Sunday, 24 November 2013

Caroline Sharpe Pupil Concert - 2013

Oh my word. Where do I start this time? There's so much to talk about since my last post I couldn't possibly cover it all now. There's the LMVC trip to Merthyr Tydfil, which Ruth was hoping to cover for y'all, but 'life' threw the proverbial spanner in the works to scupper that idea. Then there was an LMVC concert that I couldn't actually make, so nothing to add on that one. But there was then a small matter of the Leicester Festival performances, a concert at Kegworth Methodist Church by Enchanted and Friends and latterly a return for the LMVC to the Christmas Tree Festival at All Saints Parish Church.

I will maybe do a retrospective blog shortly, catching up with all those, but for now I will concentrate purely on last night - the 2013 Caroline Sharpe Pupil Concert, because it deserves it. Maybe it was the circumstances; the deluge of crap dumped on Chateau Knightthorpe in recent months; Ruth's continuing battle against the debilitating effects of chronic fatigue; the abysmally timed and unwelcome arrival of cold/flu viruses striking Amy and I at just the wrong time. The odds were stacked against all of us getting through it, but as the saying goes, the show must go on and it damn well did.

This was to be my third such pupil concert. Regular readers will no doubt recall tales of my mental torture just getting up to sing Where e'er You Walk at all in 2011. Last year's rendition of Bring Him Home was pretty torturous too, but a vast improvement on the debut. Almost immediately after that performance Caroline said "next year, you are going to sing a 'proper' song, with 'proper' singing." The 'proper' song in question was soon earmarked as Schumann's Dichterleibe Opus 48: Ich Grolle Nicht. Now this is a song that would sound utterly pathetic if I persisted in singing, in Caroline's words 'like a girl'. Time then Al, to man up and let loose the beast!

Okay, Schumann it is then. We dipped into the song at intervals during the 12 months but it wasn't until fairly late that we decided definitely to go with it. The big problem was the penultimate line which includes a top 'A', which is pretty much the top of my range. I do believe I've hit a B flat in a lesson or two but they've been pretty ugly. With practice and I hasten to add a few verbal clips around the ear from Caroline, I was managing the 'A' but the voice tightened up and remained tight for the last line, leaving the end sounding like a strangled cat! 

Breathing my friends, that is so often the key in this singing lark. Take a huge great breath before the top A line and more importantly, straight after it to enable the voice to open up again for the last line. Easy? With that sorted out in my mind, confidence in the song soared sufficiently for me to actually approach the performance with yes, actual confidence. That was until Tuesday 19th when the cold virus tapped me on the shoulder and said 'GOTCHA'! Not now, please not now? Hey-ho, all I could do was to rest the vocal chords as much as possible and just cross my fingers. 

Rehearsal went very well, top 'A' was nailed, but I knew that my voice was delicate and had no idea what state it would be in come 9 pm. So, alas my contributions to the Caroline Sharpe Singers numbers (more on them later) were minimal, well non-existent in the case of Masquerade. Sorry folks, but needs must, and Caroline did agree that it was the best thing to do. So, the very last solo performer of the night was 'yours truly'. As Ruth pointed out afterwards, another personal landmark was achieved in that I actually spoke in front of lots of people, for the first time in decades. As I was singing a German song I had to briefly announce it and give a hint as to what it was about. Okay, it was indeed brief - very, but it was something at least.

There is something scary about getting up on a stage and singing at the best of times, but when you have no idea if your vocal chords are actually going to cooperate and produce any sort of acceptable noise at all, is scarier still. Thankfully, there was enough there to do a decent job. It started a bit tentatively but got better and hit the 'A' again with relative ease. Phew! Anna thought my 'angry' performance fitted in well with the unrequited love theme of the song. To be honest, the anger came from my frustration at the virus and a determination to overcome it. Other feedback suggests that for once I didn't look like a rabbit caught in the headlights. And Caroline was pleased that I sang like a man and said "more of that please".

So that's me, but this was a triumphant night for so many and also came with a bit of pain thrown in as well. As is usual for these pupil concerts it was a pretty big programme, kicking off with Be Our Guest, starring the male voice choir's Chairman, Chris Higgins and Vanessa as soloists. With the rest of Caroline Sharpe Singers assembled on stage, Chris delivered his spoken intro while strolling up the aisle, timing it perfectly to arrive onstage for the singing bit. Brilliant! The chaps in the choir are still struggling with this one, but it went fairly well and the audience clearly enjoyed it. 

Then it was the job of Katie Muller to start the solo spots with Home. Not easy being first on, but Katie sang beautifully! Then we had a section of  'songs from the shows' with a duet of I know Him So Well by Jean and Wendy. After a 'difficult' rehearsal, they got it together on the night. Lynn then superbly sang  Til There Was You,  overcoming a few nerves in the process and was followed by Gail Morgan who confidently sang I Could've Danced and despite her reservations got those high notes. That slot was wrapped up by Kate Foster with Wouldn't it be Lovely which was great. Well done girls!

Anna-Ruth and Caroline Jones came next, not a duet but singing two English songs. With maybe a hint of bias, Anna's was again I think the classiest performance of the night. Flawless, composed and delivered My Heart is Like a Singing Bird with a style most of us can only dream of. Awesome. Caz Jones sang the extraordinary piece The Enchantress by Hatton which demanding a great deal from Caz, also required an impressive performance by accompanist Chris Hill, who I think needed a lie-down afterwards!

Opera next and some fabulous performances from Honor, Liz, Olivia and Holly singing some, Mozart, Gluck, Mozart and Gounod respectively. Very impressive stuff from all these gals I thought, and felt a bit sorry for Jana who had to follow them. She was to sing a completely contrasting song by The Carpenters, On Top of the World. Then the first half was wrapped up by Enchanted and Chatanooga Choo Choo.

