feared for the girls as their attire was definitely not suited to the sub-zero temperatures of the theatre. Actually, all the girls looked stunning. I did tell Anna-Ruth to cover herself up in disapproving step-father type fashion, but I WAS JOKING okay?

Before I knew it, the theatre had warmed up remarkably and it was time to start.  And we did have an audience - not huge but respectable. We started in traditional blazer and ties and sang four pieces without copies. Chris Hill often jokes about the lack of eye contct with us as we all too often remain focussed on the music rather than on him. Well for these four we had no excuse and it felt so much better and I'm sure looks so much better to the watching audience. After With a Voice Of Singing and Stout Hearted Men, George did his usual compere stuff including the mobile phone warning. As I stood on stage, to my horror, I realised I had forgotten to switch mine off and it was in my jacket pocket! So I had to cross my fingers and hope that no-one would phone or text me while I sang Old Time Religion and When the Saints. How embarrassing would that have been?

This was followed by Lyndon Gardner's first set of solo numbers. I'll have to check what these were and add the details later, but the man sounded in fine voice.  Us chaps were then back on stage for the two welsh songs, Myfanwy and Llanfair, which seemed great to me. Real 'Male Voice Choir' songs these and I really like them.

Next up were Enchanted and their first set comprising We'll Gather Lilacs; Soldier, Soldier; The Physician and Fever. Soldier, Soldier is incredibly intricate and complex and I marvel  at how they manage to sing it so well and The Physician is just hillarious! Back stage I couldn't hear as well as I would have liked, but it all sounded fabulous to me.

To round off the first half we then did the gorgeous Let it Be Me (one of my personal faves) and the now legendary Is This the Way to Amarillo. This last piece was a vast improvement on its first airing but, for me, we simply have to sing this without copies in future! As I have said before, this is a great opportunity to let our hair down and get the audience singing and clapping with us. If we have our hands free we can clap along and really get the audience into it! It's gotta happen!

The interval required a costume change on the part of the choir. Off with the jackets and ties and on with the bow-tie and cummerbund! Despite the protestations of one or two, it was done and we walked back onstage to wolf-whistles, most notably from my wife Ruth, but she was not alone! I will address the subject of attire later but, suffice to say, it was met with universal approval. We continued with Danny Boy and Eriskay Love Lilt which was followed by the Quartet's (for 8?) rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side, which seemed to go well. After that came a new piece, a Chris Hill arrangement of That's what Friends are For. This starred Chris Higgins as soloist and Mike Godwin on Harmonica. This piece was only introduced by Chris Hill quite recently, but the two guys rose to the occasion superbly. "Hasn't Chris Higgins got a lovely voice", to quote Ruth! Mike too, gave his best harmonica solo yet. He had been struggling a bit in rehearsals, but came good on the night. Well done guys!

I then made a bit of a mess of Viva l'amour, mainly because I was trying to look more at our conductor throughout this concert rather than our copies  and thought I knew this one well enough. Sadly I forgot a bit and then couldn't find my place and got flustered a bit and 'goldfished' for a line or two!

Lyndon then did his second slot which concluded with a bit of a sing-a-long. I only vaguely knew the piece but almost everybody else backstage was singing along.  The choir followed it with two modernish pieces  Thankyou for the Music and Chanson d'amour, with the latter 'sexy and breathy' like never before and the former only slightly affected by another attack of the second tenor doo-doos! Messed them up in the first verse but got it about right in the second. Sigh!

That left Enchanted to do their final set which incuded Some Enchanted Evening and the Oklahoma Medley  which was utterly brilliant and had half the MVC singing along backstage, again. To wrap up this excellent concert the MVC sang Everytime We Say Goodbye and You'll Never Walk Alone. And that was that. Without doubt the best male voice choir concert that I have been involved in so far.

Why was it so good? I'm finding it difficult to define really. It just felt 'right'. I think the variety of  traditional, modern and the humourous was spot on and expertly put together by Mr Hill. One big hit on the night was the new attire. Despite the scepticism of some, it was certainly a big hit with the audience. I have heard no negative comments other than it might look better with black trousers rather than grey. The change in clothing complimented the difference in the material that we presented in each half. One comment made the point that we immediately looked 'so much less like a bunch of old men'.

