Monday, 23 April 2012

'Music for Spring' - Damn those nerves!

While watching Britain's Got Talent' on Saturday night, I could only empathise with those artistes who were featured in the piece about nerves. It seems everyone suffers from them to a degree, some successfully conquer them while others crumble and give in to them and run off stage in tears.  I felt for every one of them and knew exactly what they were going through. The subject of nerves was to figure quite strongly over the coming week.

I had an excellent run through of my programmed solo, On the Street Where You Live after Thursday's male voice choir rehearsal under the critical gaze of voice coach, Lyndon Gardner. No pressure? I think the second run through was the best I'd ever sung it so left for home, confident that I would be fine 'on the night'. However, much of Friday was spent trying to keep the nerves under control. There's a pattern emerging now where 'concert day' is spent in a state of gradually increasing anxiety. Nothing horrendous like that first solo night last November, but uncomfortable nonetheless. I dearly wish I could be calm and relaxed to help me enjoy the whole experience more and I can only hope that that will come in time. Caroline has said on occasions that it doesn't really get any better, but one becomes more able to work with it.

The concert at the Methodist Church in Kegworth, entitled 'Music for Spring' was the second concert for the Caroline Sharpe Singers with a selection of songs from Enchanted and solos from Holly Coutts, Anna-Ruth Gray and myself. Now, maybe being asked to do  a solo alongside that illustrious company added to the nerves just a touch. I don't yet feel I'm anywhere near to the class of those two in singing ability. Will I be the one duff performer of the evening? Such were my pre-gig nerves, I completely forgot to take my camcorder and tripod to the venue which I'm now really annoyed about. Oh well, never mind. As Jeff said, my finest hour is yet to come so it doesn't matter! Regretfully, with me withdrawing into myself pre-concert, poor Ruth was left to the organising of Enchanted's jackets and all manner of concert stuff. No wonder the poor lass is shattered! 

What was going to make this concert extra special was the fact that my mum and dad, Moyra and Joe, would be in the audience to see and hear me sing for the first time. I went up to Bolton on Thursday afternoon to bring them down for the weekend and their first taste of Al the tenor in a concert. When we assembled at the church we had no idea what sort of audience there would be. A mere handful were seated during our warm up, but we were delighted to find a full house by 7  o'clock. Excellent!

With Ruth situated reassuringly at my side we started with the now traditional opener I will Sing With the Spirit which is a great piece to start with I think. This was followed by three Enchanted numbers plus a solo of A Green Cornfield by Holly Coutts. Enchanted were as polished and professional as ever. Beautiful stuff and Holly's solo was truly stunning. Her voice just gets better and better I think. Enchanted followed with a few more songs including Soldier, Soldier which never ceases to amaze me. Brilliant!

Then it was the turn of CSS to return from their seats scattered randomly around the church to the stage for a song which is not the favourite of my mum, Amazing Grace. However, I was confident that she couldn't fail to enjoy our rendition with its marvellous tenor part. Ahem! We followed that with Pachelbel's Canon in D which seemed to go pretty well. This was then followed by Anna-Ruth singing Mozart's Laudate Dominum. Another stunning solo this, just to heap a bit more pressure on me. Gulp!

Enchanted wrapped up the first half with a rousing rendition of Hallelujah, which the audience really seemed to enjoy and then it was time for that well earned half time brew. The chaps in the choir compared notes re. nerves with our 'newbie' Paul feeling particularly nervous with this being his first ever concert. I know how you felt mate.  Been there! I was now at the stage where I just wanted to get on with it - the solo I mean and with it being in the second half, the 'agony' was prolonged a bit, but after three more 'Enchanted' songs I was on. Well, I gave a nod to Chris and we were off. I know I sang the right words, I think it was all in tune, but felt conscious of my clenched hands initially so tried to relax them. In a desperate bid not to look like a rabbit caught in the headlights I tried to appear relaxed and less rigid. Anna told me later that I was swaying about a bit, but I reckon that was preferable to my previous rigid statue appearance of previous performances.