With phlegm accumulating at a worryingly rapid rate I avoided anything but water at the break and before I knew it CSS were back on stage for the Part 2 opener Masquerade complete with masks. This move necessitated removal of my glasses, which was no handicap, particularly as we were singing without copies and I wasn't going to sing it anyway! It went well though and I think the audience loved the masks!

Alice followed that with a nice piece called You Must Love Me and was followed by Folk songs from Jean and Amy. Poor Amy! Like me, she was feeling a bit rough and struggled in rehearsal, but on the night, despite her reservations was singing beautifully up until the point when the nausea that was lurking got the better of her. Exit Stage left was the best option and she took it. What a shame, but such are the hazards of live performance.

More English songs next - Wendy sang Gibbons' The Silver Swan followed by Liz and Vic dueting Sound the Trumpet. The later pair delivered with humour when things went a little awry, but no-one cared. More fab musical theatre followed from Jane, Katie Cooper and Vanessa, with some nerves conquered triumphantly! Some Les Mis followed from Harriet with Castle on a Cloud and Stars from the FIRST male soloist of the night, Paul Widdowson. I find it hard to believe that only two of Caroline's pupils are male!?! Or perhaps it's just that only two of them are prepared to try a solo? Whatever, Caz definitely needs some more male pupils and perhaps some guys in the LMVC could benefit from some Caroline's wisdom? Come on guys, you know you want to!

So to wrap up the evening's pupil performances was a section of German songs, reduced to just two after Rose had succumbed to the lurgy. Michelle and Ruth sang their Schumann duet Mailied. Now, I have obviously heard this countless times but this was far and away the best they have ever sung it. Well done ladies. Then, last but by no means least was li'l ol' me with Ich Grolle Nicht, leaving Enchanted accompanied by Chris Hill and his impressive organ  ;-) to draw the curtain on proceedings with the stunning Hallelujah.

What a fabulous night again. So many triumphs, so many demons overcome and another happy audience. Everyone without exception did amazingly well and that is thanks to one person in particular. I won't mention her name again as she will start to get big-headed. Many thanks anyway!

What will the next twelve months bring?

Cheers, Alyn.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

and so to Kegworth

Okay, so 'a day or two' means a week in my language okay? I'm a busy man me, what with singing, working AND my OU study starting this week! So here we are again for 'A Nightingale Sang..'s look back at last Saturday's concert by the Loughborough Male Voice Choir, at Saint Andrew's Church, Kegworth.

After Thursday's final rehearsal I was slightly concerned about this one as things seemed to be a bit untidy. One or two songs that we have sung well in the recent past suddenly seemed  a touch ragged. Oh well, it'll be alright on the night I suppose? We all arrived at the church in good time to start the warm up and the painful process of sorting out who stands where. Due to a lack of steps, shorter members were needed to stand in front - much to Jim Lacey's disgust. Jim you see, just does not do 'front row', so well done mate! I know it is a bit of a shock to the system when one first ventures out front. You do feel a tad exposed to say the least, so thumbs up for going with it.

Particular emphasis was placed this time on trying to look professional. We were to walk on formally, burgundy folders (more of them later!) under right arm, assume positions and DO not open folders until Mr Hill gives the signal. Then when returning to our seats DO NOT sit down until Lyndon gives the signal.

Oh dear! First song was Stout Hearted Men and good ol' Chris forgets to give the signal. Bless him! Some waited, some didn't. I felt a bit of a plonker waiting there with mine closed while others opened theirs.  This set the tone for the rest of the evening with no-one waiting for a signal at all by the end. As for the sitting down, I confess to being guilty (twice!) of sitting down before Lyndon's signal, leading Derrick to mutter behind me about what a useless bunch we all were! Well maybe so, but good habits aren't going to be instilled in us overnight. These things need to become second nature and they will in time.

The second song was Saints, one song we've sung very well, but like Thusday's rehearsal, was a bit untidy I thought. In truth we hadn't rehearsed it much on the run-up and that was a mistake I think. Following that was Speed your Journey which I love.

Time then for the 'Guest Soloist', a Loughborough Soprano called Caroline Sharpe. She is "a singer and singing teacher" and "has a special gift of enabling people to sing when they tell her they can't" according to  the programme notes. Well, I can vouch for that! Caroline sang O Had I Jubal's Lyre by Handel and then something else which I have will ask her about later, sorry. She said that she made a lot up during the course of the evening and that's another of her 'gifts' - the ability to sing gibberish without anyone noticing! Brilliant!

Michael Dukes and Gerry Brennan then did their Flanders and Allen stuff, but I'm afraid I couldn't hear them well enough to get the benefit of the humour. The audience seemed to enjoy the guys anyway. To wrap up the first half it was folk song time with Pleasant & Delightful, which was I think our best ever rendition. I think I've said that the last couple of times we've performed it so I guess that means we're getting better and better. Caroline noted afterwards the expression I at least tried to add to my bit while Ruth still thinks I need to let myself go a bit and she is right. That's definitely the next aim - to visibly enjoy it more!

I don't normally talk about the 'Interval' much, but this one was particularly enjoyable given the amount of wine that flowed. I enjoyed a very nice glass of 'red' and I wasn't alone. Not sure what the purists would say about the effect of red wine on the vocal cords, but frankly, who cares? ;-)

Part Two kicked off with Viva l'amour and thanks to our new member Miguel who was watching in the audience, we were trying to ensure we pronounced the word 'amour' as in 'love' rather than 'death'. What was the verdict Miguel? Following that was Moon River (don't like it!) and He Ain't Heavy (love it!)  before those Shanty Folk nipped off to do a surprisingly quick costume chaKge. Their first was a new one to me, but I recognised Roll Alabama Roll which was fun! The Shanty Folk are always entertaining and go down well, so bravo I say!