Secondly, I think the more singing we do without copies the better. I tried to minimise the time I spent looking down and I realised how much more following of Chris we all need to do. An obvious point I suppose, but it makes a huge difference and it looks better to the audience too I think. One day, a whole concert without copies, perhaps a la Fron? It's gotta come!

A negative comment albeit minor - I found the venue a little 'dead' acoustically to sing in. Sis-in-law Julia said she didn't get the usual 'hair on the back of the neck' thing after the big crescendos. That small point aside, it was a great night and well done to all.

Finally, please feel free to post any comments you'd like to make about the gig below as it would be nice to receive some feedback, particularly about the new 'gear'. Just click on where it says 'x' comments below and let me know what you thought, good or bad. That goes for anything I post on here too.

Cheers for now,

Friday, 27 January 2012

One night to Long Eaton

There is now less than twenty-four hours before our first concert of 2012. Tomorrow night the LMVC will go just a few miles over to Long Eaton's Duchess Theatre where we will present a concert entitled 'Thank You for the Music' with our extra special guests,  Enchanted. The question on everyone's lips (well mine actually), is: Will I manage to rid myself of 'the lurg' sufficiently to enable me to sing the whole concert?

Thursday's final rehearsal did not bode well. The lurg had finished its work in the nasal region and by Thursday evening was concentrating its attention on the chest. Several coughing fits ensued mid-song and the voice finally fell apart altogether during When the Saints. Mind you, I've never got that one right yet, so a coughing fit might prove something of an improvement! Whatever state my fragile voice is in it will probably be better than nowt. You see bailing out is not an option as we currently have something of a Second Tenor crisis.

Gwyn left at Christmas,  Ray Walker is off on yet another holiday (a six week epic this time!), Peter Bateman is currently indisposed due to having his knees done (get well soon Peter!) and Jim Lacey is simply unavailable for this one. So that leaves just Reg Winning, John Holt and me. Chris Hill has even mentioned the outrageous possibility of granting a baritone or two a 'free transfer' over to us second tenors! What is the man thinking? Only joking boys! You'll be very welcome and it would restore a bit of balance to the choir I think.

Now, the last week also saw an extra committee meeting at Chairman Higgins' house, this time to discuss one topic - recruitment. It's a tricky one this and seems a problem that is not exclusive to our choir. I believe one or two choirs locally are in danger of folding and others are, contemplating amalgamation.  So we tried to  suggest some ideas of how to get in contact with those people out there that want to sing but like me, for whatever reason have not done anything about it.  I won't download all the meeting now, but suffice to say, one avenue to explore is to increase our presence on the 'wibbly-wobbly-way' - the internet. So without further ado, we now have a Facebook page, hastily thrown together by 'yours truly'.

So when you finish reading this post, I expect you all to immediately click on the link button on the  right-hand column of this blog (see 'The Choir on Facebook') and go take a look. It's in its infancy obviously, and more stuff will appear as I get to grips with it. But please make sure you 'Like' the page and leave comments, suggestions, photos, reviews, in fact whatever you like - good or bad. Constructive criticism is always welcome and I promise to respond to anything asked as quickly as I am able.
Meanwhile, Chris Hill is looking into Twitter too and maybe we will get everything linked up in time.

So that's your lot for now. Time for my beauty sleep in readiness for tomorrow night's cultural extravaganza! It's a great venue - not a duff seat in the house and a mere £6 each. How can you refuse?

See y'all in Long Eaton?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Expanding repertoire for Caroline Sharpe Singers and the dreaded 'lurg'. . .

Okay, so I'm a bit late. Forgive me, but I've not quite been one hundred percent these last few days. You know the script - feeling a bit below par and not really knowing why? Well, last night the sore throat started, requiring a Lemsip at 5am. Well, I am male after all!

