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,