Maria and Tonight followed with Lyndon Gardner staring in the former. Then Caroline performed her second solo set in her usual stunning fashion. First was the appropriately titled September Song by Curt Weill and then Adele's Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus by Johan Strauss. Marvellous stuff again. One can't get enough of the Caz-meister in my humble opinion!

That just left the lads to finish off the evening with Every Time We Say Goodbye, Amarillo and You'll Never Walk Alone. Caroline joined us for the latter, singing the first verse and blowing us all off the stage with the closing 'alone'!

So that was that. A good concert I think but with a few things to think about. Yes, we need to brush up on the professionalism somewhat, but there is also the issue of singing without copies to grapple with. The point was raised at the AGM as to why we should sing without copies at all. Well in answer to that, one only needs to ask the audience. They say that we look better, sound better and actually engage with them when we are not forever gawping down at our burgundy folders. In this concert we were gazing at copies to sing even Saints, Amarillo, He ain't Heavy, all of which have been sung without copies before. We even won a competition singing He Ain't Heavy without copies, so why the backward step?

I know that new members have joined and can't be expected to learn everything instantly, but why not have the new guys on the back row where folders would be less noticable? The sad fact is, however well you know a song, if the folder is there you will look at it. Take it away and see what happens. Invariably you know more of a song than you think you do. Amarillo simply must be sung without copies. Chris Hill once took mine off me in a rehearsal, leaving me to just manage - and I did. We can all then clap with ease and get the audience joining in, which is the whole point of singing Amarillo anyway!

One other piece of feedback I received was that there seemed to be some songs that were a bit 'samey', with too much 'ooh-ing' and 'arrr-ing'. Well, I can remember saying to Terry a while ago during a rehearsal "have we actually sung a proper word yet this evening"? Added to that feedback was another comment that there should be more old fashioned Male Voice Choir songs like Speed Your Journey and Deus Salutis to provide those 'hairs on the back of the neck' moments. So I guess there is a balance to be struck between attracting younger audiences and members by adding more modern songs to our repertoire while maintaining enough of the traditional material to keep the older member and audiences happy. No worries - in Chris Hill we trust!

So no rest for the wicked. Next Saturday is another away fixture as we make our trip to The Valleys as guests of the Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir. You may well have the benefit of a 'guest blogger' for this trip as Ruth has offered to record the weekend's events from the perspective a supporting wife. I will leave you with a selection of photographs from Saturday taken by Ruth. She has also put together a short video/soundtrack featuring an excerpt from the the finale which you can view by clicking here 

See you next time!

 The Shanty Folk at Kegworth

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir warming up

 The Shanty Folk at Saint Andrew's Church, Kegworth

 Caroline Sharpe, our guest soloist.

Musical Director Chris Hill, encourages the audience
during Pleasant & Delightful

LMVC performing Pleasant & Delightful with one soloist looking particularly focussed!

 Chairman Chris Higgins trying to catch a moth during
during Pleasant & Delightful!

 Tenor soloist Lyndon Gardner performs Maria

Caroline Sharpes joins us to sing the first verse
of You'll Never Walk Alone

Sunday, 22 September 2013

March and September Gigs

Well another cracking night was had by all as the Loughborough Male Voice Choir performed for a good sized audience at St. Andrew's Church, Kegworth on Saturday night. But, before I give you all the run-down on that fine evening's entertainment, I'd better bring you up to date on the Caroline Sharpe Singers. I'll spare you the feeble excuses for the delay and just get on with it okay?

Yes indeed, after the triumphant Enchanted Tour of 2012 a return trip to the Norfolk/Cambridgeshire region was always a possibility and a date in March was secured by Caroline for Saturday 31st August. That's March the village as opposed to March the month. Ha-ha! This 'away' gig would naturally necessitate a coach trip and late return but hey, we were up for it! The concert would involve Caroline Sharpe Singers and Enchanted plus the music of a newly formed foursome called Cantabile Brass, comprising Paul, Nick, Emily and Jo.

Waiting for the coach...

So, despite the words of 'Masquerade' stubbornly refusing to adhere to my brain-cells (and I wasn't alone there!) we assembled at Trinity in good time to board the Ausden Clark coach. Now anyone who has watched the hysterically funny sitcom '2012' about the Olympic Games Deliverance Committee, may remember a fantastic episode where the committee were to take a bunch of foreign dignitaries to the Olympic Park, but never quite got there after a farcical coach trip around London. Well, our journey to March took on bizarre similarities to that trip. The route we took I am yet to fully fathom, but there was a point when I felt like shouting out to the driver "whatever you do, don't go through the Dartford Tunnel, cos that would be like, madness"!

But we got there. Eventually! I spotted a Fossil Shop as we drove through March, but was cruelly denied the opportunity to have a 'butchers'. No matter, singing was afoot, and a quick rehearsal, before a pre-gig bite to eat. Between us, the Kings and the Oldales, we had assembled a banquet fit for a multitude. I would estimate there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets at least!

Preparations for the concert were, how shall I put it, interesting? Such was the size of the audience, there was woefully inadequate seating left for us artists, so we had to hastily arrange a few rows of seats along the sides to accommodate us all. 

Caroline Sharpe Singers getting organised 
before the concert in March, Cambs.

On to the concert and it started well with I Will Sing with the Spirit followed by Locus Iste which itself did start well, but the 'dreaded note' got to the tenors again! 'Irreprehensibilisest' began with a quiet horrible clash. I was confident I was hitting the right note, so increased my volume and prayed. Thankfully the whole thing didn't fall apart and Locus rescued itself. Phew!