On the Street Where You Live was over in a flash and I felt okay about it, but only okay. Caroline responded with the comment to the audience "Alfie Boe, eat your heart out". While Alfie won't be quaking in his boots just yet, it was alright, I think. There were 'whoops' apenty again, from the ever supportive Sis-in-law Julia and warm applause from the audience. Julia had earlier taken me to task about my previous blog as I had made no mention of her vociferous whooping during the male voice choir concert last week. Shame on me! Ta Ju, your support and encouragement and that of eveyone else who comes along is much appreciated. I know if I don't get a whoop from Julia, it will be time to pack it all in!
After all that I then had to re-focus on two more CSS songs Windmills of your Mind and Almost Like Being in Love, but managed it just about. That just left Enchanted to do 5 more from their sublime repertiore including the hilarious Physician. I reckon the girls would benefit from a degree in Human Biology for this one! Oh, and I mustn't forget the Oklahoma Medley which was as brilliant as ever and went down a treat with the audience.

On a personal level I felt a bit frustrated immediately after the concert that the dreaded nerves had spoiled my enjoyment of it a bit, but on reflection, my solo was so much better than that first effort back in November. So it is progress and as I improve I hope I will be less worried about being inferior to the other soloists too. I still find it difficult to accept praise - at least two people said how much they enjoyed my solo and that it was their favourite song. My pathetic reply was to ask whether it was STILL their favourite song! Honestly.
So there you have it. Another great concert, another solo and another landmark in my singing. I have to recognise that it's another huge achievement just getting up there and doing it at all. I've now got about seven months to get a certain song perfected for the November concert. Mind you, I daresay Caroline will have some other surprises up her sleeve for me before then!

I really can't finish without thanking a few people again:-
  • Caroline for her expert teaching and putting together such a brilliant concert.
  • Chris Hill for his sublime tinkling of the ivories.
  • Julia Willis for her enthusiastic 'whooping'.
  • everyone who came round to our place for the post-gig soiree and made it such a great night.
  • and last but by no means least, to Ruth for putting up with my concert day 'mood routine' and supporting me while getting prescious little in return on the day. If ever a woman desreves to put her fet up for a bit it is her!

Better go, I've got a LMVC profile to finish off for John Culpin who has been very patiently waiting!

Cheers for now,

Monday, 16 April 2012

Signing on!

No, that's not a typo. I really have been signing on!

Crikey, what a couple of weeks! A busy Easter break taking in Drayton Manor and then a trip to Manchester to see Phantom of the Opera at the Palace Theatre. The former was fun and the latter was spectacular! John Owen Jones, who played the Phantom while not quite surpassing Mr Boe, was certainly pretty awesome.

That was then followed by three final days of work on the A46 before I joined the vast ranks of the unemployed. Oh joy! Are we down-hearted? Oh no, not when there's concerts to sing in and solos to be sung! Barely having a millisecond to feel sorry for myself, Saturday was the Loughborough Male Voice Choir's second concert of 2012, entitiled 'All in the April Evening', this time from St Helena's Church, West Leake. Publicity for this concert didn't go entirely to plan as the 'Publicity Secretary', (err, me!) was blissfully unaware of the late programme change that saw the phenomenally talented local soprano, sister-in-law and singing teacher, Caroline Sharpe added to the programme. Doh! Notification came way too late to inform the media, but it mattered not. A packed audience were treated to a slightly longer concert than originally anticipated I think.

And a splendid evening it was too. Perhaps the most varied, relaxed and 'fun' concert yet. Maybe not quite as polished as the Long Eaton concert in January, but pretty darn good.  Us chaps were all warned that it was likely to be a very cold church so some took the precaution of wearing white T-shirts or vests under the shirts as well  as the jackets. In fact, the church had a vast array of very effective heaters which certainly kept one's upper torso warm. To be honest, I felt at one stage like a sausage under a grill, but no matter.

To start proceedings, it was a couple of traditional numbers from the choir with us bereft of music. Despite initial resistance to this move, the chaps are now recognising how much better we look and sound with our heads up and (heaven forbid!) actually looking at Mr Hill! Certainly interval feedback from the audience was strongly in favour of us singing more songs without copies.

Next came something very different - Chris Higgins, playing a guitar he actually made himself, sang the Eric Clapton song Wonderful Tonight, accompanied by Mike Godwin on harmonica. This was truly brilliant and Chris' voice really suited the song. Ruth was very impressed, saying that he has a 'voice like velvet'. Well done indeed chaps!

Two more copy-less  traditional pieces followed from the choir before Caroline Sharpe gave her first selection. Firstly she sang the classic aria O mio Babbino Caro, followed by a song called Little Brown Bird. I don't know anything about this one as I missed Caz's explanation - wasn't paying attention. Sorry! Anyway, she sang beautifully as usual.