Many thanks then go to a certain colleague of mine who shall remain nameless (Kevin!) who heroically came into work every day despite suffering with a terrible cold and cough. Well done! Net result, he gives it to me. Cheers! Why do people do that eh? Al's Rule of Life Number 1: If you are ill, STAY AT HOME. My beloved employers even have a set of 'Golden Rules' and Golden Rule Number 1 is, and I quote, "BE FIT FOR WORK". I rest my case yer 'onor!

Will this prevent me getting to the next Caroline Sharpe Singers rehearsal on Saturday 21st? No way matey! Rest assured fellow singers, if I was snuffling and coughing, I WOULD'VE STAYED AT HOME!!! Will the lurg come and go in time for the concert in Long Eaton next Saturday? Well, please will you all say a collective prayer or two over the next seven days and will it away? Cheers!

Anyway, I will now rewind back to Saturday 14th and the first C.S.S. rehearsal of the new year.  This brought some new faces - a lass called Gail plus another bloke! Great stuff! Paul, seemed to enjoy it but apparently felt rather nervous. Well, all I can say Paul, is do have a read through earlier postings on this blog about my own personal battle!  Nerves are there to be overcome and you won't find a better bunch of people to help you achieve it. The great thing about the Caroline Sharpe Singers is the wide mixture of abilities within the group. There's accomplished voices, complete beginners and all manner of levels inbetween. But there's never any embarrassment at messing up. Heaven knows I mess up and often, but we all have a laugh about it. It's that relaxed atmosphere that helps me 'go for it', more so than the male voice choir if I'm totally honest. Sometimes I do feel a little intimidated by the seemingly greater abilities and experience of the rest of the chaps in the MVC, but it is getting better in that respect. So Paul, stick at it and you'll love it. Trust me!

To start the new year, Caroline has introduced some great new pieces to the choir's repertoire. Firstly I believe, famously sung by Elvis I believe! :-) This will include Enchanted singing Ave Maria over the top. Should be interesting! Secondly, we have Almost Like Being in Love from Brigadoon and also Canon in D by Pachelbel. So good stuff to come in the next concert in April.

This morning, Saturday 21st following my early morning Lemsip, I feared the worst but the voice stood up to the test and Almost Like Being in Love is starting to sound pretty good. It never ceases to amaze me how new songs start as a bit of a mess and are rapidly transformed into a really impressive sound. As Chris Hill says, something magical happens when people come together and sing!

Meanwhile, it's German and Italian for me as I aim  for that exam! Caro mio Ben is coming on and my Italian is now sounding less like chinese thankfully. Initially, my pronunciation of 'Caro mio' sounded like I was about to order a chicken chow mein and some egg fried rice! But it's coming together now I think except for the exciting climax. Caroline has added a challenging 'twiddly bit' just to make it interesting. Then there's Schubert's An die Laute. Rather than Chinese, trying to get my tongue around German words like 'nacht', 'licht' and 'nachbarn nicht' makes me sound more like a gay dance instructor with a speech impediment - apparently. Ruth, while sitting in on my lesson noticed the striking resemblance, aurally at least to the hilarious Louie Spence. I'm afraid the vertical leg kicks are well beyond me alas.

With that slightly frightening image I will bid you all farewell.

Until next time!
Cheers, Alyn.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

ABRSM music theory, singing exams and humming in one's sleep!

I think that this week we have seen evidence to suggest that (as many of you have probably already suspected), I am now in urgent need of some sort of therapy. Why so? Well, several days ago, my wife reported strange events during the course of the previous night! In the early hours, Ruth was woken by a strange humming. A passing aeroplane? A car outside the house with the engine running (we get a lot of those - really annoying)? No, it was nothing like that. This was apparently quite tuneful. No dear friends, t'was I. Yours truly was actually humming in his sleep! Ruth sadly, was unable to 'Name That Tune', but if I was a betting man, I'd put money on it being one of the songs I need to learn for an event in March (to be exclusively revealed below). Whatever it was, I am at least reassured that it was reasonably melodic. Ruth actually asked me whether I was awake and I apparently responded with "Yes". Alas, I have no recollection of this at all. Nurse, the straight-jacket!?!

Anyway, not to worry. New Year means a new set of goals.  After the hectic run-up to the festive period, it would be tempting to put my feet up for a while, at least until the next concert at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton on January 28th?  Not a chance mate!