Enchanted were great yet again performing seven songs in the first half including Hallelujah and my personal fave, Fever. It was nice to see the 'college girls' back in the line-up too! In between the girls songs we were treated to three tunes from Cantabile Brass. The one musician that stood out for me was the Euphonium player. The quality of tone he produced from his instrument was truly breathtaking and I felt compelled to tell him so after the concert. In the second half they rounded off their set with an ambitious rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which they had only thrown together days before apparently! Well, it was brilliant guys!

Other highlights were Enchanted's Chatanooga Choo Choo and the ol' fave, Oklahoma Medley which was the gals at their best. Then of course there was Masquerade. Strangely, the issue of singing without copies became pretty much academic as we didn't use copies for anything. And it showed in the performances. There's something a bit naff about standing in front of an audience with your folder of music I think. It would've been impossible to read any music anyway as the splendid Masquerade mask prevents spectacle wearing anyway. Despite a few rough edges, Masquerade went pretty well and the soloists did a great job just when they needed to. After a bit of a mess first time in rehearsal, they did great on the night. Special mention must be made of the staggering versatility of my wife Ruth. Standing in for the Alto Masquerade solo in the Sileby gig, this time she took the Soprano solo. Look out Jeff and Terry - you could be next.  Bravo all!

It seemed the audience really loved this concert, with the compere talking about wanting to make it an annual event. I have to say, there really is something special about singing in front of such an enthusiastic and receptive audience. Sometimes an audience can be a bit flat leaving you unsure as to whether they've enjoyed what they've heard. No such doubt with the March audience and it would be a pleasure to return.

The return coach trip was marginally less random than the outward trip and was highlighted by a music-less 'pass-the-parcel' game won by I know not who. There was also a rendition of an alternative Almost Like Being in Tune (love).

Well, I will leave you with that for now and return in a day or two with a round-up of the Male Voice Choir's concert at Kegworth.

Cheers for now,

Saturday, 10 August 2013

March in August and ladies with large posteriors?

So summer is here and singing takes something of a back seat. Loughborough Male Voice Choir rehearsals are on hold until early September but recent emails from the MD Chris Hill reminds us all to do a bit of work on a few parts in readiness for 'hitting the ground running' when we return as concerts in Kegworth, Trinity MCC and Merthyr Tydfil come thick and fast.

Caroline Sharpe Singers though aren't quite so idle, with regular Saturday morning rehearsals continuing throughout the summer, albeit interrupted by the occasional holiday. A concert in the town of March in the county of (I think) Cambridgeshire is focusing our minds at present and the aim of singing Masquerade without copies seems to have induced a state of panic in one or two.

Admittedly, yours truly needs to get his 'finger out' and learn his lines. As with most pieces this isn't usually too much of a problem when singing in a choir. Solo singing is a different kettle of frogs all together, but in a choir and with a conductor mouthing the words a bit, it will be fine. The trip to March will be great, with the choir plus fans and groupies taking the trip by coach. Should be fun!

With eyes on future gigs, Caroline introduced a new piece at this morning's rehearsal. Arranged by a certain Chris Hill, we are to attempt the Freddie Mercury and Queen classic Fat Bottomed Girls. This requires one or more male singers to take on the main verses as solos. The chorus provided by the rest of the choir seems quite tricky in parts, particularly the tenor part which is higher than the soprano part. Hmm, must have words with Mr Hill! Anyway, I am destined to take on one of the solo verses, probably the first verse which contains those immortal words "left alone with big fat fanny".

Now, I remember a chap called Simon Cowell of X-Factor fame, saying to one deluded fool after attempting to cover a Michael Jackson song, "if you are going to take on an icon, you have GOT to do it well". Whatever you may think of Mr Cowell, he does know what he is talking about. Freddie Mercury is probably the dictionary definition of 'icon', so a great deal of Youtube study of Freddie and videos of this song will inevitably follow. This is no place for Alfie Boe type 'proper'singing, but an opportunity to 'let ones-self go'.

I just hope I have got the nerve for this. It will provide me with the chance to live my fantasy of being a rock star for the day and God willing I won't need to be too intoxicated to achieve it! Next Monday evening's singing lesson with Caroline will include my first stab at FBG and I'll let you know how it goes. 

Cheers for now,

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Time to catch up.

This working for a living really does have its drawbacks. Okay, it pays the bills (almost) but it does get in the way of the interesting stuff.

Like keeping this l'il ol' blog up to date. What have I been up to over the last month? Well another splendid Caroline Sharpe Singers concert for a start. Back on Saturday 6th July we presented a great concert at St Mary's Church, Sileby. The choir made its performing debut in Sileby to an embarrassingly tiny audience before Christmas 2011, so fingers were crossed that this time a larger proportion of the population of Sileby would turn up this time. No worries mate - we did indeed have a creditable audience. Sighs of relief!

The concert featured six songs by the choir plus twelve from the new look Enchanted. Additionally there were two sets from our special gust soloist for the evening, Alan Speight. While Alan was new to me he is actually very well known in these parts and has a wonderful baritone voice.

Highlights of the evening for me were definitely Alan Speight's solo spots, in particular his rendition of Linden Lea. Oh how that little song brought back memories for me! Alan's singing was quite beautiful and he is now another singer to add to my list of voices to aspire to. Great stuff and I think it won't be the last time that he is asked to be a guest of Caroline Sharpe Singers. It was funny to hear him say at the interval how he struggles to remember words these days. It gets worse with age apparently, so there's no hope for me then.

