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,