Ms Sharpe suggested over the Chrimbo break that I have a stab at an ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal School of Music) exam, some time in the summer maybe? She suggests leaping straight in at Grade 4!?! I suppose it is a huge compliment that she doesn't think I need to bother with Grades 1 to 3, but it will inevitably mean a lot of 'catch up', music theory wise. Therefore, music theory workbooks 1-4 plus 'The AB Guide to Music Theory -Part 1', were duly ordered and they arrived rapid style courtesy of good ol' Amazon. Then I find that the exam is likely to be a bit earlier in the year.
"Err, how much earlier", I ask?
"Arr, erm, . . . . . . . .  March"?
"The tail end of March I hope", says I.

So mid March it is then? That gives me about two months to learn to sing one song from each of three sets of pieces, plus my own choice of traditional/folk song. In the first group, the obvious choice had to be Caro mio Ben, as I'm already there or thereabouts with that one. In the next group Caroline picked out an interesting Schubert piece called An die Laute. As step-daughter Anna-Ruth is quick to confirm, I've never been the biggest fan of the german language in song, but I think that stems from a loathing I have for some Kiri Te Kanawa pieces on a CD set I have! Not good, but then, I don't care much for Ms Te Kanawa in truth. Anyway, it seems like a nice little song, so I'll give it a crack.

From the third group of songs from musicals, Caroline suggested a charming piece from Cinderella called Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?  Orr, how sweet! One to be practiced in front of my wife I think!

Finally, I need to choose a traditional folk song to sing unaccompanied (Yikes!?!). I hadn't a clue what to choose for this but thankfully Caroline suggested a song called Barb'ra Allen. Now, I immediately recognised this one as it features in one of my all time favourite films - Scrooge, the 1950's classic starring Alistair Sim. As a reformed Scrooge visits his nephew (I think?) after his meetings with the three ghosts, the family are all around the piano on Christmas Day, singing this song. An odd choice to feature in a Christmas film as it's actually quite a depressing tale. A quick 'Google' of the title reveals that there are about 600 versions of this song dating from the late 1600's. Some have only a few verses, others with over ten. Thankfully, I'm only expected to sing two, but the whole tale of Barb'ra Allen is quite an interesting one. I might just reveal the whole story in a later blog!

Meanwhile, the LMVC are on the run-up to the next concert at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton and I have my LMVC publicity duties to attend to - a task not helped by the fact that Long Eaton has neither a newspaper nor a radio station! Strange but true, so I'll need to investigate other avenues to try to ensure we have an audience in excess of one man and his wife! Nottingham? Or Derby? Or both?

Anyway, this gig will also feature the marvellous Enchanted. So with us chaps belting out some favourite classics plus a few newbies like Amarillo and Chris Hill's personal fave, the Carole Bayer Sager penned song, That's What Friends Are For, plus Enchanted's usual mix of gems, PLUS solo spots from the choir's own Lyndon Gardner, it is going to be cracking concert I think. Get your tickets NOW ladies and gents. It'll be worth the ticket price just to see the guys sporting brand new bow-ties and cummerbunds for part of the concert!

Blimey, I've not even mentioned the Caroline Sharpe Singers and our first rehearsal of the new year. Sorry, I've waffled on for long enough this time, so I'll fill you in on that next time - later this week, I promise!

Cheers for now,

Monday, 2 January 2012

A Nightingale Sang's Review of 2011

So, that was the year, that was. . .

It's always good to look back at the year departed and reflect on the good bits.  Unlike the BBC and Sky, I prefer to ignore the depressing stuff. I have had more than enough of 'euro zone crisis', 'double-dip recession', and Bolton Wanderers' catastrophic performances to last a life time thank you very much. No, let's reflect on the positives - the exciting stuff. Thankfully, there's been plenty of it.

So here goes, starting at the very beginning, a very good place to start. . .

Not a great deal to report with regard to January other than the successful installation of the Bingham railway bridge at the A46 - a critical part of the job where my chums at Balfour Beatty had about 3 days to move umpteen tonnes of ready constructed bridge into place and to be ready to accept trains when time was up. Job done and the road widening scheme then went on apace. Hoorah!