Enchanted were excellent again and appear to have suffered no ill-effects of the recent personnel changes. If anything, the sound is more balanced than previously or is that just the beneficial effects of my lovely new hearing aids? However, the biggest highlight, for all the wrong reasons was The Rose, sung heroically by the girls, but featuring a solo bit by Rose Lucas at the beginning and end. Heroically? Well yes, because of a certain embarrassing but unintentional blunder by the oblivious Chris Hill. You see, prior to The Rose, Alan Speight had completed his first set of songs. Chris had adjusted the key of his final piece on the piano from that of the music he had, to a key more suitable one for Alan. Obviously the piano would need to be re-set back to normal afterwards and it was. Well was supposed to have been...
Sadly I was sat behind the girls with the choir, so missed out on the look of sheer blind panic in the eyes of the girls, Livvy particularly, as they realised something was horribly wrong. The Rose commenced, way, WAY too low. To be frank, Bryn Terfel would've struggled to sing this low, but somehow the girls heroically gave a splendid if somewhat butch rendition of this lovely song. If you ever fancy joining the LMVC's baritone section Rose, you'd be very welcome. Ho-ho!

Chris Hill meanwhile blundered on regardless, blissfully unaware of any problem. Live music eh? Don't ya just love it?

The other highlight on the night was Masquerade from Phantom of the Opera. The sight of Jeff Buckley in his mask (see photos below) is something not to be missed. In truth this piece was far from perfect and moves are afoot to get us singing it without copies in future. Let's face it, everything is so much better without copies as the male voice choir has found lately.

We rounded off the evening with the dramatic I Believe which I thought was grrrr-eat! It needs to be the last piece, simply because it takes so much lung power to deliver that I'm good for absolutely nowt after it! A cracking night was had by all I think.

I will leave you with some superb photographs ruthlessly stolen from the Caroline Sharpe Singers Facebook page. Posted by Kate Pemberton, so presumably taken by her 'other half? Nice work mate!


Will return soon with news of exciting developments for both the LMVC and CSS who both have up-coming 'away fixtures'. Exciting stuff!

Cheers for now, 

 Enchanted's Rose,Alice and Livvy 

 Caroline introduces The Caroline Sharpe Singers as only she can.

 The Caroline Sharpe Singers perform Masquerade.

More Caroline Sharpe Singers performing Masquerade. 

 A typical Caroline Sharpe Singers photo with Chris Higgins, Anna-Ruth and Livvy Thornber
the only ones looking at the musical director!

 The Caroline Sharpe Singers perform at St Mary's Church, Sileby.

 The Lone Ranger and Tonto?
No, it's Jeff Buckley and Terry Jones performing Masquerade.

Enchanted perform Fever.
L-R Holly,Alice, Kate, Amy, Caroline, Livvy, Rose and Anna-Ruth.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

No rest for the wicked

Such is the congestion of concert engagements at the moment and the severe lack of spare time to blog about them all I will have to give a fairly brief run through the latest three. Yes, three! With a fixture congestion akin to Bolton Wanderers in the Championship, the Coward household has just been subjected to three away fixtures in six days! Thankfully a bit of squad rotation that Dougie Freedman (who?) would be proud of was possible, in that I played in the first, while Ruth and Amy took to the field for the second. Then I returned to the first team along with the LMVC's on loan secret weapon Anna-Ruth, for the third.

Okay, that's stretched the football analogy well beyond breaking point, so I will explain. 

Sunday 26th May was the date for the Male Voice Choir's now annual tradition of Singing in the Park, under the Bandstand in Queen's Park, Loughborough. In the week prior to this, some of the keen followers of our Facebook page will have seen some strange images of dolls. No not voodoo dolls as Messrs Weston and Booth seemed to think, these were Teru Teru Bozu dolls. I won't waste time explaining all about them now, you can just click here and read for yourself. Suffice to say, no choir member was ritually sacrificed, and the little chaps worked a treat in keeping the rain away for our outdoor gig! In fact, it was the best day's weather yet for our gig in the park, with the beautiful weather guaranteeing a great audience. The highlight for me was Pleasant and Delightful in which I think I gave my best effort yet at my solo third verse! Ruth and Caroline certainly approved and there's no sterner critics than those two!

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir perform for the sun-drenched crowds
at the Bandstand in Queen's Park, Loughborough, on Sunday 26th May 2013.
(Photo by Ruth)

What a great, fun day in the sun it was. Same again next year I hope Mr Hill?

Next it was the turn of Ruth and Amy, who were singing in Caroline's latest venture, Music in Me, a ladies singing group that meet in Woodhouse Eaves every Tuesday. Rather like Caroline Sharpe Singers, this choir has grown from modest beginnings to a good sized group and Friday at the Methodist Church in Woodhouse they performed a concert as part of a preview of an art exhibition and was their second public appearance. It was to feature solos from both my wife Ruth and my step-daughter Amy as well as Gail Morgan too. 

Well, I was well proud of both of them! Amy's powerful rendition of To The Sky was mightily impressive and amazed everyone I think. Slowly but surely Amy is growing in confidence and is showing it in performances. Not that you'll ever hear her admit it though!

And my wife nearly had me in tears! She swore that she would never, ever sing solo, but somehow, the ever persuasive Caroline had successfully twisted her arm to sing the Carpenters song Rainy Days and Mondays. And she was bloody marvellous as my Soundcloud recording proves. I think she genuinely surprised herself at how good she sounded. Well done Mrs Coward! How about November?

And finally, it was my turn again as the Loughborough Male Voice Choir performed a concert at the request of Sileby Methodist Church. Guest soloist for the evening was step-daughter Anna of Enchanted fame. This engagement naturally required a brand new frock - for Anna, not me! Obviously? Anyway, thankfully Ruth was to accompany Anna to town on Saturday morning to search for said frock. Apparently things were getting desperate when the perfect dress was located on Loughborough Market. Stunning it looked too as the photo below shows.