I must mention the less than ideal standing arrangements at this point. The frequent movements from seat to the restricted standing area meant I found myself leaning against a pillar on occasions in a desperate attempt to actually see our conductor. But such is live performing I guess. One just has to go with the flow and improvise. The choir then sang Danny Boy and one of my favourites, Eriskay Love Lilt. Strangely, I've always loathed Danny Boy, but I actually like singing it now.

The choir's top tenor Lyndon Gardner then presented a couple of arias with his usual professionalism. These were not songs that I recognised so will need to check with him again to get the titles of them, but again the man sat down to warm applause! Then to finish off the first half, the choir presented the classic welsh choir number Llanfair followed by the evening's title track, All in the April Evening, as requested by St. Helena's Church.

So a really good first half I thought. It seemed to me to be very polished, but it was as is often the case, difficult to gauge how good the overall sound was from within the choir. During the interval nibbles (including wine and PORK PIE!) was provided. Now with my solo spot coming up in part 2, my stomach was starting to do the hokey-cokey, so couldn't face any food. I fancied a glass of wine, but could forsee potential disaster with my brand new white shirt on. This presumably didn't cross the mind of a certain Jim Lacey, who somehow managed to spill what seemed to be the majority of a glass of RED wine down his Persil white shirt. Classic! I wished to catch this on Ruth's i-phone camera to share with you all on this blog, but Jim was having none of it. Spoil-sport!

Part 2 commenced with the choir's very own Michael Dukes and Gerry Brennan reviving the songs of  the legendary artistes Flanders and Swann. Now to be totally honest, this was a little lost on me being so young, it was a tad before my time (LOL) but the more 'mature' members of the audience loved it!

The second half proceeded with some more modern pieces such as the Hollies' He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, Carole Bayer Sager's That's What Friends Are For and the rapidly improving Is This the Way to Amarillo? It was Amarillo's third concert airing and our best effort yet.

Caroline then treated the audience to a Gilbert and Sullivan piece followed by the beautiful Someone to Watch Over Me. Caroline later confessed to completely forgetting the words at one point of the first piece and proceeded to sing complete goggledy-gook that wasn't from any known language on this planet! Did anyone notice? I sure didn't and I don't think anyone else did either. I reckon it's because Caroline's voice is so beautiful that she could sing complete gibberish and it would still sound great! If the voice is good enough, the words become irrelevant perhaps?

Next was the slot that I was looking forward to and dreading the most with equal measure. The now established songs ThankYou for the Music and Chanson d'amour were followed by a newly introduced and well known folk song Pleasant and Delightful. The song is comprised of four verses sung solo by four choir members with the last line of each verse making up the chorus. The 'Fab Four' were given the moniker 'Euphoria' by George. You-Four-ia? Geddit? Anyway, Chris Higgins sang the first, Dave Weston the second, yours truly the third and David Booth the fourth. Midway through the previous song, the realisation that my bit was coming next hit home and a minor panic ensued, but I quickly got it under control and felt okay as I stepped up with the other three guys. I think it was Caroline that had suggested writing the first word of each line on my hand. The simple knowledge that it was there would be sufficient to ensure I wouldn't need it. Well, it worked a treat. I felt a bit tense when I started my verse but mid way through I realised that I knew it, relaxed and apparently even smiled during the last line! I thought the song was a brilliant addition to the repertoire and like Amarillo, it gets the audience involved which has got to be a good thing.

Following that waas another stint form Lyndon and again, he sang songs that I'm not familiar with. I will add the titles later if possible. But he was in fine voice again and the audience certainly enjoyed his three songs. Then to wrap up another fine evening the choir sang Every Time We Say Goodbye and the traditional concert closer, You'll Never Walk Alone.

So another excellent night. Very varied with something in there for just about everyone and the audience seemed to really enjoy it all. So, do I now get the chance to chill out for a while? No chance! Caroline Sharpe Singers oncert coming up this next Friday in Kegworth. Better wrap up now and get over to Caroline's place for another run though of On the Street Where You Live.

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Exam results, more solos and singing with a dog on my head.

First of all, apologies for the delay in posting this latest effort, but I’ve been impatiently waiting for my exam result. Mr Grumpy could’ve given it to me on the day if he wanted to, because I saw him get his calculator out to add up my marks. So I’ve been on tenterhooks (what is a ‘tenterhook’ anyone know?)  for a whole fortnight.

Anyway, agonise no longer good people, because on Thursday Caroline texted me to say. . .
. . wait for it. . . . .

I PASSED! Hoorah! ‘ABRSM Grade 4 Singing’ in the bag! Never in doubt! Get in! etc, etc….