A right parky (very cold) winter was warmed somewhat by a trip to Kegworth to see a concert by the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. During the interval, Ruth, Anna-Ruth, Caroline, husband Charlie and I had a chat with Chris Hill who I'd met before in his role as Enchanted's accompanist. He mentioned the need for fresh faces in the choir and wondered if Charlie and I were interested. Charlie said there was a reason why he played the drums, but I was tempted. Hmmm! Well, why not? Curiosity got the better of me and I went along to a LMVC rehearsal. Fun!

After a few LMVC rehearsals I'd made my mind up that this singing lark might just be worth persuing. But if I'm going to do this I need to try and do it properly. Nothing else for it but to request a lesson or two from a certain Caroline Sharpe. She sings a bit herself apparently and isn't inclined to teach complete duffers. So I went along and it went well despite non-existent technique and discovered that I could possibly be 2nd tenor rather than bass. Interesting!

On joining LMVC it seemed ridiculous to think I could be ready to sing in a concert with the LMVC with guests, the Stevenage Ladies Choir, on April 9th. But sing I did! Nervous as hell, nay, terrified would be more accurate. Despite being a bit rusty on some songs it was a triumph! Oh and I must mention the Ted Baker jacket purchased for £15 from the Oxfam shop. Nice!

The month of my 51st birthday (hard to believe, I know!) saw preparations for my second 'gig' - Singing in the Park. Queens Park to be exact and under the newly refurbished Bandstand. This went pretty well despite a cloudy day and saw the first use of new battery and other gizmos to power the keyboard.

Quiet month except for an Enchanted concert and more lessons with Caroline of varying quality - my singing not Caroline's teaching.

Weddings! It was to be a fairly quiet summer for the male voice choir, but singing was required by Caroline Sharpe Singers for a wedding or two. We started with pink ties, which were thankfully soon ditched. Phew!

Summer recess for LMVC, but the weddings continued for the Caz-meister. One, a very strange affair at Prestwold with the bride over half an hour late. Shocking!

Back for new season of LMVC rehearsals in readiness for October concert. Following the succcessful wedding singing, it was decided to formalise the 'Caroline Sharpe Singers'. A great move that means fortnightly rehearsals on Saturday mornings with a view to performing a concert in November as part of Caroline's annual 'pupils concert'. Exciting times!

Another wedding in the blazing hot October sun (bizarre but true) followed by equally strange singing lessons with Caroline involving wobble boards and rubber bands. The month climaxed with the LOROS charity concert at De Montfort Hall, Leicester. This included numerous local choirs plus the renowned 'Fron Choir' from Wales. A fantastic, unforgetable experience. Later invited to a Fron rehearsal some time which is an offer I must find time to take up in 2012.

A momentous, life changing, unbelievable night! November 19th 2011 will be remembered until the day I die. I sang a solo of Where e're You Walk at Trinity Methodist Church as part of the annual pupils concert which included Caroline Sharpe Singers too. I won't bore you with any more details, but if you wish to read more click here.

Crazy, manically busy month of carol concerts, singing in all sorts of varied places, such as Sainsbury's, Carillon Court and the Baptist Church. Undoubtedly the highlight was the ground breaking Christmas Eve Carillon Recital with choir singing in the bandstand. Great stuff!

So that was 2011. For me personally, a pretty dire year with regard to employment but made very special by the sudden and unexpected discovery of singing. With the help and encouragement of my lovely wife Ruth and step-daughter Anna-Ruth, I gained the courage to have a go! If you had told me this time last year that during the coming twelve months I would join a male voice choir, start singing lessons with Caroline Sharpe, and end up singing a solo - twice, I would have thought you crazy. Now, I LOVE IT!

What can readers of 'A Nightingale Sang..' expect from 2012? Well, for sure a  LMVC concert in Long Eaton in January, another solo for Caroline possibly in April, ABRSM singing exams in the summer, more LMVC gigs liberally scattered throughout the year, and who knows what might occur next November!

Stay tuned and keep singing!