Anna-Ruth Gray prior to the concert at Sileby Methodist Church
(Photo by Ruth)

Nothing quite so glamorous for us chaps, just the usual blazer tie outfit. No bow-tie this time strangely, but what the heck. Again we had the now comic ritual of getting 30 plus men organised on stage in slightly less shambolic fashion than the May 18th gig. No need for Lyndon to blow a gasket this time! One member noticed the lack of Derek. Strange that he hadn't made it we thought until he suddenly emerged, as if by magic, from the toilet! When did he arrive? No-one saw him come through the front door. Spooky!?!

Hey-ho, on with the show. This proved to be a much better balanced show than the concert with Enderby Band, with much less 'clutter'. Just enough of each and a concert of just about the right length. I think one slot each by Lyndon and Mike & Gerry was right, giving our guest  three songs on two slots. 

And Anna did not disappoint. I know I'm a bit biased, but Anna performed with a quality and confidence that belies her young age. Silent Noon, followed by I Could Have Danced All Night were superb. She assures me she was very nervous before she started , but it wasn't evident to the audience. her final song in the second half was What Good would the Moon Be? which was new to many of the LMVC chaps, Paul Blakemore included and was met with quite some acclaim! Well done girl! Methinks it won't be the last time Anna guests for the LMVC - not if I have anything to do with it anyway.

While, I mention Paul Blakemore, perhaps I should mention another of the evening's highlights - the Blakemore arranged Blue Moon. This song continues to feel a bit of a mess when we're singing it, but as Ruth managed to record the entire concert, I could at last listen to what the audience hears. I'm happy to report that it actually sounds pretty damn good. The seemingly disjointed four parts all come together as a rather delightful whole. Nice one Paul!

My final highlight of the night was to see John Culpin join the choir for Gwahoddiad. After years too numerous to mention, John is sadly retiring from the choir and if ever a man is worthy of being awarded a 'life membership' it is this man. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say thanks for everything you've done for the choir.

I'll leave you all with a selection of photo from the concert, while us at Chateau Knightthorpe enjoy a well earned rest. 
See y'll soon!

Cheers, Alyn.

 Anna-Ruth and me definitely NOT eating cake at the interval
(Photo by Ruth)

Loughborough Male Voice Choir at Sileby Methodist Church
(Photo by Ruth) 

 The Shanty Folk aka Ray, Jim H, Chris,Peter, Jon, Gerald, Jim L and Terry.
(Photo by Ruth)

 Another LMVC photo without me on it!
(Photo by Ruth)

 John Culpin joins us for Gwahoddiad
(Photo by Ruth)

 John Culpin receives his Life Membership from Chairman, Chris Higgins.
(Photo by Ruth)

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir, conducted by MD Chris Hill.
Wey-hey, I'm on this one!
(Photo by Ruth)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Possibly the best birthday ever!

We are now in the midst of the peak singing season for both Caroline Sharpe Singers and the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. Last weekend was Coalville Festival and this Saturday it's LMVC's spring concert at Trinity Methodist Church. With my 53rd birthday (no, I really am 53!) falling on this day, celebrations would have to wait.

Well actually, they took place on the Friday night because I found out that I had been offered a job late on Friday afternoon. Such was the relief, wine was consumed to excess resulting in thumping headache upon awakening on Saturday morning. Nothing a couple of paracetamols couldn't sort out though, so on with the show!

First on the birthday agenda was a rehearsal with Caroline Sharpe Singers at Trinity. By now via the wonder that is Facebook, just about everyone knew it was my birthday. Well, I presume Gilly Higgins knew it was my birthday as she gave me a kiss on the cheek! Prior to kicking off the rehearsal, I was given a highly tuneful rendition of 'Happy Birthday' which was nice. Ta very much people! Right after the rehearsal we tucked into Al's Birthday 'Rocky Road' a scrumptious creation made up of chocolate, biscuit, chocolate, marshmallow and chocolate, and topped with err, chocolate. Mmmm, nice! Much thanks to Ruth for this gastronomic delight!

Okay, next we had a short break before a short drive to Wymeswold to sing in another wedding. Now I'm not the biggest fan of church weddings but this one was even more forgettable than most. I mean, honestly, All Things Bright and Beautiful for a wedding? Oh dear!

Let's move swiftly on to the day's main event, The LMVC spring concert 'Sounds of Spring' with our special guests, The Enderby Band. We had met these gals and guys last summer at the outdoor concert in the sunshine at Beaumanor Hall and we were all very impressed with them then. With black shoes polished and gleaming white shirt ironed I arrived at the church to find Lyndon Gardner near the point of spontaneous combustion. It seemed getting about thirty men to sit where he wanted was proving beyond him, while he seemed reluctant to admit that three rows was never going to work. Chris Hill eventually had his way and two rows was the result. That seemed painfully obvious to me but hey, what do I know.

The Enderby Band assembled, complete with a very impressive percussion section. Just listening to them warm up was awesome. We joined them for a quick run through Rule Britannia and I stood directly behind the two E-flat basses, which brought back happy memories of my school brass band days, when I played that massive instrument. The band's musical director Jonathon Mott was a lively chap who has a wonderfully confident conducting style and something of a sense of humour too. Anyway, that was that until kick off.

Now after the choir's warm-up which included another rendition of 'Happy Birthday', (thanks chaps!) we rather oddly dispensed with the orderly procession to our seats in favour of a somewhat disorganised amble to our positions. This was to be honest, a bit of a mess and shouldn't be repeated. Instead of the audience clapping us to our seats they sat there waiting and wondering what the heck was happening. After what seemed like an eternity, Chris got things going with Stout Hearted Men, before Gerry did his humourous introductions. Gerry seems to be growing into the compere role in the absence of George and has got together some great one liners! We then followed that up with He Ain't Heavy and Speed your Journey. The latter has become a firm favourite of mine. I just love the changes in dynamics.