Thank heavens for that. I’ve had nightmares for weeks about becoming Caroline’s first ‘exam failure' (she proudly boasts a 100% success rate on her website), but such worries were needless as I passed with 112 marks out of 150. Absolutely over the moon, I have to say.

This is all rather crazy when I stop to think about it all. In just over twelve months I’ve changed from a shy, nervous ‘scaredy-cat’ who wouldn’t so much as say ‘hello’ to a group of more than two people, into this lunatic that can’t stop singing. What’s happening to me?

So manic have I become that I’m even volunteering to do solos now! Yeah, ME! I’ve now put myself forward to sing a solo verse for the male voice choir. Chris Hill has introduced a new folk song called Pleasant and Delightful which is designed to be a light hearted, audience participation number and requires four choir members to sing a verse solo and therefore four volunteers are required. Me, me, ME! I just can’t help myself at the moment, it’s like a disease. When Ruth said to me in the kitchen recently, “would you like a pitta?” I responded with “I gotta pitta pocket or two, boys, I gotta pitta pocket or two”, in Fagin style.  I think I need some sort of therapy!

Anyway, I’m earmarked to sing verse 3, which should be interesting. The last line of each verse constitutes the chorus which everyone can sing along too, so should be great for getting the audience involved. Chris Higgins will sing the opening verse, Dave Weston will do the second, me the third and David Booth the last. Definitely not to be missed. Get your tickets for the West Leake gig now ladies and gentlemen!

Caroline has given me my Grade 4 Certificate and it really is quite impressive. I’ve also received the report with Mr Grumpy’s feedback which makes interesting reading. In Caroline’s opinion he was particularly harsh and clearly wasn’t going to just give marks away. Anna-Ruth, who was doing her Grade 7 and passed with 117, was particularly disappointed to miss out on a Merit by just 3 marks. So knowing all that only makes me prouder of my achievement.

Just to give you a flavour of his comments, of my fist song, Caro Mio Ben he said “Intonation was not always entirely centred, but this was a measured account, though it could have greater colour”. Okay, fair enough but given my opening song nerves, entirely understandable I think.

Of An Die Laute, he says “… upper notes lacked focus and clean intonation.” Well, maybe but I defy anyone to give ‘nachbarn aber nachbarn nicht’ entirely clean intonation!

One comment I am pleased about is regarding the dreaded unaccompanied rendition of Barb’ra Allen. He said “sung at a good speed and the story was well told”.  That was what I was aiming for so I’m glad it came over despite my mistakes. And the best comment of all was to read that my sight reading was “a broadly accurate and steady reading.” So perhaps, as I’m continually told by my wife and Caroline, I really am quite good at sight reading! Will I do another exam in the future? Well, Caroline says so, so I guess I will.

So what else has been happening? Well preparations for two concerts in April are well underway, one for the male voice choir as I’ve just mentioned and one for Caroline Sharpe Singers on Friday April 20th in Kegworth. The former will feature some new pieces including the folk song described above and the Hollies song He Ain’t Heavy’ which is sounding really good now. It should be a very varied programme and quite different to any previous concert I’ve done with the choir, so I’m really looking forward to it.

The Caroline Sharpe Singers concert should also be exciting as it features some great new songs and a particularly cheesey but potentially splendid CSS/Enchanted joint rendition of I Believe. Trust me, if this one comes off  it will be spectacular! Additionally, the concert will feature a solo from a promising local bearded tenor of On the Street Where you Live. Ahem! Now as you know, I have numerous bad singing habits that Caroline has had to beat out of me over the weeks and months. To cure the bizarre twitching leg she adopted the use of the wobble board. Well another terrible habit I have is to tilt my head back when trying to reach a high note. Not at all attractive I’m sure. So during last Wednesday’s lesson, Caroline introduced the dog! No, not her dog Poppy, but a kind of heavy ‘bean-bag’ toy dog. This ‘dog’ is placed on top of one’s head thus:-

Me with dog on head. It is a dog honestly!

Now, with dog on head one proceeds to sing. As the high passage approaches one must not tilt one’s head back or the dog falls off! Strangely, with dog on head, I did manage to reach the high notes way easier than before. Bizarre but true! Consequently, I am now considering utilising said dog in concerts. In fact, maybe I could indeed use Poppy? Me and Poppy could together take Britain’s Got Talent by storm! ‘Bearded Tenor With Dog on Head’? I think we’re on to a winner!

See you all next time.