 LMVC with the Enderby Band
(Photo by Ruth using my i-phone)

A new piece followed that  which was a quartet arranged by our own Paul Blakemore, called Summer Scenes and included the voices of Paul himself, Gerry, Lyndon and Chris Hill. Yes folks, our MD can indeed actually sing! If ever the man wants to hang up his invisible baton there's a place awaiting alongside us second tenors! It was an interesting piece that needs a second listen. I'm sure we'll hear some more in the near future. Next Sunday perhaps?

Michael Dukes then took to the piano as part of the now legendary partnership with Gerry Brennan. Now I can't for the life of me remember what they did in the first half. It was funny tho and when I remember I will amend this blog. Bear with me chaps!

Chris Hill conducts LMVC with the Enderby Band at the front 
(Photo by Ruth using my i-phone)

After another set from the choir including The Way We Were, Lyndon Gardner followed with a couple of I think Tosti arias. Then Gerry introduced our guests the Enderby Band for their first set. Oh boy! Where the heck do I start? I've been trying to select the most appropriate superlatives to describe this band: Sensational; inspirational; awesome; spine-tingling etc, etc. I think the band is probably best described as simply A CLASS ACT

I have a bit of a background in Brass Band music, having played initially the Tenor Horn and latterly the E Flat Bass for my school's brass band. Having been to concerts by the Eagly Mills Band and the Black Dyke Mills Band in my youth, I think I know a good Brass Band when I hear one and Enderby Band are very, very good! It's a very long time since I've heard such a quality of sound. The purity of tone was simply magical and sent a shiver down the spine. Their second piece, Concert Etude featured a breathtaking solo from Nick Smith. What was obvious from the outset was that all members of this band are very talented musicians. 

The end of their set saw us through to the interval and a chance to draw breath and for Gilly Higgins to thrust promo flyers into the hands of eager punters to encourage an audience in the park next Sunday. Well done Gilly, you will be rewarded in heaven.

The second half began with the choir and the ever popular Amarillo, Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and the welcome return of Let It Be Me. This then signalled a quick costume change for the Shanty Group, introduced by Terry Jones a.k.a. Captain Jack Sparrow! One song featured solos from several of the guys. Well done Terry Jones, Jim Hannam, Jim Lacey; Chris Higgins, Mike Godwin and young Peter Herbert. Bravo!

The Shanty Group featuring Chris Higgins on guitar and Mike Godwin on Harmonica
(Photo by Ruth using my i-phone)

The Shanty Group L-R Jim Hannam, Jim Lacey, Chris Higgins, Mike Godwin, Peter Herbert,
Gerald Morling and Terry Jones.

Next we had two pieces from West Side Story - Maria sung by Lyndon Gardner followed by Tonight by the choir and this was followed by another couple of songs from Mike and Gerry - the hilarious piece of political satire Hole in My Budget and finishing off with Slow Train.

Next up was the one we in the choir feared the most, the new Paul Blakemore arranged Moon River. This has proved something of a challenge from Day One. Hear the melody  is split between each part interspersed with lots of 'oohs' and 'doos'. Not easy but we were assured by Paul and Chris that we were doing okay and it would sound fine if only we sing it with a bit more confidence. Not easy when you're not feeling at all confident in what you're singing. When I'm singing my part it sounds a complete mess, but it's one of those pieces that needs to be heard in the audience to fully appreciate what's going on. I think I'll try that next time we sing it in rehearsal. Anyway, feedback suggests it sounded really good!

Okay, time for the Enderby Band again. What's this? Fat Bottomed Girls? Hmm! How was this, the Queen classic, going to sound from a brass band? Absolutely brilliant is the answer. It took all my will power to remain in my seat and not jump up and strut around the stage like Freddie Mercury. I made do with just singing "fat bottomed girls will be riding today" etc, etc. I wanted to scream "Get on your bikes and ride" at the appropriate time, but thankfully didn't. Then they performed Spanish Dance followed by the Tijuana classic A Taste of Honey and rounded things off with a Oklahoma medley. 
Stupendous, awe-inspiring and all the other superlatives used above. I can't remember enjoying a concert as much as this and it was an honour and a privilege to share the evening with such a classy set of musicians as this. I had a brief chat with their bass trombone player Tom Chinnery who said they do quite a few concerts and to keep my eye on their website for details. I also mentioned my E flat Bass playing past and he said "you can always start again"! They have a training band apparently. Very tempting if I wasn't already in two choirs and about to restart OU study. I'll definitely get to one of their concerts though and soon.

All that remained was for the band and choir to join together to round off the evening with Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia with the audience singing along. What a fantastic concert! I loved it and maybe we should think about more joint concerts with talented bands such as this.

I've got to personally thank all the Enderby Band for reawakening my love of brass band music and making it a birthday to remember for me. Cheers!

Well that's all folks until Sunday, 2pm in Queen's Park Bandstand for another sing-song in the sunshine! Fingers crossed and see you there.

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Coalville Festival of Music 2013 - what a day!

There's something about music festivals that set them apart from concerts or singing exams. In essence they each involve an individual, a choir or a duet, standing up in front of a group of people and singing. Each one involves a degree of nervous anticipation that can inspire or otherwise those involved.

My own experience of a festival last November in Leicester saw both sides of the coin (read about it here if you wish). I made a mistake or two in my solo class and felt an 'eejit' at the time but on reflection it wasn't that bad at all really. With the male voice choir it was rather different. There we collectively rose to the occasion and won our class. That experience was fantastic and I wondered what Coalville Festival was going to be like when  Caroline entered Caroline Sharpe Singers for the 2013 festival. 

As you regular readers of this humble blog will already know, we won the darn thing. That said, half of you were singing in the choir so you obviously know!  Okay, in typical 'Nightingale Sang' fashion, let's rewind to the break of dawn. . . .

Awoke to the sound of my darling wife Ruth singing Schumman's Mailied, or at least one half of it. She was to be competing in the duet class with Michelle Oldale. The practising of this has been relentless for some weeks to a point where I could easily step in to deputise should the need arise! Still, I admire her guts. After my unfortunate experience at Leicester, I was in no hurry to enter any solo classes at Coalville and Caroline didn't press me on the issue.

10am was to be a final rehearsal at Trinity, in our 'blacks' for photographic purposes. The runs through of Locus Iste and One went very well and the results of these are doing the rounds on Facebook right now! The Locus Iste run-through saw something of a breakthrough too as we finally cracked the dreaded 'note'. Chris Hill, the LMVC MD and CSS (bloody acronyms!?!) accompanist pointed out that our first note of 'irreprehen. . .' was just a note above the soprano's preceding note. All we need do is listen out for their last note and start above that - if that makes any sense at all? Well it does to me and did to all us tenors thankfully. Thanks Mr Hill, nice one. The man's a genius, I've always said so! The duettists, Ruth/Michelle and Vic/Liz ran through their songs too with Gail Morgan accompanying and then after a brew, we were ready for the off.

We left Trinity suddenly confident that we were actually going to do all right. Off we went, a convoy of two little yellow Fiat Pandas and found our way remarkably easily to Newbridge High School, the venue for the festival. We were immediately alerted to the fact that things were running a bit late, but what the heck - there was a canteen full of CAKE! Yum, yum, in my tum!

Right, things were a tad late, but it was game on! We were to be first on in the Choir class. Or maybe not? For some reason that was not really explained, Jak's Academy went on first and sang two suitably contrasting pieces. I seem to have managed to lose my copy of thne programme so for now, can't tell you what the pieces were. But, they featured some cute soloists! Terry Jones sitting to my left commented "that's what we need - some cute kids"!

Next, it was our turn. Despite a slightly untidy entrance to the 'stage' we performed firstly Locus Iste and then One. Both I thought went really well, though as ever, it is difficult to assess how good things sound to the audience, or indeed to an adjudicator, but I think we all returned to our seats happy with our efforts.
Then came Concordia a mixed choir of rather more mature age. They were fine but indulged in the sort of stuff that makes me cringe - lots of jigging about and clapping. Sorry, not for me, but each to their own I guess.

Time then for the words from the adjudicator, Peter Wells, a man I was familiar with from Leicester last November. If ever this man gets bored with music festivals he could take up stand-up comedy I reckon. He is hilarious, but at the same time also very helpful and constructive in his comments about individual performances. Some entrants in other classes are clearly of quite limited ability but he recognises that however good you are, it takes courage to stand up and sing and that there are a multitude of reasons why people do it at all. Everyone needs encouragement and Peter hands it out in spades and that is to his enormous  credit. In assessing the three choirs, he highlighted the importance of getting the choreography of any movement absolutely right. He did emphasise that with the choir class it was invariably one particular song that wins it for a choir and so it was here. It was our rendition of One that won us the trophy. Damn good it was too, but to be honest we were a class above the other two choirs by some distance. He could've gone with the cute kids, rather like he did at Leicester last year, but frankly, that would've been a travesty. So Caroline now proudly holds onto the slightly bizarre trophy, a figure of a shepherd with a dog holding a lamb shown in yesterday's brief celebratory blog. Okay, so it's a slightly weird trophy, but hey, we're an award winning choir now! 

After all that excitement, it was the turn of the soloists and duettists to do their stuff. However, the delay had worsened to over an hour by the time Caroline Jones' solo class came around. Things weren't helped by the official accompanist being otherwise engaged in another class. Caroline eventually got up to sing The Enchantress, which was an extraordinary piece requiring something like a two octave range to sing. Caz did a fine job but what a shame it was that her singing class didn't have any more entrants! Maybe some other altos from CSS can join in next year to give her some competition?

One soloist who did have some competition was Liz Jenkinson who entered the folk song class and accompanied herself on guitar. Liz performed a quite fantastic rendition of Barbara Allen. This was a folk sang I sang for my Grade 4 exam so I was aware of the literally hundreds of versions of the song. Liz's performance was quite breathtaking -  confident and very moving, capturing the drama of the story quite superbly and she comfortably won the class.

Later on in the day - much, much later, the final class was for duets where Ruth and Michelle and also Vic and Liz were competing. After some variable rehearsals, Ruth and 'chelle performed brilliantly. It really did surprise me, though it shouldn't have given Ruth's performing background, just how well they performed it. Well done girls! I was so proud of Ruth, particularly after all she's had to struggle with lately. Bravo ladies!

Vic and Liz then had a very complex piece to sing - that if not nailed, could've gone horribly wrong. In the event they sang it superbly and won the class as a result. Both of the duets were accompanied by Gail Morgan who did an excellent job and got particular praise from the hilarious Mr Wells. 

So that was about it. On returning home and heading for Facebook, it seemed most of us had cracked open a bottle of vino to relax, unwind and celebrate a bit. Well deserved too I think. On a personal note, I was over the moon at the quality of our performance in winning our class, but I did have a few feelings of regret at not entering a solo class or two myself. Coalville Festival is clearly a smaller festival than Leicester and is perhaps struggling to attract a sufficient number of entrants in many categories. I think it would be an ideal venue for me to dip my toe back in the competitive waters of festival singing next year and gain some much needed confidence before maybe trying Leicester again. Over to you Caroline!

Next on the agenda? A small matter of Loughborough Male Voice Choir's Spring concert 'Sounds of Spring' with The Enderby Brass Band, next Saturday 18th May, at Trinity MC at 7.30pm. Miss it at your peril!

Until next time,